U.S. strips more freedom from citizens than terrorists ever could
Saturday, August 6, 2005, Roger Duncan (from Blacksburg, Virginia, is an electro-optic engineer)
As I write these words, I’m sitting at a crowded gate at the Los Angeles airport awaiting the redeye to Roanoke. I’ve just gone through security screening, and I’ve rarely felt so violated. After waiting in line for 25 minutes to check in, I’m told I have to wait again for my bag to be X-rayed. Another 25 minutes.
Given the amount of free time I had, I decided to spend some of it contemplating what a thoroughly useless gesture the X-ray screening is. I understand the purpose is to prevent bombs from finding their way onto planes through checked bags, but the chances of actually detecting a bomb from someone who seriously wants to blow up an airplane must surely be minuscule. But I digress.
No doubt, its real intention is to make travelers feel better, subsidized by the taxpayers to the tune of God knows how much.
After clearing the X-ray line, it gets interesting. My boarding pass and ID are checked before proceeding to security. Then, they’re checked again by someone 15 feet away from the first checkpoint who saw me get checked the first time. Weird.
Then, the actual line for personal screening. Remove the laptop from its case. Simply can’t risk it blowing up. When it’s finally my turn to walk through the metal detector, the gentleman in charge of waving people through politely reminds me that it’s recommended that I remove my shoes.
Then, he reminds me again. I respond, “Yes, I heard you.” Another warning, this time less polite, “We strongly recommend you remove your shoes, sir!” Again, I respond, “I understand.” I walk through the metal detector uneventfully.
But my friend hasn’t forgotten my impertinence. “Now you’ve done it. You get to go through the special line!” The special line consisted of five solid minutes of probing with wands, patting down, spread this way, turn that way, etc. And I still had to take my shoes off. So, I guess what they mean when they say that shoe removal is recommended is that it’s required. Bizarre. They should just say that. It would’ve spared me a public probing that I could live without.
So, this is the legacy of 9/11. This is part of our fearsome response to the terrorists. We’ll inconvenience them. Doubly so if they don’t remove their shoes. The point of this rambling essay, and I can assure you it does have one, isn’t that one average Joe couldn’t be bothered to take his shoes off. It’s the whole security versus freedom issue. How can we legitimately claim that we’re preserving freedom when our response to terrorism is the exactly opposite of that?
After the collapse of the twin towers, our Congress, in a patriotic fervor (more exactly described as a mad panic), passed sweeping legislation that did more to strip away freedom from the American people than 1,000 flying bombs. The Patriot Act. The very name is cynical.
One observation I’ve made is how frequently we Americans confuse security and freedom. Here’s an example.
The war in Iraq was justified by claims that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and he might use them on us, or he might give them to terrorists to use on us.
Neglecting for a moment the morphing nature of the justification for the war, we were, and are, daily informed that our soldiers over there are fighting for our freedom.
In fact, this isn’t true. They’re fighting for our security, and even the truth of that is dubious at best. The only time a war becomes about preserving the freedom of a nation is when the nation is in some way threatened with the loss of said freedom.
Despite his presumed madness and regardless of the number of WMD he did or didn’t have, Saddam didn’t have the power to remove a single iota of freedom from any American. No action he could take could conceivably result in a loss of freedom. There was never even the slightest of chances that we would see an Iraqi invasion force land on our shores.
Now, one may be able to argue that his remaining in power hypothetically threatened Americans. But taking someone’s life and taking someone’s freedom are two different things. Saddam could only kill me; he couldn’t take my freedom. So logically, it isn’t freedom that our troops are fighting for, but security. But I suppose that makes a somewhat less poetic rallying cry.
Now, the president is a different story. He can actually take away a great deal of my freedom. And boy, has he been busy!
Ironic that we’re actually called to sacrifice portions of our freedom for the Patriot Act, and the justification is that it preserves freedom. Talk about Orwellian.
Bush and his cronies are therefore, logically, the real enemies of freedom. Lest you think me a member of the John Kerry fan club, I think it’s fair to say that there are no greater enemies of freedom than the liberals. I just think that, in this case, ol’ W is giving them a run for their money.
So, let’s be honest with ourselves in this debate. Let’s not lie and proclaim “Give me liberty or give me death!” when what we really mean is “I’m a coward; I surrender the freedoms my forefathers died for in order to save my miserable hide!” Is that not, after all, exactly what we mean?
“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” — George Orwell, “1984.”