Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Where The Wild Things Are

I know, I’m just one of those bleeding hearts. But when I happened on a copy of Tuesday’s New York Times science section and read John Tierney’s piece on the effects of living in fear after 9/11, I was monumentally underwhelmed. It seems that some researchers monitored a couple thousand Americans to see how their fear of terrorism affected their health. Not too surprisingly, “the most fearful people were three to five times more likely to receive diagnoses of new cardiovascular ailments.” All those terror alerts over the past several years are to blame, it appears.

But continual fear of terrorism is a strain on the social fabric, too. People become reluctant to even get together when public spaces are turned into fortified zones. Civil liberties erode and mistrust increases when the authorities keep warning of lurking terrorists and urging people to report “suspicious” activity, as in the ubiquitous advertisements in the New York subways exhorting people to call in tips to a counterterrorism hot line. … But as William Neuman reported in The Times, the ads neglected to mention the number of terrorists arrested as a result of the tips: zero.

Never let it be said that the Times isn’t self-critical! Tierney courageously admitted:

It’s not fair to blame public officials alone for this fear epidemic. We in the news media have done our part to scare people. … But since there hasn’t been an attack on America for six years, for domestic drama we’ve had to rely on dire predictions of politicians and security officials.

What if the alerts stopped? What if the security officials looked at this new medical evidence – or at their own perfect record of false alarms – and decided that the nation did not need to be in a perpetual state of yellow alert?

I thought that the Bush gang wanted Americans to be in a perpetual state of yellow alert, to ensure enthusiastic public support for their little expeditions into Ragheadland. First the Taliban, then Saddam Hussein, and now Iran were poised like daggers to strike at the heart of the Homeland, just as they had on September 11.

But that’s not what first occurred to me when I read Tierney’s article. What I immediately thought was what it would be like to live in a country where terrorists had struck more than once – where bombs might rain from the sky at any time, and had been doing so for years. What would that do to people’s cardiovascular health, those who weren’t killed or maimed already? Tierney complained that more Americans may have died as a result of the terror alerts than died in the September 11, 2001 attacks. It’s certain that more Iraqis than that have died since the US invasion.

This news was especially poignant, emerging at the same time as a new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that the US had killed 'only' about 151,000 Iraqis since March 2003. That's compared to the 655,000 calculated by the Johns Hopkins study published in the Lancet. I'm sure every decent American feels for the Iraqis, but what about us? Does our pain count for nothing?

Today Tierney offered more of the same, quoting “John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University,” who warned,

Even if fears of terrorism do begin to decline, they can probably be very substantially rejiggered if a lone fanatical nut somewhere shoots up a bus, bank, or beauty salon while shouting “God is great!”

But what if the bombers are shouting, “God bless America! Payback for 9/11!”? I guess that’s of no interest. I mean, the people we’re killing are foreigners. They don’t feel pain like we do. Besides, they’re used to suffering, because of all those years they spent under the iron fist of Saddam Hussein. What matters is that we’re hurting. As left-liberal blogger, journalist, and advocate of impeachment for Bush-Cheney Dave Lindorff put it in a post titled “They’re Scaring Us To Death”:

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t think about terrorists. The chances that I’m going to be the victim of a bombing, plane hijacking or mall attack is so minimal it can’t be measured.

I’m much more worried that the country that I grew up in has been hijacked by a bunch of power-mad war-mongers bent on destroying the Constitution and bringing to an end the free and free-wheeling society we’ve been building for over 200 years.

I hope that worrying doesn’t end up giving me a heart attack…

Gee. Me too, Dave.

UPDATE Jan. 18.

I should have included this in the main post, but it was late and I am lazy, and besides, I'm an American -- I was afraid that thinking about it too much would give me a heart attack:

The U.S. military conducted more than five times as many airstrikes in Iraq last year as it did in 2006, targeting al-Qaeda safe houses, insurgent bombmaking facilities and weapons stockpiles in an aggressive strategy aimed at supporting the U.S. troop increase by overwhelming enemies with air power.

Lenin's Tomb has good commentary.