Finally Talking Terror Sensibly

In one respect at least, the reaction to the Boston Marathon bombings was commendably restrained. A number of commentators across the political spectrum have tried to put the danger in context and argued that the best way to undermine terrorism is to avoid being frightened by it.

To be sure there were some overwrought responses by public officials. The Federal Aviation Administration established a no-fly zone over the bombing site, San Francisco banned back packs at crowded events, and tourists near the White House were backed off an additional 40 yards.

And a few pundits immediately began making extravagant claims about the relevance of the attacks. The New York Daily News proclaimed that the Boston bombs “once again blew up the idea that any of us will ever be safe again,” and The National Journal’s Ron Fournier claimed that the bombing “makes every place (and everybody) less secure.”

Yet for pretty much the first time there has been a considerable amount of media commentary seeking to put terrorism in context—commentary that concludes, as a Doyle McManus article in the Los Angeles Times put it a day after the attack, “We’re safer than we think.”

Similar tunes were sung by Tom Friedman of the New York Times, Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe, David Rothkopf writing for CNN.com, Josh Barro at Bloomberg, John Cassidy at the New Yorker, and Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune, even as the Washington Post told us “why terrorism is not scary” and published statistics on its rarity. Bruce Schneier, who has been making these arguments for over a decade, got 360,000 hits doing so for The Atlantic. Even neoconservative Max Boot, a strong advocate of the war in Iraq as a response to 9/11, argues in the Wall Street Journal, “we must do our best to make sure that the terrorists don't achieve their objective—to terrorize us.”

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April 16, 2014