$500m spent for every US terror victim!
In one of the strangest and saddest news reports after two journalists were gunned down in Virginia last week, the one victim’s father says that despite his determination for stricter gun control, he will likely have to purchase a gun to protect himself from opponents of such stricter control. Excluding 911, mass shootings have killed more people than terrorism since 1982, whilst the US ranks the highest of any developed country in terms of firearm deaths. Why then has the US spent more than $1.6trn on wars to combat terrorism ($500m for every US victim of terrorism), whilst gun control is an issue that cannot get wide support?
The mass shooting of last week was the 246th in the US this year and by the end of this weekend, it had risen to 249. Excluding the deaths on 11 September 2001, US mass shootings have killed more people (553 according to Mother Jones) than terrorist attacks (540 according to the Johnson Archive) since 1982. Both fade into insignificance (even total terrorist death including 911 at 3533) when considering firearm homicides (11208 just in 2013) and total firearm deaths (33169 in 2013) according to the CDC. The US ranks tops of all developed countries when it comes to firearm deaths (10.6 per 100 000) with Finland next (5.6 per 100 000), followed by France (3.0 per 100 000).
Terrorism has been a national priority for the US, especially since the devastating attacks on 11 September 2001. These attacks directly or indirectly led to two ground wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) and several military interventions, including in Libya and Syria. The latest estimate for the cost of these wars is $1.6trn (based on the Overseas Contingency Operations fund), which is an astonishingly high amount. This equates to more than $500m ($500 000 000) spent for every US victim of terrorism since 911. In comparison, the US only spends $2500 for every death from heart disease (the leading cause of death).
Even if this astronomical spend had led to the elimination of all terror deaths globally, it would be very difficult to justify to the US people, considering that almost 10 000 American soldiers have lost their lives to date in these conflicts (more than 3 times the number of US terrorist victims), while documented Iraqi deaths alone (excluding Afghanistan and other) were c.220 000 and some estimates are as high as 1.4m since the invasion.
In addition, c.800 000 US citizens die annually of heart disease, c.600 000 from cancer, c.40 000 in car accidents (and c.100 000 in other accidents), and c.33 000 from firearms. In 2013, c.3400 Americans died of malnutrition, more than have died from terror attacks since 2001. Imagine the difference that a redirection of the $1.6trn war budgets could have had on the lives of ordinary Americans, not to mention the reduction in deaths and hardship for Middle Eastern citizens.
The sad truth is that the “War on Terror” has not made the world a safer place. According to the Global Terrorism Database, annual terrorism deaths have increased from under 3000 p.a. in the early 2000s to c.12 000 in 2013 and more than 17 000 in 2014. Without the War on Terror, the human death count in the Middle East and North Africa would have been considerably lower. Without the War on Terror, many economies of the Middle East and North Africa would not have been decimated, leading to poverty and hunger. Without the War on Terror, ISIS would not be a rising threat to the region and an increasing exporter of terror attacks to the rest of the world. I don’t feel safer, do you?
I would like to appeal to the US Government and the US citizens that vote them into power to please reassess your priorities. You are in such a strong position, whether financial, technological or influential to save lives, whether it is in the US or in the wider world. Please learn from your mistakes – war should be an absolute last resort and the Second World War was probably the last one you really could not have avoided. I am not saying, do not use your influence and money for good, even if it is to effect positive change to oppressive regimes. However, please try and be lighter on the guns and heavier on the butter. I am not saying you should start dismantling your military-industrial complex, we may well need a policeman in this world. But please, keep your powder dry if at all possible. Support countries, companies, NGOs, opposition parties that can further your interests and please make sure that there is at least some correlation between your interests and that of the people in these countries. Please reclaim your position as a force for good in this world, something that has slipped significantly since the end of the Cold War, in my opinion.
Are you shocked by how much the US has spent to combat terrorism? Is there any way that such spend was justifiable, in your opinion? Is the world a better place? Can the US reclaim its position as a force for good in the world or has it never lost it? I would love to hear your feedback.
In the mean time, keep your talking straight!