American citizens are justifiably concerned about the threat of terrorist violence in the United States. From 2001 to 2013, over 3000 people have been killed in the United States by terrorists. The recitation, and the memories, are gruesome, from the twin towers to San Bernardino. Those monstrous crimes have pushed American voters to list terrorism among their greatest concerns, and it is clearly affecting their choice of candidate for the presidency. Likely Republican voters have listed terrorism as America’s number one problem.
We are all deeply concerned, as we should be, because innocent people are being killed by terrorists. In 2004 alone, 74 people were killed by terrorists in the U.S., and in 2013, 20 people were killed by terrorists.
So we should be deeply concerned about deaths in such numbers. Here, then, are some other numbers. In the same period, 2001 to 2013, over 400,000 people were killed by guns in the United States, and in 2013 alone, over 13,000 people were murdered in the United States. Yet crime is not a major issue for the voters, and gun control is actually denounced by a large part of the population. Why is that?
I am going to hazard a guess. Think about the instances of terrorism. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The attack at the Boston Marathon. The attack at Fort Hood. The attack at a center to help the disabled in San Bernardino. There is a common thread here. All of these attacks happened at places where we would least expect to see violence of any kind.
So, if we shudder at the 3000 deaths that happened in these places, why do we pay so little attention to the more than 400,000 people who died from guns in the same period? If we face this honestly, do we have to admit that, to put it bluntly, we don’t care? Are we saying that those violent deaths don’t matter because they don’t really affect us? Are we assuming that those deaths are in “bad areas”, and, since we don’t live there, it is not our problem? 13,000 people are murdered, and we hardly spare a sigh, and in the same period 20 people are killed by terrorists and we are ready to throw away our most precious civil rights in our effort to avoid further terrorism?
Terrorism is a real and undeniable threat. So are crimes like murder, rape, and the various financial crimes that strip our citizens of billions of dollars a year. There is, however, a far greater threat, a threat that could destroy the very fiber of this nation. The real threat is our growing commitment to the ideology of self-interest.
America was founded on an idea of responsibility for others. We hold the indubitable truth that every human being — every human being — is born equal and born with inalienable rights. That is a clear announcement of, and a clear commitment to, the fundamental view that our value comes, not from pursuing our own selfish interests, but from honoring and protecting the rights of all around us. It is why we honor those who have dedicated, and in many cases surrendered, their lives to protect and defend others. We don’t honor anyone just for amassing great wealth or seizing great power. Think of your list of true heroes. Think of those to whom we give the medal of honor or the medal of freedom. You will not find Donald Trump or Carl Icahn there. You will, however, find Rosa Parks and Mother Theresa and Abraham Lincoln and Mohandas Gandhi. These are not great because of what they gained for themselves but precisely for what they have done and what they have given for others.
We do have problems in America. We should worry about the economy and the crime rate and terrorism. Before we can even begin to solve these problems, however, we need to look to ourselves. If we do, we might just run into the inconvenient truth so neatly put by Al Capp: we have met the enemy, and he is us.