Threats

Was there a credible bomb threat to New York City’s subway system or not? The warning, coming as it did in the midst of a week full of continuing bad news for the Bush Administration, would be easily dismissed as politically motivated, except that the Department of Homeland Security are among those suggesting that the intelligence behind the threat isn’t credible. That seems somehow backwards.

But credible threat or not, there has been much discussion of how frightened New Yorkers should be. Someone (apparently from Wichita) wrote:

I’m sure that many New Yorkers are aware of a bomb threat. I’m also sure that many are in deep denial. If they weren’t in denial they’d be looking hard for jobs elsewhere right now.

I really can’t see getting all worked up over this or any other threat, regardless of its credibility–certainly not to the point of ever leaving New York. The way I see it is that riding the subway is orders of magnitude safer than driving, so much so that even if there were a suicide bombing on the subway every day, the average subway rider would probably still be statistically safer than the average automobile commuter. (As an aside, how many people have been killed by, say, drunk drivers since September 10, 2001? Where’s the War on Drunk Driving? What is it about global terror that’s so much more compelling than, say, global AIDS? Why are we so worried about the few hundred that might be killed by terrorists, but not, say, the thousands or even millions who are far more likely to be killed by a bird flu pandemic? Why are some deaths more compelling than others?)

Or as another New Yorker put it:

Yeah, that’s our dream: to move to Wichita and spend our weekend nights watching Clem and Cletus blow up gophers. Especially now that their crystal meth is drying up, I’ll give Cowtown a miss and take my chances with the suicide bombers.

It’s amusing to me that terrorism is effective not against those who have been or might be harmed by it, but by those who face no danger whatsoever. That is, as they say, when the terrorists have won.

9 Replies to “Threats”

  1. “It’s amusing to me that terrorism is effective not against those who have been or might be harmed by it, but by those who face no danger whatsoever. That is, as they say, when the terrorists have won.”

    Not true IMO. I for one am pretty pissed that my kids won’t live in a world with the same sense of security I had as a child. Even growing up during the Cold War we knew at the end of the day that the Soviets were rational human beings who would think twice before pressing the button. Islam-bots are a different breed altogether. Sure I have better chance of getting hit by a bus than killed by a terrorist. Still, why should have to worry about yet another way of getting myself killed?

  2. But Chris, do you actually worry about yet another way of getting yourself killed? Do you ever actually think about it? Does it change your behavior in any way? I’ve yet to meet anyone in New York who has changed their life in any way in response to terrorist threats. Nor have I met anyone who really even gives it much thought. But I do know people well beyond harm’s potential reach who spend time thinking about the threat of terrorism, who worry about it and won’t come in to New York, for instance, as a result. All I meant to say is that terror works on irrationality, and to the extent that you’re rational, terrorism is ineffective.

    As to your kids, they’re far more likely to be worrying about exotic mutations of deadly diseases and the depletion of viable energy sources than about terrorists.

    Finally, the argument that the Soviets were in some way preferable as a threat to religious extremists is a bit of a tautology. If you believed that the Soviets (and our own leaders for that matter) were rational, then you never had anything to fear from them at all. But the sad truth is that you did have something to fear, even if only an accident or misunderstanding, and it was much more than any of us have to fear today.

    And thanks for the actual figures, Brad.

  3. I am not changing my life around anything, I’m too stubborn 🙂 Still, I think there’s a very good chance this city will be hit hard (as in tens to hundreds of thousand dead) in the next 20 years if the viral spread of Islamic extremism is not stopped.

    Say what you want about the Soviets, but it’s a lot easier to rationalize with people with Earthly motives than those who think they are doing God’s work. That goes out to both Bush and Islam.

  4. Thanks for the entry and the interesting discussion that ensued. Now, on an unrelated note, I noticed an item in the news that the alleged “terror attack”–according to these “credible sources,” had been scheduled for SUNDAY. Excuse me, a SUNDAY terror attack on municipal transit? That just makes a pile of sene.

  5. Say what you want about the Soviets, but it’s a lot easier to rationalize with people with Earthly motives than those who think they are doing God’s work.

    Well, let’s see… Among secular killers of the last century there was Hitler (11 to 26 million killed), Pol Pot (1 to 3.3 million killed), some Rwandan Hutus (937,000 killed), and then, of course, there was Stalin (untold millions killed), himself one of those Soviets driven by Earthly motives and with whom you could rationalize. It seems that the ability to rationalize with those with Earthly motives is of limited value. Religious extremists have a lot of work yet to do to earn the right to even be mentioned in the same breath as these more “rational” threats.

    Terrorism is an attempt to spread fear out of all proportion to the fairly limited threat that the terrorists actually pose. And it seems to be working in some cases. Your sense that “this city will be hit hard (as in tens to hundreds of thousand dead) in the next 20 years” isn’t based on anything you know that the rest of us don’t–it’s an expression of fear.

    And yes, I think Sunday is a very strange day for such an attack. As one commenter on the story I linked to put it, “Really, this all sounds like the bullshit that happens when you torture someone too much. Finally they either start making things up to make the torture stop, or they start making things up to mess us up.”

  6. I’m changing the subject, because you accidentally hit one of my buttons– Do you see how, even though the percentage of auto fatalities caused by drunks has diminished steadily, the overall number of fatalities stays roughly the same? Not that I advocate drunk driving, or anything like that, but it’s clear that automobiles are a fundamentally unsafe mode of transportation, even when the drivers are stone cold sober and fully licensed. Drunks are being used as a smokescreen here.

  7. I don’t know that drunks are being used as a smokescreen. They’re certainly a problem, they’re just not the only problem.

    I suspect that the increase in fatalities could be tied to the growth of SUVs as a proportion of the vehicles on the road (both because they’re more likely to be in accidents and because when they’re in an accident, they’re more likely to cause fatalities in whatever or whoever they hit). So given that, and given their excessive use of resources which are increasingly in short supply, where then is the War on SUVs?

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