One of the topics that most dominates the nation’s political and policy discussions is the threat of terrorism. Politicians regularly warn of the dire threat of terrorism and the need to dedicate more resources to battle it.
While identifying and then preventing or combating terrorism is an important part of the nation’s national security strategy, it is important to keep things in perspective when deciding national priorities. Last week, the State Department its annual Country Reports On Terrorism, which surveys terrorism injuries and deaths worldwide last year.
The report notes that 15 American private citizens died from terrorism last year worldwide, with almost all the deaths occurring in Afghanistan and one each occurring in Iraq and Uganda. While this statistic is tragic, it should be noted that it is dwarfed by the number of Americans who died from two other causes which do not receive nearly as much sensationalistic media coverage: dog bites and lightning strikes.
According to a website that collects media reports of dog bite fatalities and data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 29 Americans were killed by lightning strikes last year and 34 Americans were killed by dog bites. ThinkProgress has visualized these statistics in the following chart:
Terrorism is certainly a national security concern that should be taken seriously. Yet given its relatively low fatality rate in comparison to other threats to humanity — the State Department’s report found that 13,186 people died worldwide from terrorism in 2010; in 2007, the United Nations estimated that 18,000 children died every day from hunger alone — we need to have a realistic assessment of our priorities.