The threat of terrorism is real, but America’s response to it is dangerously counterproductive, writes a Penn political-science professor in this excerpt from his new book, Trapped in the War on Terror.

A specter haunts America: the specter of terrorism. The list of potential catastrophes is endless—a dirty radioactive cloud over Manhattan, hoof-and-mouth disease wiping out American cattle herds, bombs against a few tunnels or bridges bringing our transport system to a halt, smallpox unleashed on an airplane spreading almost immediately and unnoticeably throughout the country. As imagined disasters multiply, the scale of perceived danger inevitably outruns confidence in our defenses.

The government’s loudly trumpeted ‘‘War on Terror’’ is not the solution to the problem. It has become the problem. The War on Terror does not reduce public anxieties by thwarting terrorists poised to strike. Rather, in myriad ways, conducting the anti-terror effort as a “war” fuels those anxieties. By stoking these public fears and attracting vast political and economic resources in response to them, the War on Terror encourages, indeed virtually compels, every interest group in the country to advance its own agenda as crucial for winning the war. As a result, widening circles of Americans are drawn into spirals of exaggeration, waste, and fear.

Lowering the Temperature By Ian S. Lustick
EXCERPT: Trapped in the War on Terror
Illustration by David Hollenbach

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©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 11/10/06