America's Grand Distraction With Terrorism Is Dangerous

Every night, millions of Americans watch people get shot, stabbed, beaten, raped, and blown up on their favorite TV shows and don't bat an eyelash at such "artful" violence. However, when such violence happens in real life - a bombing at a marathon finish line, a mass shooting in a California suburb -- our national media leads an orgy of whining, hysteria and self-pity.

In fact, the worst thing America's media can do in response to a terrorist attack is to go into an extended "news cycle" that repeatedly shows pictures of the terrorists and recounts the awful deeds they have done. Such blanket coverage only encourages future terrorists to commit even bolder acts as a means of both achieving the martyrdom they may seek.

Of course, the difficulty of getting any kind of self-restraint within the American media is that bad news -- particularly the chaos and panic of terrorist acts -- sells newspapers and drives up TV and talk show ratings. Thus, any attempt at self-restraint by any one media outlet will result in a loss of competitive position.

To overcome this difficult, we the people need to send a clear signal to the press that we need not be inundated by such coverage -- and do not wish to see pictures of terrorists over and over on the news. Here, one must look to both the British example in World War II and the Israel of today as to the kind of national character we must develop.

In Britain's case, it endured nightly Nazi bombings with a "stiff upper lip" and a dignity totally lacking in the American people today. In Israel's case, its population inhabits a country where missiles are routinely lobbed into its cities, suicide bombers periodically go boom in crowded places, and any one on the street might be stabbed by an angry Palestinian. Yet, life goes bustling on in Israel without the kind of sustained media hysteria we have witnessed in the wake, for example, of the recent attacks in San Bernardino.

Our mantra here must be to keep things in perspective and not let terrorism crowd out issues that may ultimately prove to be of far more consequence. Here, it may be useful to put such terrorism in perspective.

In the case of 9/11, a handful of suicide bombers commandeered several civilian passenger jets, destroyed several buildings, damaged the Pentagon, and killed thousands of people. While the attack was beyond bold, the causalities were relatively small, especially when compared to the carnage of World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam -- and indeed what happens on an almost weekly basis in places like Syria and the Ukraine.

Instead of a measured and targeted response to the attacks, the U.S. went on an hysterical lockdown of its transportation systems followed by several of the longest wars in our history. In fact, the aftermath of 9/11 caused thousands of times more damage and carnage than the al Qaeda attacks themselves -- and American politicians and the media must take a big responsibility for whipping the public into such a frenzy over the quest for retribution and revenge.

The bigger reality here is that while terrorism is a very significant threat, other far more dangerous longer term threats should not be ignored by the media -- or this 2016 presidential election debate, which has been virtually consumed by terrorism and marked by contenders trying to out-tough one another.

Both China and Russia, in particular, are rapidly arming and pursuing aggressive revanchist agendas likely to lead to conflict, and perhaps even war. These two authoritarian states are increasingly entering into an unholy alliance together -- wedding China's manufacturing might with Russia vast natural resources into a very dangerous threat indeed.

In addition, Iran and North Korea -- which regularly exchange nuclear weapons secrets -- remain the odds-on favorites to launch the first nuclear weapon since the bombing of Nagasaki 65 years ago -- with Iran likely to target Israel and North Korea likely to target any city from Seoul and Tokyo to Seattle.

The big point for the likes of CNN and MSNBC and the major TV networks: We must not take our eyes off very real threats elsewhere in the world every time a bomb goes off in the Middle East or a couple of terrorists kill innocents on American soil. So get a grip America -- and more of a stiff upper lip.


Peter Navarro is a business professor at the Merage School of Business and author of Crouching Tiger: What China's Militarism Means for the World.