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Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them First Edition Edition

19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1416541714
ISBN-10: 1416541713
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Among possible U.S. terrorist targets listed by the Department of Homeland Security are a petting zoo in Alabama and a roadside water park in Florida. By listing such unlikely targets, the administration has heightened fear and the cost of protecting citizens, according to Mueller, a political science professor and national security consultant. He examines how terrorism hypervigilance is threatening civil liberties, the economy, and lives. Mueller explores three themes: terrorist threats are overblown; we can learn from the lessons of previous international threats that they are often exaggerated; and by applying these lessons, we can create policy that reduces fear and the cost of overreaction. Among other observations, Mueller notes that despite fears of chemical attacks, most such weapons are "incapable of perpetrating mass destruction," and our counterterrorism tactics tend to be expensive "self-flagellation" that bolsters the image of the terrorists. If the objective is to keep Americans frightened and willing to spend money and relinquish freedom, then the terrorists are winning, Mueller maintains. Interesting reading on a subject that will continue to hold great political sway. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

About the Author

John Mueller holds the Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies, Mershon Center, and is professor of Political Science at Ohio State University, where he teaches courses in international relations.

He is the author of several classic works of political science and many editorial page columns and articles in The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Reason, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

Mueller is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has been a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow, and has received grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has also received several teaching prizes.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (November 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416541713
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416541714
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,325,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Retired Reader on January 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
At long last, a book has been published that takes a realistic look at the so-called `Global War on Terrorism' (GWOT) and provides an honest assessment of terrorist threat to the U.S. and its citizens. Its author John Mueller is to be congratulated for being the first author that this reviewer is aware of to put the 9/11 tragedy in a rational context.

The terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 were indeed terrible and tragic. Yet according to Mueller, there is ample evidence that these attacks were aberration and not the prelude to an all out asymmetrical war against the U.S. by the Islamic extremists influenced by Osama bin Laden in a movement called al Qaeda. Indeed in his opinion the U.S. reaction to that dreadful day were completely out of proportion to the danger actually posed by Islamic terrorists.

Looking at the essentially pointless GWOT, this book points out that terrorism like crime will always be with us, but the chances of a U.S. citizen being killed by a terrorist are considerably less than the same citizen being killed in a robbery. It also points out that the recurring phantom of terrorist use of WMD within the U.S. or any place else for that matter is highly implausible at best.

Since 9/11 the U.S. Government has spent millions of dollars to protect Americans from a threat which, as this book points out, scarcely exists at all. The tragic events of 9/11 have basically served to fuel to the political demagogy, curtailments of constitutional rights, and bureaucratic absurdity that appear to be the principal fruits of the first foreign attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor.

A Baltimore newspaperman and acute observer of the human condition (H.L. Mencken) once commented that real motto of the United States ought to be "Safety First" not "E Pluribus Unim". He comment was based on his observations of the irrational fears that often drove his fellow citizens into ridiculous follies. This book supports his point.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By B. Stayner on December 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I think people don't like this book because it forces us to reassess our fears. Many people criticize Mueller by saying he claims Al Queda is not a threat. On the contrary Mueller contends Al Queda is a threat, just not a very big one. Every time a catostrophic event happens in this country, we tend to falseley label it as an omen of things to come. If you disagree with Mueller thats fine, but the book is well written and presents points nobody else is bringing up.
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26 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Olly Buxton on March 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is an interesting, valuable and important book, and I'm fairly sure almost no-one has or, for that matter will, read it. I will do what I can to change that.

John Mueller is from a venerable but sadly rare tradition of Academic commentators: the skeptics. It's that perspective he lends to our "troubled times" and over this course of this tidily executed, thoroughly sourced and entertaining book, Mueller systematically demolishes much of the public hype which holds us up in airport terminals, eats up our tax dollars and does its level best to prevent us sleeping soundly in our beds.

He makes, and repeats, a point which many otherwise perfectly sensible and well-informed commentators can't fathom: The biggest source of terror in our lives is not terrorists in Afghan caves, but our own politicians and media pundits constantly blathering about them. The terrorists themselves cause sporadic but, in fact, very limited mayhem.

The thousands of hungry mouths who comprise the "terrorism industry" on the other hand - the politicians, civil servants, defence contractors, security analysts and media commentators - each of whom is primarily interested in justifying his own existence or convincing us to open our wallets - each has a vested interest in persuading us we should be soiling rather than sleeping in our beds. Their statements, therefore, we should take with a pinch of salt.

But even though we all know we ought to, we don't. We acquiesce: we put up with speculative, unsourced, unattributed, and frequently credulous nonsense - we tolerate queues and being unneccesarily fondled at airports, hikes in tax rates and restrictions on our civil liberties.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By 2bluesky2 on January 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Has the "war on terror" been worth the cost? The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 triggered massive spending and curtailment of liberties in the US - intended to prevent any repeat event.

Mueller points out that the September 11 attack was the most successful terrorist attack in history. Nothing anywhere before or since comes close to matching its toll of 3000+ dead and property damage in the $50+ billion range. Other major terrorist attacks have occasionally resulted in death tolls in the 200+ range, with property damage at only a tiny fraction of the September 11 total. Annual death tolls worldwide from terrorist attacks amount to an average of about several hundred. Rarely are Americans affected.

Mueller points out that numerous other types of common calamities cause far more preventable deaths and destruction on an annual basis than terrorists, yet do not generate a fraction of the attention that the "war on terror" gets. Mueller says there is a "terrorism industry" that profits from hyping fears of terrorism. This industry consists of politicians, bureaucrats, experts, and the media. The public seems swayed by the fear mongering from the "terrorism industry" in spite of the comparative insignificance of terrorist attacks.

The "terrorism industry" in the USA is constantly embarrassed by the nearly total absence of foreign terrorist activity in the USA before or since the September 11 attack. Is this absence caused by the effectiveness of the US Department of Homeland Security? Mueller posits that the more likely explanation is that there simply are no domestic terrorist organizations or plots to be countered. The number of people arrested and jailed in the USA for terrorism is practically nil.
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