On CNN’s site, the network’s official “Security Analyst” rightly blasts Donald Trump for his fact-free critiques of domestic defense. But then Peter Bergen offers a disquieting reassurance. “The reality is,” he asserts, “that no terrorist organization has launched a successful attack in the United States since 9/11. Since then, on average, jihadist terrorists in the States have killed six Americans a year. That is too many, but these are tragedies, not national catastrophes as 9/11 was.”
In the first place, a national catastrophe is defined by the victim, not by the analytic, undamaged observer. On an occasion like the ones following terrorist attacks in the U.S., Israel’s Prime Minister Golda Meier noted that the statistics of brutality, no matter how few the fatalities, cannot be trivialized because “every person is a universe.”
In the second place, Bergen’s numbers are misleading. Almost 15 years have passed since 9/11. By his reckoning, six times 15 equals 90 murders. In fact, more than 140 Americans perished as a result of jihadist attacks since that date. Add the maimed, in places like the site of the Boston Marathon or the Orlando, Florida nightclub (locales Bergen conveniently omits), and 400-plus can be added to the total.
Yes, well, what of it? argue the defenders of current U.S. policy. This is a nation of more than 300 million. All very sad about those victims and their families, but they constitute a miniscule fraction of the general public. Americans would be more likely to get hit by lightning than to fall prey to a jihadist.
We have seen this kind of accounting before. Anyone who has ever been on safari, or watched a PBS nature documentary, has been reminded that zebra herds have behaved the same way for millennia. Large groups of striped equids graze on grasslands and drink at waterholes, aware that danger lurks at a distance. Every so often that distance narrows, as cheetahs bring down a colt, a careless adult, an aging, slow-footed male or female. The herd, having been thinned, clops on.
In documentary-speak, this is the way of the Serengeti. In the time of Tarzan and King Solomon’s Mines, it was colorfully labeled the Law of the Jungle. By whatever name, in that place all animals live by harsh and foreboding strictures. Nature, as Tennyson observed, is red in tooth and claw.
But humanity is different, or ought to be. Altruism, care for the most vulnerable members of society, freedom from predators who would shred the social contract—these are defining attributes of Western civilization. Without them, we are no more elevated than the huddled creatures of the savannah. Pace the Cable News Network, America’s best qualities need to be seen and not herd.
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