The Triviality of Terrorism


In the general scheme of manmade disasters, terrorism is trivial. That’s not even debatable, as I’ll itemize below. Westerners who’ve been consuming televised fears for 15 years straight may object, but fear has nothing to do with truth… and very much the opposite.

And I’ll skip through the obvious fact that I’m opposed to people being murdered by maniacs and the equally obvious acknowledgment that terrorism is a very big thing to the people involved.

The Facts

When deciding whether a statement is true or false, facts should decide. If we let ourselves imagine that fear makes something true, we doom ourselves to lives of abuse.

So, let’s take a look at the facts.

To address this question directly, I decided to take facts from just the past hundred years or so and to stick to the large powers. My apologies to those associated with events I left out; I do not mean to minimize them.

This list shows how many deaths are attributable to each. These figures are from Wikipedia, and if there was a range, I took the middle of it.

World War II:    75,000,000
Great Leap Forward (China): 32,000,000
World War I:  18,000,000
Russian Civil War:    7,000,000
Ukrainian Genocide (Holodomor): 5,300,000
Killing Fields (Cambodia):  2,000,000
Korean War: 2,500,000
Vietnam War:  1,900,000
Great Purge (USSR): 1,000,000
Gulf War II (Iraq):      700,000
Gulf War I: 130,000
Mexican Drug War:     107,000
Afghan War: 85,000

Now, would you like to know how many people have died at the hands of terrorists? Here are the numbers, over more years and a larger area:

1900–1929: 520
1930–1949: 1,088
1950–1969: 283
1970–1979: 1,523
1980–1989: 3,401
1990–1999: 2,203
2000–2009: 6,625
2010–2015: 3,470

Terrorism numbers are difficult to define post-2000, because every minor skirmish is now called “terrorism.” So, the numbers above exclude many attacks on government facilities and uniformed government employees. Civil wars aren’t terrorism; attacks on churches, buses, and markets are terrorism.

All told, this comes to 19,113 deaths over 116 years. Compared to the almost 146,000,000 deaths listed above, terrorism amounts to one one-hundredth of one percent: 0.013% to be precise.

Compared to Rudolph Rummel’s data showing 262 million “deaths by government” over the 20th century, terrorism stands at a statistically insignificant 0.0073%

A few more comparisons:

  • Since 1970, terrorism world-wide has claimed considerably less than 18,000 lives. Over those same years, the War on Drugs has claimed seven times as many in Mexico alone.

  • In the worst year of terrorism (2001), less than 4,000 died. In just one battle of World War I (Verdun), more than 300,000 died – 75 times as many.

  • On the worst day of terrorism (Sept. 11, 2001), less than 3,000 died. In one day of World War II (June 6, 1944), only in Normandy and only on the winning side, there were 4,413 confirmed dead.

Our Feelings Are Wrong

To most of us, war feels a lot less scary than terrorism. And the reason for that is obvious: the images that are presented to us and the attitudes of the people around us proclaim war to be normal.

War doesn’t surprise us; it doesn’t shock us. We’ve been trained to believe that wars are contained and that it’s mainly people in uniforms that are affected. The truth, however, is otherwise. Civilian deaths in World War II, for example, were double the number of soldier deaths.

Uniforms, authorizations, and official displays turn our eyes away from the massive horror of war. Everything around us supports the old saying that “one man dying is a tragedy; a million men dying is a statistic.” Everything supports fear of terror rather than fear of war.

Reality, however, is unmoved by our fears: War is death, dismemberment, and impoverishment, and it will never be anything else… just like terrorism, but much, much larger.

Our images and norms are at odds with reality. Consider this, please:

Government-waged war is hundreds of times worse than small bands of crazies. To take a ho-hum attitude toward war while remaining panicked over terrorism is wildly irrational.

When our feelings disagree with realty, it’s time to recalibrate them.

Now What?

Now, if we care about reality – if we care about our hearts and minds functioning well – we must stop accepting the massive terror of war as normal. Millions of people being killed in political disputes is beyond barbaric.

If this be normalcy, the systems that produce it must be questioned at the most basic levels and replaced. Promptly.

At the same time, we must stop living in fear. Fear makes us stupid; it makes us manipulable. Fear enslaves us.

Last Words

My point in this article is not that we should ignore the horrors of terrorism. Rather, it’s that we should see the situation as it is. And for those of us in the West, the situation is that terrorism is a political weapon, wielded by politicians in the service of what Dwight Eisenhower termed the “military-industrial complex.”

