If violent crime statistics indicate a downward trend, why are Americans so afraid?
“There was never a ‘golden age’ of security,” writes May (American Studies and History/Univ. of Minnesota; America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril and Liberation, 2010, etc.). “But there were moments in the twentieth century when citizens and policymakers believed that the government had a responsibility to create the conditions in which Americans could achieve safety and a decent standard of living.” According to the author, the Cold War and Atomic Age changed this situation, as the government admitted its inability to protect citizens from the impact of a bomb and encouraged them to take action themselves. Citizens found this admission unsettling, and, combined with the changes in society regarding the civil rights movement, Americans set out to protect themselves and the model of the traditional family against threats of crime, bombs, and, eventually, terrorism. The events of 9/11 ushered in new fears, and the war on terror came to have a similar effect on fear levels, with Americans once again responsible for their own protection. May asserts that though Americans are actually safer than ever from violent crime and more at risk from people they know than strangers, the fear of the unknown still has a strong hold on society. People retreat more into private, secured homes and gated communities, which actually detract from any sense of real community and statistically have not been proven safer. “Hostility toward government and a lack of concern for the common good may have made the nation considerably less secure,” writes the author, who closes with a more tenuous correlation between this fortress mentality and threats of “unregulated private enterprise” and the unchecked increase in wealth of the ultrarich due to misdirected attention and resources.
In making a solid case for our country’s overinvestment in personal and national security, May asks a germane question: are we focusing on the right threats?