There are many voices proclaiming that we live in dangerous times. How easy is it to turn on a television, radio, or computer and suddenly feel that the world is engulfed in conflict? The threats stemming from places like North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, China and others are shouted loudly by political leaders and commentators alike.
As a response to these perceived threats, the U.S. Department of Defense’s budget is increasing to more than $515 billion dollars in the budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year.
When North Korea launched another round of missiles into the sea last week, major news outlets predictably began to reiterate the threat that this regime poses. On July 3, a U.S. drone in Pakistan killed six while attacking a Taliban camp, producing the same reaction.
Though the coverage of political violence and turmoil is constant, we are living in what is perhaps the most peaceful time in human existence. The continuous industrialization of the world and collapse of the Soviet Union has led to more global prosperity and a relative balance of power. The basic threat that people face today is that of extremists who operate in small numbers and do not represent the views of the majorities surrounding them.
The International Peace Institute, formerly known as the International Peace Academy (IPA), is a research institute in New York that informs U.N. decision makers, academics and others.
In March 2007, Andrew Mack, the director of Human Security Center at Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia, published a report for the IPA on global conflict. He found that wars between countries made up 2 percent of armed conflicts in 2004 and none in 2005. He also found that the average number of battle deaths per conflict per year was 38,000 in 1950 and 700 in 2005, a 98 percent decrease.
Despite the relative peacefulness of our world today, there is an atmosphere of perceived danger. Perhaps this is a result of news coverage unseen by prior generations. People are able to access news and other information at an unprecedented rate. Modern 24-hour cable news networks and Internet sites have much less violence to cover and much more time to do so than their journalistic predecessors.
Imagine the coverage of the Iran-Iraq War of 1980 to 1988, a war that killed around one and a half million, if it took place today. A war of this size has not taken place since the explosion of news outlets.
By far, the national security threat most covered by the nation’s media is that of terrorists. During the 2008 presidential campaign, terrorism remained a key issue for many voters. An April 2009 Gallup poll found that 88 percent of those polled were very or moderately concerned about international terrorism.
Though 2,819 died September 11, 2001 as a result of terrorist attacks, there has been an overzealous reaction.
The media coverage led by the foot soldiers at Fox News, made many believe it was a time of war, and that the conflict was on a much larger scale than it was. The news outlets were instrumental in convincing the public and our congressional leaders that Iraq posed a dangerous threat and needed to be invaded.
The New York Times reported that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein told FBI and CIA investigators that he was merely trying to intimidate Iran with the threat of biological weapons. Hussein also revealed that he felt Osama Bin Laden was a “zealot” and he had no contact with him.
In this instance, the media coverage and ballooning of potential threats took a dangerous turn and was a factor in a disastrous, unnecessary war. Yes, this war was beneficial to some economic elites in the U.S., but for the majority of Americans it was a strain on their tax dollars.
People cannot let news outlets that build wealth for their employers on the basis of keeping viewers glued to their words decide for them what is a threat. There are a number of cable news channels attempting to fill slots 24 hours a day and will say nearly anything to keep viewers watching. Those interested in a balanced view of political violence broaden broaden their sources for such events.
As the enlightenment thinker Voltaire once said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
Justin Rivera is a junior majoring in history.