Certainly, as an attack, it was devastating. 3000 dead in a single multi-faceted attack (19 hijackers, 2,974 killed, and 24 still missing). However, those 3000 have shaped foreign policy around the world, has spawned several wars, shaped governments, and in many cases massively changed countries.
Some see that figure as a massive, tragic loss of life. It's a large loss of life, but hardly massive, not by US standards, and is certainly not large enough to shape policy on it's own. It's best to have an illustration, and for that I turn to the aptly named 'Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) encyclopedia. This site, published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows one thing clearly. Terrorism is small potatoes compared to Americans, and their love of driving (REALLY badly)
|Deaths in the US in 2001 due to traffic incidents, and terrorism|
Each and every year, thousands more people are killed on US roads, than have been killed by terrorism. In fact, more people were killed, on average, in September 2001 on the roads, than in the 9/11 attack. It's hard to be specific about monthly tolls, since the figures are reported annually, but averaging it out, it's clear.
|Average monthly road deaths shown against annual terrorism deaths|
Further, if we use the whatever data available, to cover 15 years, back to 1994 (the last figure given in the FARS system) to list terrorist fatalities, trying to limit to US casualties, It comes to somewhere in the region of 3850, an average of 257 people per year.
|Breakdown of terrorism deaths by year, 1994-2008|
That is the impact of terrorism. Worse? NOAA gives the 10-year average of weather fatalities as 573. Mother Earth is more than twice as likely to kill you than terrorism. Are we going to have a War On Weather? Unlikely, and you'd be laughed at for saying so. By the numbers, though, it's twice as sensible as a War On Terror.
|Average US yearly fatalities to weather, terrorism and road accidents, 1994-2008|
This piece originally appeared at http://ktetch.wordpress.com/2009/09/08/war-on-terror-why-not-a-war-on-weather/