Do we value our freedom? Are we willing to pay (literally or figuratively) for this freedom? Well.. yes and no.
This post is a little off-topic for me… but it’s something I have been thinking about since Canada’s recently introduced legislation to protect against terror threats and a play I saw recently (Stuff Happens) about the British and American political decision to start the Iraq war. I worry for us.
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, there was a lot of talk about the importance of not allowing these attacks ‘to change us’. If we allowed these attacks to change our democratic and market models.. and the way we lived out freedom and liberty… ‘the terrorists would win’. We all believed this very deeply. We got the stock market reopened the week following the attacks; we gathered for memorials at the sites of attacks, defying potential attackers who would wish to see us cowering inside our homes; we defended ourselves through military attacks on the terrorists and those who enabled them. In the months immediately following the attacks we were, as Charlie Sheen would said, winning.
But then we went off track. Way off track.
We got scarred and paranoid. We lost our ability to understand risk and put it in context. We forgot the value of our liberty…in a nutshell, in the pursuit of ‘eternal vigilance in the defence of liberty’, we have been all to willing to forget (and give up) the very thing we are defending. Americans will hate this, but we have warped Jefferson’s noble proclamation — “The price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance’ has become “The Price of Safety is Our Liberty”.
In the years following 9/11,
– we have allowed ungodly sums of money to be spent on all forms of security – border security, intelligence capacity, military operations. Have these made us safer? Probably… a bit. But at am an amazing cost.. the billions and billions of dollars could have done so much more – incentivizing small business, reducing taxes, helping the poor, meeting our climate change responsibilities – we would argue about how this money could be used, but the list is long.
– we have forsaken our personal liberty – Bill after Bill is passed that expands the authority of security agencies.. allowing them to tap our phones, monitor our online and real life activities, interrogate and detain us on the loosest of pretence. This is the liberty we, in the days following 9/11, promised to protect. Has the made us safer? Probably… a bit. But at an amazing cost.
– we have become less tolerant. America – a country built on immigrants is now building walls – real and legal – to keep these scary foreigners out. America – a country built on religious plurality is now reverting to its (made up) foundation as a Christian nation. America – the creator and home of the United Nation is pridefully reinventing itself as a ‘go it alone nation’. Has this made us safer? Probably… a bit. But at an amazing cost.
– we are killing innocent people. American and allied soldiers, ‘enemy’ soldiers and countless (and uncounted) innocent bi-standers in the countries with which we are waging war. Has this made us safer? No! But it has made us lots more enemies.
Our instinct post 9/11 was the right one. But it has been perverted. We went from defenders of liberty (aggressive and militaristic defenders when necessary) to defenders of safety (irrespective of the degree of real risk and cost of that heightened safety).
Americans say: you can’t understand – you’re not American. Bull*&it. Virtually every country has known what it is to be attacked. Don’t tell the French – who were twice invaded and completely overrun by the Germans during the world wars – that they don’t know what its like to be under attack… to feel threatened. For Great Britain, 9/11 was a daily occurrence during the Blitz.
I realize this is a complicated issue, but like all complex issues, we resolve them by leading with our values. America – and western democracy – works best we are best when value individual freedom and when we act with confidence and compassion. We are not doing that now.
The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance. And Liberty is worth the price.. even if it is scary and sometimes a little unsafe.