Our 9/11

Rodney Warner, JD
Rodney Warner, JD

It was a terrible day ten years ago. Nearly 3,000 people died in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. It brought war home to the lower 48 states for the first time since the War of 1812. Those of us with cancer battle our own wars. No commandos or spy satellites working for us, just nurses, doctors, researchers, family and friends.

In the past ten years, the U.S. government has spent an estimated $8 trillion on all things “security”. As far as I can tell, the budget for the U.S. government’s National Cancer Institute has been about $50 billion for the past ten years.

Including the 9/11 attacks, about 3,023 Americans have been killed by terrorists. An estimated 6,177 Americans have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. An estimated 569,490 Americans died of cancer last year. Each year, nearly as many Americans die of cancer as were killed in World War I, World War II and the Korean War combined. In one year, more people will be killed in Philadelphia by cancer (an estimated 3,628) than were killed in the 9/11 attacks.

For the sake of argument, given these numbers, in the past ten years, the federal government has spent $869,565,217 in “security” for each American killed by terrorists and in Iraq and Afghanistan, and $9,090 for each American killed by cancer. While I’m talking dollars, the economic impact of 9/11 was an estimated $35 to $109 billion. The economic loss due to cancer in 2010 alone is an estimated $263.8 billion.

If the country had just spent 6% less on “security” and put it to the National Cancer Institute, its budget would’ve been ten times larger. How many prevention programs could’ve started, how many more cures could have been researched in the past ten years, we’ll never know.

Cancer is the leading cause of death of Americans under the age of 85. While the chance of an American of being killed by a terrorist is about one in 3,500,000, the chance of an American being killed by cancer is about one in seven. You are five to six times more likely to be killed by fireworks than by terrorists.

It takes about two days for cancer to kill as many Americans as were killed in the 9/11 attacks. What would the federal government do, how much would it spend, to prevent a terrorist organization or foreign country from killing 3,000 Americans every two days?

Why doesn’t the amount of money spent by the federal government to protect us bear some relation to the reality we face? Politicians don’t want another 9/11 “on their watch” so are spending dollars by the trillion in the name of “security” while it’s perfectly OK to pinch pennies (relatively speaking) to try to prevent something killing an American about every one minute. This is happening because we’re allowing it to happen. Taxpayers and voters set the priorities.

I don’t want to be killed by a terrorist. I don’t want anyone to be killed by a terrorist. I shed no tears when I learned Osama bin Laden caught a bullet in his head. I want federal money spent to protect me and my family, but those spending decisions should have some basis in reality and should be spent to protect us against the greatest threats we face.

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