According to the CDC, the United States averages about 16,000 murders per year (that’s 160,000 per decade). And few people seem to be terribly concerned about it. The Republicans refuse to expand background checks or limit the number of bullets in a clip for a semi-automatic weapon, as if having to change a clip more often would be an unbearable hindrance to the gun enthusiast at the shooting range. Meanwhile, some Democrats, like the ACLU, tend to be more concerned about even the smallest civil liberties than they are about the murder rate (such as prisoners’ rights activism that makes prison less of a deterrent than it should be and shows far more compassion for criminals than it does for their victims).
Yet, despite politically shrugging our shoulders at 160,000 murders per decade, our politicians and pundits have managed to spearhead a national freak-out because 120 people died in a terrorist attack and 200+ people died in a blown-up plane on the other side of the ocean. And they’ve inflamed this panic by proclaiming that ISIS has expanded their capabilities.
Are they talking about the capability of being able to travel to France or to board an airplane?
We already knew that ISIS had guns and bombs; that’s how they expanded their territory into Iraq. Just because they took them on a road trip doesn’t mean they have greatly expanded their capabilities.
The truth is that ISIS has very limited capabilities. They have no power to threaten the sovereignty of the USA. They cannot invade us like Japan or Germany could have in WWII. They can’t drop bombs on us, because they don’t have planes. And even if they did have planes, they would need aircraft carriers to get them over here, but they have none. They have no navy, no air force, and no missiles. So it is impossible for them to “come here and kill us all” as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham famously said last year. Historically, they are small potatoes. Yes, they could strike us like they did in Paris and kill tens or maybe even hundreds of people, but that would barely put a dent in the 160,000 murders that Americans commit against Americans each decade.
Of course, I can hear the panicked emotionalists cry as they read this, “What about 9/11? They killed thousands of people and blew up buildings, and if we don’t go over there and kill ‘em all, they are are going to come here and repeat 9/11 again and again.”
Indeed, the image of the twin towers burning is seared into the minds and emotions of so many people that it becomes hard to reason with them. The terrorists didn’t carry out those attacks with weapons. Rather, they outsmarted us by taking civilian aircraft and crashing them into buildings while full of gasoline – effectively turning the planes into bombs. I have news for the panicked emotionalists: We’ve caught on to the plane hijacking idea. The cockpits are locked so terrorists cannot get in and take control of the plane. And, of course, there are the stringent TSA screenings that libertarian Republicans have been whining about, as if it’s the end of the world if someone touches your precious leg before you board a plane. So this leaves terrorists with nothing more than conventional weapons, such as small bombs and guns. Yes, they can kill some Americans, but nowhere near as many as we kill ourselves.
All of this isn’t to say that we should take no action and be completely unconcerned. But our response should be a measured one. Remember that ISIS has made enemies on all sides – Russia and France, most recently, but also Iran, Iraq, and Syria. They pose far more of a threat to their neighbors, whom they can easily access, than they do to us over here on the other side of the planet. They will be contained, regardless of what we do. Yes, they are terrible, but sending thousands more Americans to die and be tortured in a decade-long quagmire while shoveling trillions of dollars to the defense industry is overkill.
Politically, what concerns me is that an ISIS terrorist coming to America and killing as few as a dozen people in 2016 would cause a national freak-out that would guarantee a Republican landslide, because Obama supposedly didn’t keep us safe. And the Republican president would then send thousands of troops to their deaths in Syria and Iran (remember, they promise to tear up the Iran deal, which many experts say would lead to war), add trillions of dollars to our debt, all because of an attack that equaled less than 1/1000th of our annual murder rate. And if an aggressive Republican like Trump, Cruz, or Fiorina wins, we’ll likely find ourselves at war with Russia – a nuclear nation – and the consequences of that are unthinkable. And, of course, with such high war costs, Republican leaders will require us to make sacrifices to pay for the war, which are likely to include deep and drastic cuts to healthcare, disability, food stamps, and other assistance programs, costing thousands more lives here at home than jihadist terror attacks will ever take.
Basically, the Republican reaction to a relatively small numbers of deaths is to repsond with a far greater number of deaths. Why do they do it? It’s because they’ve shunned the warnings of former WWII Supreme Allied Commander and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower who, upon leaving office in 1961, warned, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” Instead, Republicans and their panicky followers have enabled the weapons industry to enrich itself off of the deaths of foreigners, American soldiers abroad, and American civilians at home. That’s why they shrug their shoulders at over 100,000 guns murders at home per decade, but want us to panic and wage expensive wars over a few hundred lives lost overseas.