by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
December 14, 2001
SAFETY IS AN ILLUSION
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - In the best of times, Americans are scaredy cats. They insist upon absolute safety and zero risk in everything they do. In the worst of times, as in post-Sept. 11, folks freak out even more.
To help ease your worried mind, a good book to read might be "The World's Most Dangerous Places," edited and mostly written by Robert Young Pelton with contributions from a group of journalists and ex-military personnel who aren't afraid to go to places that few would dare to go.
The meat of DP (as it's known for short) is a kind of "Places Rated" survey of the world's hot spots ranging from one star ("Bad-Rep Lands ... Places that are not really dangerous but have a bad rap for isolated incidents") to five stars ("Apocalypse Now ... A place where the longer you stay, the shorter your existence on this planet will be. These places combine warfare, banditry, disease, land mines and violence in a terminal adventure ride.")
For the record, the five-star nations as of the 2000 edition were Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Chechnya, Colombia and Somalia. Not far behind with four stars ("Very Nasty Places ... Danger here may be more regional, slightly more definable and maybe even avoidable. But you won't see any insurance salesmen holding any conventions soon") are Afghanistan, Congo, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Kurdistan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan and Uganda.
These nations all have several things in common - long-running civil wars, kidnaping, drug smuggling and terrorism, plus corruption and crime galore. Not the places that most Americans would pick for a vacation, or to fight a war in. To read DP's detailed reports and first-person travel stories on each of these countries is to get a quick glimpse into hell.]
But danger doesn't just lurk in these well-defined killing fields. Most of us stand a much better chance of dying in our homes from an accident than from contracting anthrax from a letter. Here are a few samples from the opening of DP, "What Is Dangerous?"
For example, you have a one in 10 million chance of dying in a plane crash. Take the train instead? You have a 1-in-one-million chance of dying in a rail crash. Safer driving your car cross-country, rather than flying or riding a train? You have a 1 in 14,000 chance of dying in a car crash, even greater if you don't wear your seat belt, drive fast and drive at night.
There are four stages to human life, advises DP. There's "young and tender," where 35,000 children die in the U.S. each year before their first birthday. Then there's "young and reckless," as car crashes are the top accidental killer of teens. Make it through that, and the "middle aged and reckless" stage awaits.
After car crashes, the No. 2 cause of accidental death for those 18-49 is accidental poisoning (mostly from side effects from taking all those medicines that are pushed at us on the tv). AIDS is coming up fast on the rail; it's the top killer of those 25-34. Finally, there's "old and clumsy." Household falls kill many aged 75 and above.
But the three things that are most likely to kill us are heart disease, cancer and stroke. Of the two million or so Americans that die each year, just under a half-million die from heart disease, about 150,000 die of cancer and about 100,000 died from stroke.
In short, you are more likely to die of a heart attack or an accident at home than by going on a trip by plane, train or boat.
"We weren't joking in saying if you want to live longer, stay out of the house," advises DP. "But just don't leave too fast and don't take your car. If you really want to live dangerously, stay at home. Most accidents happen at home. Any student of statistics will tell you that home is where people spend the majority of their time.
"Each year, slippery tile floors, cheap ginzu knifes and trendy glass coffee tables do more damage than all the world's terrorists. It's hard to sell people on the idea of selling expeditions to the local 7-11 as the most dangerous form of travel, but it's true. If you believe the doom and gloom of the statistics, death is not a Chechen terrorist but comes softly on bunny-slippered feet."
And travel by air - the images of Sept. 11 and the crash of Flight587 in Far Rockaway notwithstanding - is safest by far. DP quotes a British study that found flying is 176 times safer than walking, 15 times safer than car travel and 300 times safer than riding a motorcycle. Statistically, if you were to take a flight every morning, you would have to fly 21,000 years before you would have a deadly crash. That, in spite of there being around 10,000 airliners in the sky every day flying about 15 million flights each year carrying 1.3 billion passengers. Worldwide, there are on average about 40 accidents involving major airlines each year.
In other words, it's time for Americans to turn off CNN, get up off the sofa and escape the most dangerous place in the world - their own homes. Safety has always been an illusion anyway.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).