I’m often surprised by seemingly intelligent people who spout profoundly stupid things. And yet, I’ve been listening to politicians, TV “journalists” and shock jocks for years, so there’s really no excuse for it.
So I shouldn’t have been taken aback when a friend, who can do up his own pants unassisted and excels at a job that requires the ability to look interested during boring meetings, scoffed at my idea of a skiing holiday in Japan. “I won’t be going there. Too risky, mate, too scary, too many bombs,” he yelped.
I did think for a moment that perhaps he was concerned about unexploded ordnance, or that he thought it was still 1945. Eventually, I twigged: he was worried about what he grandly called the Korean Missile Crisis, and the idea that Trump might kill us all, becoming the first to Tweet-start a war.
It is equally surprising to hear that many people are now afraid to travel to Europe (Paris and London, in particular), threatened by the fear of terrorism. People were willing to travel to the French capital in huge numbers in the past, despite the way local drivers treat pedestrians. And the fact remains you’re still hugely more likely to be run over and killed than taken out by a terrorist.
You’re also more likely to die of food poisoning in London than you are to be targeted by an extremist.
What this shows, sadly, is that terrorists are doing a fine job of their core goal – albeit at an unacceptable cost—which is to instil terror in the common folk. The fear of dying in such a brutal way – much like the fear of being attacked by a shark – is far larger than the statistics suggest it should be.
Since the 2002 Bali bombings, in which 202 people—many of them Aussie – were killed, more than 110 Australians have died overseas in terrorists attacks. It’s a horrible number, but not a large one. At home, more Australians have died from domestic violence (more than 318 in 2014 and 2015) than were killed by terrorists on home soil in the past 20 years (just three).
Personally, I love travelling too much to ever think about giving in to terrorists. And yet, I’ve felt a shamefully paranoid fear about visiting one country in particular. The US, with its wonderful women, cheap booze and bountiful drugs, is one of my favourite places to visit. But I’ve started to wonder whether, statistically, it’s worth the risk. Not of being killed by an act of terror, but by some random idiot with a legal firearm, or a bagful of them.
The facts are stark: just 71 people were killed in terrorist attacks on US soil between 2005 and 2015, as opposed to the 301,797 who died from gun violence over that same period, according to PolitiFact. I searched Gun Violence Archive to check the figures and was shocked to find that, not only does the website run a ticker to count the latest shootings, but you can even search results in the last 72 hours – because they are that common. Chillingly, in the three days before I’d logged on, there were more than 250 incidents across the country. Many of those were suicides, accidents and domestic-related matters, which present little danger to a random traveller. It’s the mass shootings, the random spree killings by deranged gun owners, that are the real worry.
There were 372 mass shootings in the US in 2015 alone, killing a staggering 475 people and wounding 1870. (There were also 64 school shootings over the same period, which is even sadder.)
And you really can be accidentally killed anywhere – watching The Dark Knight Rises in a theatre in Colorado (12 dead), dancing in a nightclub in Orlando (49 killed), or fleeing a hail of more than 5000 rounds of ammunition at a country-music festival in Las Vegas (59 dead).
I admit I have worried about gun violence in the States prior to the latest incidents, but then, it was always more a matter of avoiding road rage and talking smack to the kind of men who like to wear stockings on their heads. You felt if you kept your nose clean and your wits about you, you could avoid a lead injection.
Today, though, in a country where gun violence is on the rise and politicians are too gun shy about stopping it, you really have to think twice about whether the world’s best bad food, dive bars and cheap shopping are worth the inherent risk.