The world changed Sept. 11 and we as a nation are still reeling from the shock. There is a sea change afoot in our country. Bipartisanship is (at least for the time being) no longer a semantic fiction. The nation is mostly united in our outrage, and anger. With the exception of a myopic minority largely segregated into the never-never-land of academia and the myopia of the extreme left, Americans are jonesing for some Old Testament kick-ass justice.
Euripides, another old dead white guy, said, "To the fool, he who speaks wisdom will sound foolish." But bear with me.
Notwithstanding the measured moderation we claim to want and appreciate in our leaders, in the wake of Sept. 11 we want the U.S. to blow something up and kill a lot of bad guys. Quick!
However, the unintended consequences of this reality also produce a dichotomy. I am (and I suspect many of you are) torn between conflicting mutually exclusive desires.
According to Benjamin Franklin "Those who are willing to sacrifice essential freedom for security deserve neither." Still we hear leaders like Dick Gephardt alerting us we must be "prepared" to sacrifice freedoms for security. Wait a minute!
Although Congress has not seen fit to formally "declare war," it has skirted its constitutional responsibility by authorizing the president to "wage war." So we are "at war" but have not "declared war." This procedural finesse is more than mere word play. There are very real consequences to a declaration of war and I feel very strongly those consequences should be embraced and Congress should (for a change) do its job.
James Macomber is an old friend of mine. He wrote a novel called "Bargained for Exchange" in 1996, which included the following passage:
It has frequently been noted that you should be careful what you wish for -- you just might get it. In a 1998 interview Osama bin Laden said, "We say to the Americans as people and to American mothers, if they cherish their lives and if they cherish their sons, they must elect an American patriotic government that caters to their interests, not the interests of the Jews. If the present injustice continues ... it will inevitably move the battle to American soil. ... This is my message to the American people. I urge them to find a serious administration that acts in their interest and does not attack people and violate their honor and pilfer their wealth."
Well guess what? We have elected a serious administration.
However, (and here's the other half of that dichotomy) it is becoming increasing clear that in an effort to do what is necessary to deal with the very real threat posed, this administration may tragically err.
We are told we are "at war." What are we fighting for?
We should be fighting for "Duty, Honor, and Country." We should be fighting to protect your national security, the lives of our loved ones and our country. But what is the country?
The country -- the essence of what the United States of America is -- rests on the Constitution and Bill of Rights. It is right and just to defend those principles.
However, if in an effort to "defend and protect the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic" we as a country undermine, abrogate or eviscerate the very principles we claim to honor, we commit a tragic error of epic proportions.
We have done this before. I noted in a previous column that crisis has been used as an excuse or reason to "tinker" with the First Amendment. We should learn from our past errors and not repeat those mistakes in our unbridled enthusiasm to "do whatever is necessary" to guarantee our security. Harlan Ellison once observed, "The two most abundant things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity."
If, in an alleged effort to protect us from our enemies, we allow our government to strip us of God given, inalienable rights, we would grant an inimitable victory to our enemy. A quote often misattributed to Alexis de Tocqueville rings true nonetheless: "America is great because America is good ... when America ceases to be good, it will cease to be great."
We must not in our quest for preserving greatness abandon our heritage of being good.
Update: Operation Restore Warrior Spirit