Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Price Security?

And, really, is it even security?

On September 11, 2001 the United States suffered a terrorist attack that cost about 3,000 lives.

In that same year, 42,000 Americans died in traffic accidents. 3200 were killed in motorcycle accidents alone.

We have now expended more than a trillion dollars and 5800 American military lives (4400 in Iraq and 1400 in Afghanistan) in the two wars we are fighting on the pretext of preventing another 9-11. This number, about twice the number lost in the WTC tragedy, does not count the perhaps one million civilian lives we have destroyed in the countries we invaded.

On the home front, we are now twisting ourselves into knots and surrendering our freedoms at an alarming rate in order to prevent people from smuggling small amounts of explosives onto airplanes.

However, anybody who really wants to take down an airplane can do so without smuggling anything on board in a body cavity. For example, a small, easily-smuggled ground-launched missile would do the job pretty well. If you want a sitting duck situation, shoot the missile at a plane that is just landing or taking off. 300 people might die, and that would be a great tragedy, of course, but it would also be comparable to the number of traffic fatalities in America in any random 3-day period. So, in the grand scale of things, we are putting more extreme strains on our democracy every day, and expending irreplaceable resources, on futile but highly intrusive procedures aimed at preventing relatively unlikely and relatively small-scale attacks.

If all this TSA irradiating and gropery at the airports is totally ineffectual in preventing planes from being blown up then it must have some other purpose. Cranking up fear and rage in the public might be such a purpose. Or maybe it’s just a test of our docility.

The worst possible terrorist attack on America might involve setting off a nuclear device in a major city. It could kill millions of people. Any coastal city would be totally vulnerable to a nuclear device in the hold of a tramp steamer from anywhere. But we aren’t at all thorough about searching bulk cargos.

If we were really serious about preventing a truly disastrous terrorist attack, we would remove all those TSA people from the airports and put them to work searching the big ships and the cargo planes coming into the country.