In the United States, the war on terror is primarily described as our fight against extremists who hate the West, hate us and threaten American lives. That started when former President George W. Bush claimed that terrorists were threatened by the freedoms granted in the U.S., so they attacked us. From there, a narrative where the U.S. plays the victim was expanded by the media until it became accepted as true. However, most victims of terrorism are not American.
The countries with the most terrorism fatalities between 2004 and 2013 are Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to the Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland.
Yet the U.S. isn’t the victim as often as the media portray, and we have also played a role in funding and supporting terrorism abroad. Historically, the U.S. has funded and armed rebels in countries whose regime has anti-U.S. policies or where democracy appears to be threatened. However, these rebel groups often commit human rights violations themselves, attacking not only the regime but also civilians. For example, the Nicaraguan contras received extensive funding from the U.S. and were known to resort to civilian attacks.
In Afghanistan, the U.S. armed militant mujahideen groups to fight the Soviet occupation, but those groups developed into the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. During the Iran-Contra Affair, then-President Ronald Reagan admitted to essentially trading Iran weapons for help releasing American hostages.
Those are historic examples of ways the U.S. has funded terrorism against civilians abroad, but we continue to do so today. We have funded various rebel groups in Syria and often, as in the historic examples, the weapons and supplies may not even reach the rebels we are attempting to help. Or the weapons are taken if the rebels are captured and beef up the already impressive ISIS store of American-made weapons.
According to a 2012 Congressional Research Services report on international arms deals, “In 2011, the United States ranked first in the value of arms deliveries to developing nations at $10.5 billion, or 37.6% of all such deliveries.” That is a huge amount of weapons being traded in insecure regions, where arms can fall into the wrong hands and aid in terror. While the U.S. benefits financially from these gun deals, the cost is human life abroad when rebel groups or terrorists attack civilians.
If you’re a visual learner, the following video is a geographical history of lives lost to terror around the world:
The video shows the Middle East bombarded with terrorist attacks, at the cost of Middle Eastern civilian lives. The U.S. is also attacked (and I think the video might be missing some in-country terrorism), but not nearly at the volume that other countries are. We are a victim, but we are by no means the main victim. And, unlike many other countries where people are killed in terrorist attacks, the U.S. has an incredible amount of power in who has access to weapons and supplies and political leverage.
We can stop killing civilians with indiscriminate drone attackson war zones and instead be a voice for better support systems for civilians in wartime. We can simultaneously limit gun access in the U.S. and abroad. We have the power to create positive change on guns and to decrease the number of civilian casualties of war and terrorism. The only problem is that there is little incentive for the U.S. to do so, as we make money off gun sales abroad and at home. But shouldn’t we be willing to give up a good financial deal for a better chance at peace?