Much Freedom Should We Trade for Security?
in response to an essay contest sponsored by Shell and The Economist
versus freedom--the either/or of the new millennium--yet the very question
indicates a flawed sense of both terms. It sets them up as mutually exclusive
when, in fact, they go hand in hand, for can one truly be secure if one is not
free? We make such a swap only when we define security as safety from certain
things, not considering that by doing so, we make ourselves not only less
free, but insecure in other ways. Thomas Jefferson understood this. He said, "A
society that will trade a little order for a little freedom will lose both,
and deserve neither."
we transcend the security/freedom dilemma, we are ignoring the wisdom of
another great thinker, Albert Einstein, who said, "Problems
cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them." Trying
to create security at the cost of freedom is doing just that. If we want to be
either secure or free, we must be both--and that requires nothing short of a
yourself sheep and the wolves will eat you.
Benjamin Franklin said that. He was speaking about the relationship between
the people and the government at a time when the role of multinational
corporations was beyond imagination. We esteem our founding fathers, but what
we really need to do is listen to them. The challenge is to meld the bleaters
and those whose eyes glisten in the dark into a We
Until that happens, the title of this essay should be How
Much Freedom Should You
because in such a trade, some individuals give up their power to others.
isn't so evident because Americans overvalue freedom as a slogan and
undervalue it as a principle. Freedom's tricky, but how many class-hours are
spent talking about what it means and what it takes to maintain? I went
through twelve years of public education, and I don't remember any. Even if
you laid the clichés of my history teachers end on end, it wouldn't take more
than twenty minutes to recite them. Americans are encouraged to think of
freedom as being about having one hundred and fifty cable channels to choose
from and the right to be as wasteful as you want if you can afford it.
days, in the name of security, we are told more and more often that freedom is
about secrecy. We can't know about the vice president's meetings with the
decide the people's energy policy; we can't inquire into the lapses in
security that allowed 9/11 to happen. People who question the direction the
nation is taking are shouted down as being unpatriotic. Information is power.
Secrecy and freedom are far more antithetical than freedom and security, yet
that dichotomy is never discussed on the nightly news and no one is inviting
essays on it.
we truly care about freedom and security, we have to value them as absolutes.
Until we stop thinking that we can be free and secure and prosperous at the
cost of the freedom, security, and prosperity of others, the world will
continue to be a dangerous place. From Columbine to the Middle East, the urge
to do things that impinge on people's sense of security comes from other
people's sense of being oppressed and not free.
freedom is curtailed, power doesn't vanish, it just changes hands until, like
wealth, a lot of it is held by a few. Whether you are talking about us as a
species or as a nation of people, increasingly we
polarized into us
a situation that erodes both security and freedom, although there is lots of
propaganda to the contrary.
look at a specific example:
the Justice Department's assertion that prisoners declared enemy combatants do
not have the right to a lawyer and the American judiciary cannot second-guess
the military's classification of such detainees. Georgetown University law
professor David Cole said (NY Daily News, Jun 20, 2002), It's
not just that you have no right to a lawyer, it's that you have no right to
even have a hearing. . . . If that is true, then there is really no limit to
the president's power to label U.S. citizens as bad people and then have them
held in military custody indefinitely.
certainly erodes freedom, for who is to say a Joseph McCarthy won't come along
and stretch the definition of "enemy combatants" to the same
ridiculous lengths that the original stretched the definition of
"Communist?" Could it someday include anyone of Arab descent who
commits any crime? And what about those government-sponsored ads that declare
kids who smoke pot are aiding and abetting terrorism? Is it at all conceivable
that the war on drugs and the war against terror could be combined? The
important part is the phrase forbidding the judiciary to
"second-guess." This means an accusation is all it takes to rob
someone of an essential right provided by the Constitution. It says You
are not innocent until proven guilty; you are innocent until someone declares
you aren't, and you have no legal recourse.
Does such a measure really make Americans more secure?
problem with trading security for freedom is that once traded, we no longer
have any control. A good example is our social security number. When this
system was set up, Americans were promised that the numbers would not be used
as identification. Now, however, these sacred numbers, which lead to all
manner of personal information, are routinely required to cash checks at the
supermarket and order cable TV. Some states even use them as the number on
example is drug testing. In 1986, the United States District Court of
Tennessee ruled that the mass urine testing of fire-fighters without
individualized "reasonable suspicion" was in violation of the Fourth
Amendment (Lovvorn v. City of Chattanooga). Today, that stance has eroded to
the point where, in many industries, even middle-aged applicants for clerical
positions must turn over body fluids---often under humiliating
conditions---and now certain districts are seeking to require all students to
be drug tested before being eligible to participate in any extra-curricular
testing is an instance where we were asked to give up freedom in order to be
more secure. In 1983, only 3% of the Fortune 500 companies were testing one or
more classes of job applicants or employees. By 1991, that number had
climbed to 97%. Yet a survey taken in 1998 revealed that in the month prior to
the survey, ten million Americans had smoked pot. The American people gave up
privacy with an expected return in mind, but they didn't get it. Think about
it. Is there anything more oxymoronic than an American leader urging the
American people to give up freedom for any reason?
problem with trading security for freedom is that, in the long run, the cure
is almost guaranteed to be worse than the disease, though we have no way of
knowing that until it is too late. Most of us do not have the time---or even
the inclination---to truly consider the ramifications of what we are giving up
in terms of freedom or what we are truly gaining in terms of security. Often
we are not given the information to make a considered decision that involves
understanding the implications of what is being surrendered. One of the things
that makes us willing to give up freedom for security is fear; yet just this
month (June, 2002) Attorney General John Ashcroft was exposed as radically
overstating the "dirty bomb" situation involving Jose Padilla.
Freedom is a sacred thing, and this situation makes it clear that the security
versus freedom issue is not always untainted by political agendas.
we are going to honor democratic principles, we must start taking more civic
responsibility. We are not just responsible for the answers; we're also
responsible for the questions. For example, why (according to the Center for
Defense Information) between 1990 and 1999 did the US sell arms to sixteen of
the eighteen countries on the State Department's list of terrorist nations?
When you look at the actual facts, it seems a much more relevant question than
the ones being asked, yet such arms sales are not something most Americans are
even cognizant of. Would such an understanding impact the willingness of the
American people to surrender freedom for the promise of security? And what
internal security measures would be strong enough to counteract the effect of
those arms sales? Should there be no disclosure required before
are urged to give up our Constitutionally designated freedoms?
much freedom should we trade for security?
is a simplistic question. Freedom is what America is all about. Give it up for
any reason, and terrorism has won. Anyone who asks Americans to do so is in
complicity. One thing they didn't stress in school that they should have:
Remaining free requires courage.