I wonder how we would react if 50,000 of us got killed in one whack, as apparently has happened in the China earthquake. Or, God forbid, 121,000, which is the high estimate for the number of dead in the Myanmar cyclone.
Judging from our reaction to the terror attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which claimed 3,000 lives, I suspect we would go nuts. Back in 2001, it became Terror Week on television, so we got to see the damage endless numbers of times. Politicians were scrambling for flag pins and trying to remember the words of the national anthem. Hardly a family pet could be buried without the TV cameras and the mayor showing up.
The president said it was our patriotic duty to spend money and then declared world war on terrorists everywhere, even though the 9/11 attackers had nothing to do with the others.
I infuriated one of the TV talkie boys one night. I accused him of being a fearmonger because he was ranting about the ever-present menace of terrorism. I pointed out that while terrorists had killed 3,000 Americans, 17,000 had killed themselves in falls, 15,000 had been murdered by homegrown criminals, and 109,000 died in accidents. He shouted and hung up.
Never let the news media set your priorities for things to worry about. They will be hopelessly wrong. Any one American's chances of being killed by a terrorist is minuscule. The only thing you have to do to protect yourself from a bomb is be somewhere else, and in a country of 3 million square miles, the odds are that most of us will be somewhere else.
There is no worldwide network of terrorists. Al-Qaeda is the only group we have to worry about, and it is small and not very influential. Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad have no quarrel with us. Their quarrel is with Israel. Colombia's terrorists are trying to overthrow the Colombian government, and that goes for most guerrilla organizations in the world.
A sensible administration would have taken out Osama bin Laden a long time ago. It's pretty embarrassing when you can't find a guy who is 6'-6" tall in a country where most people are short.
We need to develop some stoicism, because it is possible that we could lose a large number of people. A powerful earthquake in Los Angeles or San Francisco at rush hour could kill a good number. We're 30 minutes from 150 million people dead as long as nuclear missiles sit in silos in Russia and China. The most stupidly dangerous thing this administration has done is to allow our relations with Russia to deteriorate. When the Russians needed our help, we tried to exploit them instead. Now they have become an energy superpower and have little or no use for us.
Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin proved to be a smarter man and a better leader than George W. Bush. Russia's economy is booming; ours is in decline. Russia is energy-independent; we are desperately dependent on energy imports. Russia's power and influence are on the rise; ours are in decline. That's what happens when we vote jovial dullards into office who surround themselves with ideologues. Other than throw out a couple of baseballs, what has Bush done right? I can't think of anything.
And I'm not excited about any of the possible replacements. I just pray that whichever one it is will have more brains and less arrogance than the present occupant of the White House.
Forgive me for sounding cynical, but I've been listening to politicians promise to solve these same problems for 40 years, and the problems have all gotten worse, not better.
Charley Reese has been a journalist for 50 years. He writes for King Features Syndicate.