By Fredrick H. Winterberg III
Following the news these days, one has to wonder where it
will all end. We hear of terror alerts, level orange, "high
alert." We hear of armed policemen on all civil airlines.
We hear of draconian measures being taken in Washington, D.C.,
like barricades and walls around our national monuments, Humvees
with machine guns pointed at traffic, and the growing prevalence
of surveillance cameras in public. The question is, at what
point will we feel "safe?"
Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying, "Those who would
sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither liberty nor
security." The meaning is obvious; you can't ensure freedom
by taking it away.
Yet that is exactly what our government has been doing in
the 27 months since September 11, 2001. First came the PATRIOT
Act, with its blatantly unconstitutional search and seizure,
wiretapping, and detention provisions. This odious piece of
legislation was rammed through Congress - many lawmakers didn't
even have a chance to read the revised version they eventually
voted on - by John Ashcroft and the Bush administration, who,
it would appear, wanted to get their hands on as much power
as they could as quickly as possible. Following this, Congress
gave Bush a blank check to go attack anyone he wanted to without
their approval, ceding their constitutional authority and
We then went gallivanting around the country, imprisoning
people who were "suspected" of having ties to terrorists,
and gave them no access to lawyers, or the courts, or even
a chance to tell their families what had happened to them.
We invaded Afghanistan, ostensibly to find Osama bin Laden,
and rounded up a whole bunch of other suspected terrorists,
and sent them to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they still sit
today, detained indefinitely as "enemy combatants" with no
formal charges brought.
Then came the invasion of Iraq, which, despite the Bush
administration's assertion that Saddam had weapons of mass
destruction and was going to turn them on us, was no threat
at all to us or even to their neighbors. It has been subsequently
found that Saddam didn't have these weapons after all, and
this action has, by all accounts, made us far less safe then
we were before attacking Iraq.
And just when Congress and the courts are starting to take
a long overdue look at the excesses of the PATRIOT Act, and
talking of rolling back some of its worst excesses, we find
Bush has signed PATRIOT Act 2 under the cover of heightened
terror alerts and warnings. This gives even more latitude
to law enforcement to trample our rights than PATRIOT 1 did.
Excuse me, but this is not the America I know and love.
The fact is, we are no safer now than we were on September
10, 2001, and are very likely far less safe. Bush's careening
around the globe like a drunken sailor on a violent binge
has enraged our friends as well as our enemies. He has created
a new haven for international terrorism with his bungled war
in Iraq, where we will now, in all likelihood, see terrorist
activity where there previously was none. Giving new powers
to law enforcement is far more likely to bring about massive
abuse of authority than it is to net terrorists; the fact
is, they had all the tools they needed to avert the 9/11 tragedy
before it happened, but completely dropped the ball. So, in
the end, what we have ended up with is a wholesale gutting
of our civil liberties, and a markedly more dangerous world;
a scared and terrorized populace, with its own government
doing the terrorizing.
So, what to do?
Unfortunately, nothing will change under the current administration;
the first step has to be removing Bush and his thugs from
power next November. If we can accomplish that, and I think
there is a good chance we can, I think we can get our country
The second step is for us, as a collective nation, to reconsider
9/11. We need to honestly assess what happened, why it happened,
and use that knowledge to prevent future attacks from occurring.
So far, we have been told it is because terrorists "hate our
freedom" and little else. This is a load of crap. Until we
can honestly assess the reasons it happened, we will be hopeless
to understand it and prevent it from happening again. Only
then will be able to move forward; to date it hasn't happened,
in no small part because the Bush administration doesn't want
it to. They benefit enormously from a scared, cowed populace.
It's time we realize this and take that power back from them.
The third step is to take the knowledge gained in step two
and apply it to how we deal with the rest of the world. It
is no big secret that our oil-based foreign policy in the
middle east is a prime reason the terrorists attack us. Instead
of pumping billions into foreign countries like Saudi Arabia,
we should be developing alternative energy sources so we would
no longer be as dependent on importing their oil. If we weren't
there propping up their corrupt monarchy with our oil dollars,
I don't believe we'd be seeing such a terrorist backlash.
This obviously, would take a long time; however, if you really
want to defeat terrorism, you're not going to do it with a
war, especially the kind of war the Bush administration is
trying to fight. You have to address the problem at its roots,
which we have refused to do.
Lastly, we have to come to terms with and accept the fact
that we live in a dangerous world. To conduct a "war on terrorism",
where your goal is to eradicate it from the earth, is to conduct
a war without end because it is impossible to accomplish.
I believe it can be drastically reduced if we make the aforementioned
changes, but to lead people to believe it can be eliminated
is a flat-out lie. It is far better to be honest with the
people of this country, do our best to head off attacks before
they happen, and then deal with it as best we can if they
do happen without trashing the Constitution. It is far more
liberating to live unafraid yet aware of the risks inherent
in life than it could ever be to live with a false sense of
security brought about by being repressed by our own government.
I refuse to live in fear of being attacked by terrorists.
Granted, I live in an area where said attacks are highly unlikely,
but I am originally from just outside of New York, and visit
there often. I have a brother and sister in New York City,
and I take my two children there with no qualms about what
may happen. I was on one of the first flights that was allowed
to go up after 9/11, the very day the airports re-opened,
and was able to fly without any fear of terrorists bringing
down the plane.
I refuse to be intimidated, especially knowing that that
is how the unelected Bush administration wants me to feel.
And one final note: the media tries to portray Bush as some
kind of fearless cowboy, but when we look at reality, we see
a different picture. During the Cuban missile crisis, when
a nuclear exchange between the US and the USSR was seemingly
imminent, President Kennedy stayed in Washington, at the White
House. He refused to be intimidated, and in doing so I truly
believe he gave all Americans strength and courage through
his actions. Contrast this with Bush on 9/11 - he ran around
the country like a scared rabbit, afraid to return to Washington
DC, preferring to hide in a bunker in Nebraska until he could
be sure the coast was clear. When asked about his thoughts
during that day, he actually said "I was just trying to get
out of harm's way". Read about the security detail that he
takes wherever he goes, and the lengths they go to to protect
him, and you'll see the real George Bush - a coward of the
first degree. Beneath his cowboy fašade, stripped of his money
and family name and power, is a scared little man.
Let's make sure we send this scared little man home to Texas
in November, where he belongs.