After all these years, is it still worth it? Our ancestors began a great political experiment: commoners who rule themselves. They believed that the volatile masses have the right to think what they want and say what they think. These unconventional freedoms and powers are rightfully celebrated because they are, more than anything else, what makes the United States unique in history. Yet here we are, decades into a war. A war that would require a revocation of these essential rights in order to win.
President George W. Bush was right when he called our struggle a war on terror. We are not fighting other people; we are fighting the human condition. There are men and women who are basically evil, and to them, freedom means blowing things up and causing mayhem. There are men and women who hate the very idea of free expression. It is up to us to accept this reality and acknowledge that, despite reasonable precaution, our freedoms mean that we could die.
We still speak as if only soldiers can make the ultimate sacrifice for this country, but let me tell you, this notion is unequivocally untrue. Not since the First World War have men lined up and attacked each other head-on like you see in the movies. The images from Boston resembled a war zone because it was one. The battle came to the city, and there were casualties and wounded — just like Oklahoma City, Columbine and 9/11. Would you lay down your life for your country? Lincoln spoke of soldiers sacrificed upon the altar of freedom. We are no longer given that choice. The battleground could be anywhere.
Sanctuary is not guaranteed because there is a balance between personal freedom and security. Complete freedom would be anarchy; complete security would mean stifling restrictions. Although we currently side with liberty, we are slowly inching toward safety. I am not referring to small changes such as tweaking gun controls or items allowed on aircraft; imagine control on the level of Soviet-era communism. Look at the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance, The Military Commissions Act, invasive airport screenings, etc. Have these actually made us safer? With today’s technology, Orwell’s Big Brother is not so far-fetched. We could end terrorism, but it would come at a cost: intrusion into every facet of life and an end of privacy. Would you be willing to live under those conditions?
The men who created this nation believed that personal rights were more important than public safety. Benjamin Franklin saw the future and warned us that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” What has changed since Franklin’s time? I have been through airports over 40 times since 2001. Every pat-down has felt invasive, as have the several times I’ve been through body scanners. I believe that these measures invade privacy and set dangerous precedents, even if they prevent terrorism. Our Founding Fathers would have died to protect our right to privacy — the impassioned cries of a certain Mr. Patrick Henry come to mind.
I would never have called myself patriotic, yet after this week, I realized that I am in love with a principle: the inane sentiment that I deserve the same respect as you. That no one — no government, person or institution — can infringe on me without consent. The men and women who have died in acts of terror should be commended as martyrs who sacrificed for this idea, not victims of needless attacks. Their gift should not be forgotten.
The human evil is always ready to strike. Our nation might be in its dying throes, or it might yet endure for countless millennia. But right now, our freedoms are in danger of being curtailed in the name of safety, the freedoms that are the only things worth protecting. Two hundred years ago, a few lunatics decided that liberty was more valuable than safety. And after all these years, it is still worth it.
Micah Watanabe is a freshman at Drexel University. He can be contacted at [email protected].