Why Are Americans So Afraid?
How worried should Americans actually be about the state of the world and how should we begin to rethink the appropriate scale of our investment in national security?
The world is by and large a safer, less violent place today than it has been for the past 200 years. America faces no existential violent threats on the scale of the American Revolutionary War, the Civil War, WWII, or the Cold War. What is perhaps the world’s most existential threat—climate change—occupies a much smaller portion of the public consciousness than terrorism. The violent threats that do exist are geographically remote and consist mostly of religious fanatics with primitive weapons and no access to the American homeland. More Americans are killed each year by furniture than terrorism. But when threats of terrorism appear, people react in near hysteria instead of trying to understand the root causes or deploy effective counter-measures.
Americans live in more fear than perhaps ever in the country’s 240-year history. How did this happen and what is America afraid of? What should America be afraid of?
America does not have a long tradition of living in fear or arming for perpetual war. Prior to WWII, America felt insulated by two oceans and secure borders, and maintained a relatively small army, navy, and air force. The national security state created after WWII produced the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about, which has magnified fears and created a perpetual war-footing at an annual cost estimated at $1.3 trillion.
This certainly is not a desirable state of affairs, but is it inevitable? Or can America rethink security in more rational and effective ways, stop trying to police the world, and return to making the health of its own people, economy, and infrastructure its higher priorities?