Today is Memorial Day, the day we celebrate the commitments and sacrifices of our men and women in the military who volunteer to put their lives on the line every day to protect our country, our freedoms, our liberties and our way of life. This is a day to reflect on what it means to be free and what the cost of that freedom is, and to honor those who are willing to pay that cost with their blood and their lives. Our military men and women are amazing because they make the choice to step forward and accept the obligation to fight and die for our country, they are willing to shoulder the responsibility that comes with their commitment. It's easy to recognize the role our soldiers play in defending our freedom and liberty. What's not so easy is recognizing the role the rest of us play.
Many politicians have used a variation of the phrase "9/11 changed everything" for a multitude of reasons. However, most of those reasons tend to have something to do with restricting our freedoms, infringing on our liberties and having more control over our lives.
"9/11 changed everything, so we can't just treat airline passengers like we used to."
"9/11 changed everything, so we can't just treat our borders like we used to."
"9/11 changed everything, so we can't treat immigrants like we used to."
"9/11 changed everything, so we can't treat prisoners like we used to."
"9/11 changed everything, so we can't treat our people like we used to..."
It's ironic that the article of legislation that has removed, restricted or violated more of our rights, freedoms and liberties than any other in our nation's history, the single most un-patriotic piece of legislation in the 20th century, is called The Patriot Act. This act allows illegal wiretapping on U.S. citizens, it allows invasions of your privacy through monitoring your internet usage, reading emails, eavesdropping on cellphone conversations and text messages. It allows the detainment of suspects without due process under law or habeas corpus, and all it takes is for the president to declare them an enemy of the state. There's no qualifiers that have to be met, no criteria that must be in place, the president can just say "That guy is an enemy of America." and you're in a cell in Guantanamo Bay, no phone call, no lawyer, no rights or protections under the constitution... you don't even exist. And they can torture you as brutally as they want to get whatever information out of you they think you have, because there's no Geneva Convention protections for a detainee under the Patriot Act.
Now, to the average American, it seems like a no-brainer. "Why should I care about that stuff? As long as I'm not a terrorist, I don't have to worry about any of that shit. And, if it makes our country safer and prevents another 9/11, isn't it worth it?"
Benjamin Franklin famously, and wisely said "He who is willing to exchange essential liberty for a little temporary security deserves neither liberty nor security."
He is just as right now as he was then.
Why should you, the "average American," care about that stuff? Because what happens if a "suspected terrorist" steals your identity? What happens if a person on a "watched list" makes a wrong number call to your house? What happens if a "person of interest" buys something from your store, has a small-talk conversation with you while waiting for an elevator, or happens to be a really cute guy or girl you talk up at a bar one Saturday night while you're out having a good time? What happens if you accidentally have the same name as a suspected conspirator? What happens if one number gets screwed up in the computer and the feds raid your house instead of your next door neighbors, who have been under surveillance as part of a suspected terror cell? What happens if you make a joking comment on an airplane and someone freaks out and reports you? What happens if your neighbor just flat out fucking hates you and reports you to the Dept. of Homeland Security just to be a real asshole? It's not exactly easy to put toothpaste back in the tube...
Beyond that, though. There is one glaring example of what happens when leaders use fear, intimidation and mistrust to control their people, turn them on each other and eventually use the very laws the created to protect themselves to keep them under an iron fist - The Axis in WW2.
From Nazi Germany to Fascist Italy, the dictators of those countries rose to power in large part by creating an aura of fear and distrust among the people. They targeted foreigners and "radicals" first, people who it was easy for the "average citizen" to view as a potential threat to their safety. Then they started targeting people who spoke out against the government, and finally they went after everyone who didn't do exactly as they were told. In a few short years, laws that were readily adopted by the people to protect them had been subverted and used to control them. When you look at the wordings of speeches, slogans and legislation passed early on by the emerging Nazi party in Germany, there are many surprising similarities with the speeches, slogans and legislation proposed by our conservatives in office today.
