Terror, Perspective, and Consistency

December 10, 2015

I promised thoughts about terror, including notions of perspective and consistency. My thoughts are many, and may be a bit jumbled. Apologies in advance.

I heard Peter Beinart on NPR this morning. The story is titled ‘Atlantic’ Article Explores How Obama Thinks About Terrorism, and it’s an interesting interview. (The Atlantic piece is here, and it’s worth reading.)

I have slightly mixed feelings about the whole approach to terror in these times. First off, he who talks toughest will almost always win the first round of any debate. We’ve all got an id, and for many it’s highly developed. Put differently, for many the following words—they belong to Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)—sell:

We will utterly destroy ISIS. We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.

Alas, President Obama and other smart people—that’s my appellation—do nuance. Making sand glow feels good if you’re angry and upset, but there is lots of sense in recognizing the fact that ISIL-Daesh does not threaten civilization in the way that Fascism did in the 1930s and early 40s, or in the way that the USSR and China did between the late 1940s and the early 1990s. And smart people know we cannot make sand glow without killing tens of millions of innocents, and surely radicalizing millions more.

That said, our opponents have ids too, and without being condescending, it seems like terrorists are about terror, and not much else. Disengaging from them—but for drone strikes and targeted attacks—surely frustrates them, and maybe that leaves us vulnerable to more attacks. Think about the dog who is determined to engage with the dog across the street. Ignoring him may not be an ideal strategy!

Ultimately, much of the noise comes from people whose words come cheap. They don’t live in the big white house, and whatever happens, their way would have been better (according to them.) I appreciate nuance. We did something else in the early part of the century, with results we’re still paying for. We should never, however, lose sight of the fact that when you’re David (or Salim or Fared), Goliath is a mighty fine target.

About perspective. Fourteen people died in San Bernardino. (Roughly two dozen more were wounded, and we should not forget the impact of a shooting on those who were wounded and survived.) As it happens, roughly 2x 14 people die every day in the United States on account of gun-related homicides. So, the terror increased one day’s worth of murders by about 50%.

Guns terrify me. Relatives were gun victims decades ago. Attorneys I know have been murdered in connection with their work. I also know people who have been killed by random gunfire. (U.S. District Judge John Roll—and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords—were/are friendly acquaintances, and there are others.) I’ve been threatened a few times, albeit in ways that caused some who were not threatened thinking I’m needlessly fearful.

So when I hear a country suddenly going bonkers over 14 deaths in central California, I have to ask: Are you all unaware of the gun epidemic? Do you not know 30 people are dying at the hand of someone else’s gun every day, and that every day almost 60 people use a firearm to kill themselves? Forgive me please, but should we really let one incident, which increased our annual gun homicide rate by about 12 one hundredths of one percent, dictate our foreign policy.

Almost done here. My last issue is consistency. There lots of talk about civil liberties giving way to the threat. From Donald Trump’s suggestion that we admit no Muslims until “until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses,” to Dr. Ben Carson’s recommendation that we monitor all foreigners—can the history and geography challenged would-be POTUS spell m-i-n-d-e-r—what we hear is hysteria. Hysteria … except about the Second Amendment. On that issue there’s not even a hint of a budge from those who focus on the fear. And this response comes despite the fact that the San Bernardino killers had no criminal histories, and were able to lawfully accumulate an arsenal no rational being should ever want or need.

So if we’re going to abrogate civil liberties, why don’t we look at the Second Amendment? Had we had an adequate gun control regime in place, the couple in Saint Bernardino are not successful. And we almost surely see reductions in murder and suicide rates.

We live in scary times. I just wish the irrational part of our populace—those whose ids dominate in the extreme—did not so dominate the conversation. Stupid, stupid, stupid is so much of what we hear!

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