Every single American has been attacked by terrorists
Post-9/11 security measures have caused many Americans a lot of personal inconvenience. No one likes it; no one should be expected to. Yet there seems to be a mood among some Americans that is disturbing. We have become testy, selfish and complaining.
The complaints are legion. Some have argued that our security measures are not worth the trouble because the odds are greater that we will die from other causes. They compare, for example, the odds of dying in a terrorist attack (1 in 88,000) to such odds as dying in your bathtub (1 in 10,455). They also contrast the odds of dying from a terrorist attack to the odds of dying from hanging or strangulation (1 in 5,330), drowning (1 in 7,972) and lightning strike (1 in 55,928). The 44,443 traffic fatalities in the United States in 2005 is compared to the 18,944 people around the world who died in acts of terrorism in a period of a little more than four years.
By logical extension, our nation's money and resources would be better spent on steel collars, rubber cars, lifeguards, lightning rods and on showers to replace bathtubs. If less money and fewer resources had been spent on defense in World War I and World War II, and more had been spent in the prevention of fatalities at home, more lives would have been saved. Our Constitution, democracy, liberties, way of life and freedoms would have been destroyed, but at least there would have been more of us to bask under the yoke of an emperor or dictator.
Contrasting the odds of any one American being killed by a specific danger to the odds of dying as a result of terrorism in order to mitigate the threat of terrorism is idiocy. The victims of the 9/11 attack were not just the people killed or injured; the victims were and are their families, their friends and each and every American. Our nation was attacked; the markets plummeted; our economy was badly shaken; our air transportation system was disrupted; all Americans were terrorized. In that light, the odds of any American becoming a victim of a terrorist attack is 1 in 1. Such a comparison is wrong-headed, egotistical, selfish and short-sighted. In it is the notion that family, friends, love ones, other Americans, our way of life, our liberty and our country are expendable as long as our individual life is spared.
Another complaint that is often heard is that security measures are not worth it because the inventiveness of terrorists can circumvent them. This is akin to saying that penicillin should be taken off pharmacy shelves because it is not always effective. Why have laws and law enforcement if crimes are still committed? Why inspect airplanes for safety if aviation accidents still happen? The answer is in the questions.
I had to pick up a passenger at the Honolulu Zoo parking lot. No spaces were open except one clearly marked "No Parking." I figured I would be there only briefly, and since I would stay in the car, I could move if anyone wanted to use the space. I kept the car idling. I was there for just a few minutes when a police officer angrily demanded that I move. I snapped back indignantly, arguing that it was just a temporary stop. I was angry and let the officer know it. Hours afterward, when the anger subsided, I was very remorseful. That officer deserved my thanks, not my anger. I am so sorry.
We complain about the slightest infraction, the slightest inconvenience. We rationalize our feelings and behavior. Terrorism, we say, is the problem of others, not ours, because we are likely to die from causes other than terrorism. Common civility, love of country and human kindness are the casualties. Not all of us can don a uniform in defense of our country, but minimally, we all can exercise kindness, understanding and patience to support those who do. That is the essence of patriotism.
Nelson S.W. Chang lives in Kaneohe.