These words are just as applicable to the rhetoric that came from the Bush Administration, the conservative right and the voices on talk radio and Fox News after 9/11 and the subsequent war in Iraq. Every day since the creation of the Dept. of Homeland Security, we have lived under a color-coded "Terror Threat Level" system, and not once in the 10 years since it's creation have we ever had a "green" day. Every single day since that 5-step system was created, we have been at either "elevated" or "high," whether there was any real cause to be at that level of caution or not. It's not an accident, keeping the American people in a constant state of paranoia and fear is what makes us willingly accept laws like the Patriot Act, that strip us of our freedoms and set up a framework for our country to become a fascist police state whenever our president decides the time has come.
Also, anyone who ever watched 5 minutes of Fox News, listened to any conservative talk radio or paid any attention to the speeches, press releases and spin coming from the white house and conservative politicians while Bush was in office is well aware of the fact that anyone who dared to protest the war in Iraq, anyone who dared to criticize the president's policies in fighting the "war on terror," anyone who had the audacity to challenge what the conservatives were doing, militarily, were roundly chastised and called everything from "Anti-American" to "traitors." There were voices on the right who said that anyone who criticized Bush should be treated as a traitor to America, and that a "true Patriot" would stand behind our president no matter what their opinion of him was. Those who were opposed to the war were denounced as unpatriotic. They were accused of exposing our country to danger, not just our citizens here, but also our soldiers overseas. Any politician who dared question our policies in Iraq was accused of not supporting our troops, of wanting to see more soldiers killed, the most despicable and ridiculous accusations one could make, and yet they stuck enough to cow all dissenting voices into submission. Why? Because the American people were scared. We were adequately brought to a state of paranoia, fear and distrust. We were fed a perverted idea of "patriotism" and we were being set against each other, just as the Nazis had done to the Germans in the late 30's.
The effects of that campaign still linger today. The president just signed another extension of the Patriot Act, meaning more years of prisoners being arbitrarily detained, without due process or basic human rights. Suspects being tortured, whether they are legitimate threats or not. More illegal surveillance of American citizens, more eavesdropping, more wiretapping, more "Big Brother" watching our every move, waiting for someone to step out of line, end up on the wrong "list," talk to the wrong person, say the wrong thing, and then they get picked up, taken away and most likely never heard from again. It sounds like espionage movie shit. It sounds so completely over the top and ridiculous that it has to be in a movie, because something like that couldn't really be happening in America, but it's no movie.
The people are still paranoid and scared. When Muslims want to build a mosque in a U.S. city, it becomes a national outrage. Pastors want to hold "Quran burning" parties on the anniversary of 9/11. The war is no longer against "terrorists," now it's against everyone who looks like the "terrorists." Now it's against everyone who's the same religion as the "terrorists." The war has already mutated from trying to catch and kill the people who attacked us on 9/11 to trying to eliminate radical Islam from the Earth. Well, can you tell me what the physical difference is between a "radical" Islamic person and a "normal" one is? Do they dress different? Do they carry a special scarf? Perhaps we need to start identifying "radical" Islamics with some sort of yellow star?
Why are innocent, peaceful Muslim Americans being harassed, attacked and treated with prejudice in this country? Why do some people feel the need to shout insults and make horrible comments towards women wearing Sari's or Burka's or men with turbans? Is it not unlike the way German Jews were treated just before the holocaust? Is it not unlike the way Asian Americans were treated just before they were placed in concentration camps in America during WW2? Can we not see that we're being led down that exact same road of manipulation into supporting a political regime that will ultimately become corrupted and totalitarian and enforce a fascist police state upon our citizenry? Back in WW2, when that happened, it was the United States who came to the rescue and liberated those people and brought their dictators down, who will come to our rescue when it happens to us?
So, days like today are especially meaningful to me, because they remind me, and all of us, that there are men and women in this country who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for freedom, liberty and the American way. However, what good does it do for our military to fight and die to protect our way of life overseas when we are giving those freedoms and liberties away every day right here? What is really won if we defeat foreign terrorists only to be terrorized domestically by our government? What have we gained if we give away our freedom and liberty in order to protect... our freedom and liberty?
The cost of freedom is much higher than the blood of our soldiers. The cost is the blood of every American citizen.
