The greatest danger facing the United States is not the terrorists that destroyed the World Trade Center. It is not our enemies overseas, who are undoubtedly planning even greater atrocities.
The greatest danger facing America is ourselves.
What makes America so great, what has earned us the ire of millions, is our freedom. More than two centuries ago, this nation was founded on the principle of individual freedom. Everything about the government is designed to check the power of the rulers, and to preserve the fundamental rights of its citizens. This republican structure gave rise to the most powerful, most creative, most open country in the world.
But the Founders were aware that one of the anti-concepts of freedom is security. People are often willing ñ and it terrifies me to hear it ñ to trade away freedoms large and small in exchange for a sense of security. But it is only a sense of security, because one can never be truly safe. No matter how much we lock things down, no matter how many freedoms we throw away, no matter how much we try and police ever aspect of our society, terrorists will find a way to strike at us. There is simply no way to stop terrorists who are willing to throwaway their lives, and the lives of everyone around them, to achieve their ends.
Benjamin Franklin said it best: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
And yet, this is exactly what I’m hearing from some people calling into radio and television stations. People are scared, and in order to not feel scared any more they’re willing to sacrifice their freedom to the altar of security.
I’m not talking about proposals to have tighter security at the airports or more restrictions on flights — these are rational proposals. But why does scare me very much is the those are who willing to let the government read their e-mail, greatly expand its police powers, force its citizens into mandatory military service, impose various forms of censorship and ban private encryption. These freedoms, once lost, are very difficult to recover. And they begin the slide toward tyranny that is very difficult to stop — just look at the rise of Nazis, in which Germans gave up personal liberties, and paid for their folly with their lives.
If we allow the United States to become a de facto police state, then we will have achieved a victory that our enemies could only have dreamed off. Everything that made America possible will have been destroyed, and what will remain will be little more than a vengeful wraith.