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3.11.2004

Ranking the horrors: Terrorism, alcohol, Nazis, nukes
By John O'Connor, advisor to the free world

The great Irish poet, WB Yeats, famously advised posterity to cast a cold eye on life and death. Not always easy to do, but here goes.

The tragedy of 9-11 killed, in round numbers, 3, 000 people. This traumatic event captured national attention, justifiably, and has continued to keep it.

In the interest of the cold-eye view, however, I supply two considerations.

First, drunk driving. It kills about 17,000 Americans a year. Since that's a statistic, let's round down, make it 15. Or, depending on your mistrust of the figures (I am quoting MADD, which is quoting the government) make it 12. I rounded up a little on the 9-11 to get the 3,000.

Being generous with 9-11 and stingy with drunk driving, we are having about four 9-11 style slaughters every year. They don't happen all at once, admittedly. They are not done by foreigners. And by no means are they as politically sensitive as death by hijacking. But they are deaths nonetheless.

If we had four 9-11's happening every year, we would conclude that the sky was falling.

How come it doesn't matter if it's drunk driving? I think I know the answer -- this is a rhetorical question. But it is a question worth raising. Some deaths are more equal than others, apparently.

For further comparison, the Holocaust. If you mistrust statistics, I will spot you a million fatalities, and go with five million instead -- not that this is true, but for the sake of argument. Using this lower number for the sake of emphasis, the Holocaust is still 1,667 times bigger than 9-11. To put that in perspective, if the Holocaust had occurred at the rate of 3,000 deaths per day, it would take about four and a half years to occur. You would have to have a 9-11 sized event, once a day, every day, for four and a half years, before you would equal the Holocaust. And that is using five million as the sum. If the six million figure is used, it goes on even longer. You do the math.

I could go on and on.

My point is that the safety of air travel, while a legitimate concern, is probably not our main worry. Our main worry should be finding weapons of mass destruction -- items which can cause 5 million fatalities in a single day.

Yes, every hijacking is a nightmare. But one nuclear bomb could ruin your whole day.

I view Osama, not as a complete red herring, but as a distraction from the destruction. In my own opinion, air travel is probably safer now than before. If the restrictions are loosed, it will largely be due to the agitation of business travelers and the air-businesses themselves, not to the laxity of the public.

Capturing Osama is of course a worthy objective. Killing him, however, might be a mistake. The name of the game here is martyrdom, and we should be cautious about making a martyr of him -- especially since one can only kill him once.

A single nuke could mean a Holocaust in a single day. That's what we need to worry about.

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