We should further understand that eliminating terrorism would deprive these people of their greatest tool. If terrorism stopped, they’d have to replace it. The Western status quo requires a frightened and confused populace.

Terrorism is a deadly reminder of just how deceived humans can become. Eliminating it will be awfully hard if we remain terrified and deceived ourselves.

* * * * *

If you’ve enjoyed Free-Man’s Perspective or A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, you’re going to love Paul Rosenberg’s new novel, The Breaking Dawn.

It begins with an attack that crashes the investment markets, brings down economic systems, and divides the world. One part is dominated by mass surveillance and massive data systems: clean cities and empty minds… where everything is assured and everything is ordered. The other part is abandoned, without services, with limited communications, and shoved 50 years behind the times… but where human minds are left to find their own bearings.

You may never look at life the same way again.

Get it now at Amazon ($18.95) or on Kindle: ($5.99)


* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg

13 thoughts on “The Triviality of Terrorism”

  1. I run into this same irrationality when debating the second amendment. Following every shooting (which is no doubt horrible), there is a constant clarion call to further curb the right to own and bear arms. My argument is simple and it is based on the statistics set forth above. The rational fear is of public institutions, not private actors. But this is all the more difficult to convey when massive state inflicted slaughter upon their own people is still kind of only a possibility in the US, while the murders of 10 here and 50 there by individual actors are actually happening now. Couple that with the naive belief that “our country would never do that” (i.e. kill their own people) and you have a bunch of smart people surrendering their liberties and human dignity every single day.

  2. So, what can we do to combat the regular use of fear, as a means to control?
    On a personal level, I’ve had a fair degree of success by meditating, no longer reading/watching news, and drastically limiting the amount of advertising I view (to prevent being controlled by the fear of being somehow inadequate, due to not owning the latest shiny toy/drinking the popular beer/etc.).
    However, the world’s narrative is driven by the masses, who are being led by the fear-mongers. How do we help them “see the light”? Or, do we just build our spaceship, and leave them behind (perhaps literally)?

    1. You’re making a great start, SSR, by turning off the fear spigot and meditating. You can add to that by building systems that don’t require fear to function: Bitcoin, cryptography, 3D printing, etc., etc.
      As for the masses: Remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Talk to people, plant seeds every time you can, smile, show kindness, and so on. Do these things openly. People see and learn, albeit slowly. Endurance and kindness go a long way, just not immediately.

      1. I am in favor of Bitcoin as a alternative privately controlled form of currency. But I do not foresee it as something I would ever use or invest in; mainly because I do not understand it and can not physically touch it. And generally I fear things that I do not understand and can not touch.That may be a primitive position but it is probably wide spread.

        1. I’ve been working in technology for several decades, and have also avoided Bitcoin (so far). From what I’ve seen, every new technology has three significant changes before it catches on. The first few failures happen for technical and market reasons. I like the concepts behind Bitcoin, but I keep thinking of the saying, “The pioneers are the ones face-down in the dirt, with arrows in their backs

  3. The Libyan people, whose terrorists we supported do not find terrorism by the terrorists or by NATO terrorists trivial, neither do the Syrian people.

  4. Yes, excellent. People peripheral to my peer group talk about terrorism as if it were rain. “Is there terror outside today?” I tell them ~450,000 people a year die from medical mistakes, so if you really want not to be mowed down pell mell, then for goshsake, don’t go to your doctor! Ever again!

  5. For those of us who live in flyover America terrorism is most definitely a non issue aside from the fact that it’s our boys they keep sending to every third world $&ithole to get blown up while enriching the military industrial complex and the politicians they own. However, for the people of Lybia, Syria, Iraq, Israel, and Yemen (to name a few) terrorism at the hands of 7th century mooslim psychopaths is as real as rain. Islam is a polity with a religious dictate to slaughter or enslave every non believer on the planet and they don’t appear to be slowing down in their quest. Wether we like it or not we are at war with Islam. The way we fight it so far is idiotic but it is still very real.

    1. At least we agree that the military is a bad thing and dragging our country down. Your hero Bush created ISIS when he invaded Iraq.

      1. Never said bush was my hero or his dumb daddy. But actually Obama created ISIS when him and Hilary armed Muslim militias in an attempt to oust president Assad from Syria. The same Muslim radicals that became fed up with the CIA jerking them around over surface to air missiles and decided to storm the benghazi compound responsible for distributing the weapons. Oh ya and then they lied about it. This of course all taking place in the failed state of Lydia which was wrecked by a civil war started by hilary. Remember “we came, we saw, he died cackle cackle cackle.” – Hilary Clinton

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