Are you Willing to Die for your Freedom?
Before we even got the whole picture detailing exactly how widespread the government's phone tracking efforts were, we were hit with news of the NSA PRISM program. The details are still being uncovered and debates and questions concerning both programs abound, but the most important question doesn't concern the leaker, the morality of leaking, the consequences of living in the information age, or the efficacy of the program.
The most important question in this new world of electronic Big Brother is not new at all. It is simply this: Are you willing to die for your freedom?
The unstated notion through all of the discussions I have heard is that we have to be safe, we have to have these or similar programs to keep us safe. I reject that unquestioning philosophy. The government has a responsibility to protect us, yes, but the entire reason we instituted the federal government was to secure greater liberty. Our safety is not the only concern that must be satisfied, our liberty must also be protected.
The trade-off is not as dramatic as it was for the veterans throughout our history. We do not have to choose between death and freedom, but merely between dramatically-decreased freedom -- a much-altered relationship between government and citizen (or subject) -- on the one hand or restoring freedom at the cost of a very slightly increased threat of death on the other.
Why is the risk slight? Because it's not as if this is the only program possible to counter acts of terror. Repealing this program and the notions of government that enabled it will not destroy our security. We've had security and counter-terror programs before this, and we have other programs and agencies working overseas and abroad to keep us safe even now. There have been failures under the old system and failures under this new program. Most of those failures, be they 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombing, stemmed not from a lack of intelligence but from political correctness -- not following up even though the terrorists paid cash one way with no luggage, were from countries of heightened risk, made six-month trips abroad, were mentioned specifically by foreign intelligence organizations, etc.
We should not expand government's reach into, and power over, our lives. Moreover, every one of the last several terror attacks have been lone wolves with no affiliation to Al-Qaeda. How many phone calls does a lone wolf need to plant a bomb or start a forest fire somewhere?
I'm willing to die for my freedom. I'm certainly willing to take the slightly-increased risk of dying in a terrorist attack that ostensibly will result from the government not sifting my email and monitoring all my calls and banking activity and who knows what else.
At this point, I'm becoming convinced it's not worth it. We're groping children and Korean War vets in airports as part of an expensive show of security. We're teaching our kids to put up with government intrusion into our lives. On my most recent flight, I saw a father help his 5-year-old son remove his shoes and show him where to put them, how to remove his belt, how to wait his turn, how to go through security and comply with routine government searches.
It's not worth the toll on our freedom and our veneration of freedom. Proper understanding of freedom is learned, not inherited, and we are poisoning the next generation's conception of the relationship of the government and the individual. We must end the constant expansion of government power and kill the idea that government can and should expand at will.
We also are among the casualties in this war. This struggle is bigger than terrorism; it is an ideological struggle against the West and terrorism is merely the preferred method of those engaging us. But if it's an ideological struggle and we are casualties in the war, perhaps in a way we also are combatants. We fight when we defend freedom and liberty in our culture.
It's been said that the object in war is not to die for your country, but to make the other guy die for his. The soldier merely has to be willing to die in pursuit of that effort. In this new, distributed struggle, it is not our responsibility to die for our freedom, only perhaps to maintain the full measure of our natural liberties and be willing to die in that pursuit.
The soldier can easily avoid dying in battle by never going into battle in the first place, by violating his commission and honor and brothers and giving up all that he is. A free citizen may avoid being the victim of terrorism, but at similar cost.
My great-grandfather exited his Higgins boat onto Omaha Beach in the second wave on D-Day. He and those around him waded through the blood and floating remains of the first wave of soldiers, facing the screams of the dying, taking the beach amidst mortar, sniper, machine gun, and artillery fire. Shouldn't we be willing to do the same? Isn't freedom cheap even at that high a price? We do not face any danger potentially harmful as what they charged into. So facing so much less, should we give away our liberty?
Revolutionary General John Stark wrote "Live free or die." It is now the state motto of New Hampshire. Do we believe it any longer? I want to have the autonomy that includes privacy, freedom from arbitrary and warrantless government searches, freedom from being a child the government nannies in every way. I want to live free, and if that means a world in which I have an increased chance of dying, I gladly accept that. As General Stark's complete toast stated: Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.