If you're not willing to risk being on a plane that gets hijacked and flown into a building, then you don't deserve to live in a free society. If you're not willing to risk being killed when some extremist radical blows up a shopping mall with a van full of fertilizer, then you don't deserve to live in a free society. That's the cost of freedom, that's the cost of liberty. If someone says to me "You mean, you would rather end up on a plane that gets hijacked by terrorists and flown into a building, rather than vote for laws that restrict the freedom of Americans to take shampoo bottles onto airplanes or board a plane without a 3-hour screening process, or be subject to searches as if we were living in a police state?" My answer would unquestionably be "Yes!" If I have to risk being the victim of a terrorist act so that I can live in a country where the people have enough freedom and liberty that some psycho asshole could possibly commit a terrorist act, then that's the price I am willing to pay, because FREEDOM ISN'T FREE! Oh how conservatives love to throw that slogan around as if it means something to them. Well, what does it really mean? It means the cost of freedom is the consequences of free thought, free action, free expression. It means the cost of living in a free society is that some people are free to try and tear that society down, and it is up to ALL of us to look out for each other and defend our freedom by being willing to lay down our lives in defense of it.
We have law enforcement, we have state and federal officials who are dedicated to thwarting the efforts of those who would attack our people and do us harm. We need to let them do their jobs, but we should never be willing to sacrifice our own freedoms so that they don't have to work as hard at it. I'm not willing to live under constant surveillance, I'm not willing to have my privacy invaded, I'm not willing to see the rights of American citizens violated so I can "feel" safer. Conservatives like to say "There's never been another attack like 9/11 since 9/11." Ok, how many attacks like 9/11 were there before 9/11? Pearl Harbor? That was literally 60 years earlier, and it was committed by a foreign countries military, and we kicked their fucking asses for it, so much so that they never even thought about trying it again. We didn't sign away our rights to make sure another Pearl Harbor didn't happen, we just went in there and fucked shit up and that was that. Just like what we should have done right after 9/11, and thanks to our military - under orders from our current president, finally did. Oklahoma City? That was done by an American, not some crazy foreign extremist.
You see, you can't ever create a society that is "terrorist proof." You can't ever guarantee that no crazy fuck with an agenda goes off the deep end and takes 75 people with him. You can't do this because that's the price for living in a free society. When you live in a society that says "We don't just randomly stop people driving down the road and search their cars for no reason," then you live in a society where there's always a risk of someone driving around with a bomb in their trunk. When you live in a society that says "We don't illegally monitor people's phone calls, emails and internet usage to try and catch people doing terrorist shit," then you live in a society where there's always a risk of someone calling up their terrorist buddies, sending out some emails and plotting an attack. When you live in a society that says "We won't use fear, paranoia and intimidation to scare people into giving up their rights in order to make them feel a false sense of security," then you live in a society where you aren't scared, you aren't paranoid, you aren't intimidated. You aren't afraid to get on a plane, because you hope the security guards at the airport did their jobs. You aren't afraid to enter a federal building, because you hope the security guards there did their jobs. But most of all, you aren't afraid of the unthinkable happening and becoming the victim of an act of violent extremism, because at least you know that you still live in a free country, and the soldiers who volunteer to give their lives to protect your freedoms didn't make that sacrifice in vain, even if the consequence of that freedom is that another Timothy McVeigh could create another Oklahoma City. I would rather see 3,000 Americans, myself included, die in a horrible explosion than see 300 million of them enslaved in a fascist, police state.
See, our military men and women are heroes because they volunteer to give their lives for freedom, but we don't deserve the freedom they defend if we aren't willing to lay our lives down to defend it too.
When America fought for it's independence, it wasn't an organized military that took up arms against the British, it was ordinary men and women. Farmers, ranchers, shopkeepers, fathers and sons. It was neighbors banding together to risk everything to defend their family, their land and their property against those would would see it taken from them. Those men were called Patriots, because they knew that the cost of freedom was their blood and if they weren't willing to pay that price, then they didn't deserve that luxury.
Today, I honor those who are willing to pay the high cost of freedom. I honor our soldiers and I honor our citizens who know that true freedom comes with the highest price and we should all be ready to pay that price because the benefits are so unquestionably worth it.