Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley

Nature and Significance of Terrorism

War is hell but the hellish things that are done in war are done for goals of military advantage. Terrorism differs from war in that the vicious, heinous acts are done solely for their publicity value.

There is almost an unspoken agreement between the terrorists and the mass media:

Media: "If you commit some atrocity we will publicize it and make it seem militarily significant."
Terrorists: "Well, if you will publicize it, we will commit it."

Media have an inherent proclivity to sensationalize and when the media is written and edited by people who hate their government this unspoken pact between the terrorists and the media becomes truly outrageous. But what the media doesn't say is that in terms of the total deaths the terrorism is relatively minor. On average in the U.S., based upon mortality rates of the recent past, about seven thousand people die every day. About one hundred and twenty Americans die in automobile accidents on average every day. About 50 are murdered every day. On average, every other day a policeman dies in the line of duty. And so on. Most of the seven thousand deaths each day are of the elderly, but about half of the 120 deaths due to automobile accidents are young adults. These deaths are tragic too, not just the ones due to terrorism. Whenever there are large groups of people together some will die. This is a sad fact of life. Before the U.S. was involved in military action about eight hundred members of the U.S. military died each year due to fights, accidents, disease etc.

All of these deaths are tragic, not just the ones due to terrorism. Yet the media has no problem in ignoring the vastly larger number of tragic deaths due to causes other than terrorism. There is a political slant to the media's selective focus on terrorism. The message is that if the government cannot stop these terrorist acts it should be replaced. But if the message were that if the government cannot stop the fifty or so murders which occur everyday then it should be replaced no one would give it any credence. Governments at all levels should do everything within reason to prevent murders but any rational person knows that in a free, open society there will still be some murders. There will be some serial murderers. Terrorists are fundamentally serial mass murderers. Some such as Osama ben Laden are clearly jaded rich men who eventually found their lives of mere decadence unsatisfying and moved on to acts of ultimate depravity. All effort should be devoted to stopping them but they should not be considered politically any more significant than the other serial killers that exist in the world.

Supposedly the target of the terrorism of 9/11 was the American state, but what sane person could believe that the American state was weaker as a result of that terrorism. The American state became far stronger as a result. But America was not the essential target of the 9/11 terrorism. The real goal of al Qaeda is political power in the Arab world. If al Qaeda can gain a political following that translates into a gain in political power in Arab countries they will have achieved their ends no matter that they have not weakened the U.S. And it is the Western media that helps them to the extent that it exaggerates the significance of the terrorism.

The London bombings were terrible and were clearly intended to influence the upcoming British elections. The bombings in Madrid helped sway the voters against the party in power that supported Bush in Iraq and so now every time there is an election the terrorists will carry out mass murders. The terrorism is done solely for the publicity and the public perception that it something significant and not merely serial mass murder.

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