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Jewish World Review Sept. 13, 2002 / 7 Tishrei, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Skeptics remind U.S. to calm down


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Only 363 more days to the two-year anniversary of Sept. 11.

Sorry. America the (mostly) Beautiful's first annual frenzy of remembering, honoring, mourning and exploiting 9-11 is finally - blessedly - over.

Sept. 11 still haunts the magazine racks, however. You'll find 9-11 stories this week in People, National Geographic, Tikkun, National Review, American Demographics, U.S. News & World Report, the Nation, New Republic and Rolling Stone.

Forget all of them.

The only article about 9-11 still worth reading is the Skeptical Inquirer's cover piece, "A Skeptical Look at September 11th: How We Can Defeat Terrorism by Reacting to It More Rationally."

It sounds grim, but it's not. In a nutshell, it points out the obvious: America has completely lost its mind over 9-11 and has massively and irrationally overreacted to the actual (very low) risks of terrorism.

Authors Clark Chapman and Alan Harris are a pair of skeptical but sensible and humane scientists who spend their workdays merrily researching the probabilities of such apocalyptic but low-probability hazards as an asteroid or comet hitting Earth.

As for less cosmic problems such as terrorism, they argue persuasively that America's priorities are tilted way too much toward "homeland defense and fighting terrorism at the expense of objectively greater societal needs."

They also have little trouble proving that "as we obsessively and excessively beef up internal security and try to dismantle terrorist groups worldwide," we are actually accomplishing the terrorists' original purpose of disrupting our whole society.

America's post-Sept. 11 priorities make no rational sense, they say, pointing out the obvious. Overreacting to 9-11, egged on by media, opportunist government officials and politicians of both parties from President George W. Bush on down ran amok.

While mayors and police chiefs in every unincorporated village in the land drew up evacuation plans for their high school football stadiums, we wasted untold federal billions in the name of homeland security.

We propped up the airlines. We called out the National Guard to patrol airports with unloaded guns. We had the FBI chasing Middle Easterners. We squeezed our civil liberties and made air travel torture.

The 3,000 innocent victims of terrorists on 9-11 and the six anthrax deaths that followed, while horrific, were aberrations and should have been reacted to as such, the authors argue.

And the mass deaths on 9-11 must be put in perspective. More than 3,000 Americans a month die in car wrecks. About 20,000 will die from flu-related problems this fall. With resources finite, they ask, shouldn't we be spending some of that 9-11 mad-money elsewhere - on better roads or health care?

The authors are not number-crunchers who have no feelings. They think Americans should truly get back to living normal lives and learn to assess life's real risks - like adults.

For example, shark attacks kill 10 people worldwide. Child abductions by strangers average about 100 a year. Flying commercial airlines is still far safer than driving. Terrorists are not a threat to 99.9 percent of Americans or to American society.

"Our greatest vulnerability to terrorism," they say as we ready for war with Iraq, "is the persisting, irrational fear of terrorism that has gripped our country. We must start behaving like the informed, reasoning beings we profess to be."

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

09/10/02: 'A failure to recognize a failure': 15 minutes with ... Bill Gertz
09/06/02: Rating the 9-11 mags
08/30/02: Bad trains, bad planes, and bad automobiles
08/28/02: Baseball, broken, can be fixed: 15 minutes with George Will
08/16/02: 9-11 overload has already begun
08/13/02: Tell us what you really think, Ann Coulter
08/09/02: A funny take on a new kind of suburb
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07/12/02: Colombia's drug lords are all business
07/09/02: If capitalism is 'soulless' then show me something better: 10 minutes with Alan Reynolds
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06/21/02: 9/11 report unearths good, bad and ugly
06/18/02: The FBI is rebounding 10 Minutes with Ronald Kessler
06/14/02: U.S. News opens closet of Secret Service
06/11/02: 10 minutes with William Lind: Can America survive in this 'fourth-generation' world?
06/07/02: America, warts and all
05/30/02: FBI saga gets more depressing
05/13/02: The magazine industry's annual exercise in self-puffery
04/30/02: 10 Minutes with ... The New York Sun's Seth Lipsky
04/26/02: Will the American Taliban go free?
04/23/02: 10 minutes with ... Dinesh D'Souza
04/19/02: Saddam starting to show his age
04/12/02: Newsweek puts suicide bombing in perspective
04/09/02: How polls distort the news, change the outcome of elections and encourage legislation that undermines the foundations of the republic
04/05/02: Looking into the state of American greatness
03/25/02: The American President and the Peruvian Shoeshine Boys
03/22/02: Troublemaking intellectual puts Churchill in spotlight
03/20/02: 10 minutes with ... Bill Bennett
03/18/02: Suddenly, it's cool again to be a man
03/12/02: 10 minutes with Ken Adelman
03/08/02: TIME asks the nation a scary question
03/05/02: 10 minutes with ... Rich Lowry
02/26/02: 10 minutes with ... Tony Snow
02/12/02: Has Soldier of Fortune gone soft?

© 2002, Bill Steigerwald