As you read this, the United States might already be at war, and the butcher's bill from the second half of February might seem minor in comparison. But that bill was messy: Almost 100 dead at a Rhode Island nightclub because an infantile band played with matches. Over 20 dead after a stampede in an overcrowded Chicago nightclub. Over 130 dead after a subway conductor in South Korea fled a burning train without opening its doors.
With all our concern about weapons of mass destruction, a lot of small masses die when small precautions are ignored or overlooked. Some club owners esteem dollars over safety and admit more fans than fire codes allow. Then those fans don't take a second to see where the nearest exit is.
In the central areas of New York, Washington, and other large cities with terrorist bull's-eyes on them, it's wise to be prepared, but in most of the country everyday risks are far greater hazards. During 2001 Americans had (humanly speaking) about a 1 in 100,000 chance of being killed in a terrorist attack; that includes those killed on the ground in New York and Washington and in the four airplanes that terrorists seized on Sept. 11. That same year the odds of being killed in a motor vehicle accident were about 1 in 6,000.
The odds of being killed while attending Great White's heavy metal concert in West Warwick, R.I., late in February were about 1 in 4. Here's a tiny silver lining in last week's dark cloud of death: Music-related catastrophes have become "a wake-up call for clubs to make public safety the No. 1 concern," in the words of Frank Hendrix, owner of Emo's in Austin, Texas. Charles Attal, owner of another club near the Texas capitol, Stubb's, said his new rule was "No pyro, period. From now on, I don't even want bands to light candles onstage."
Such caution in other realms as well (wearing seatbelts or bicycle helmets, for example) should be basic. Safety measures go alongside faith in God's overarching Providence. God is in charge of our lives, so odds are in one sense beside the point, but they do help us decide what precautions to take. For homeland defense, breaking up terrorist cells within the United States is an important way to protect life by reducing the possibility of, say, a low-yield nuclear weapon exploding in a major city. Inoculation against smallpox also makes sense.
We should act against those and other threats, while not becoming so obsessed with them that we forget to look both ways before crossing streets or to thank God every evening when all the members of our families are safely home.