freedom and security

Thursday, July 4, 2002

     Here are the beginnings of an essay I’m writing to answer the question “How much freedom should we give up for security?” These are only the first fleshings-out of my thoughts on the subject. This is what spilled out the first time I sat down to write. Ideas. Confusion. No real logical flow to it and many digressions. But I thought it might give you folks something to chew on. I’ll appreciate any discussion you give me on it. You know the address.

Are freedom and security inherently opposed?
Is the freedom to choose the amount of freedom you forfeit for security the ultimate freedom?
If freedom is an “inalienable right” how can it ever be abridged in order to produce heightened security? Wouldn’t the act of abridgement automatically reduce our freedom’s, and therefore our own, security?
These must be questions that have been posed since the realization of birth rights. In every area of the world in every era these questions must have been recognized as immediate by thinking people. They are not questions peculiar to these United States at the dawn of the 21st Century.
By the mere abridgement of the legal instruments of these “rights” during earlier periods of war (Lincoln during the Civil War; Wilson’s Espionage & Sedition Act during World War I), we must assume that these questions have presented themselves prior to our day. Indeed, the oft-quoted statement by Benjamin Franklin in the Historical Review of Pennsylvania in 1759, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety,” proves that the importance of freedom and security was revelant even at the beginnings of our young country. Perhaps the perceived immediacy of the trade-off between freedom and security is only a mark of the newest generations — those untouched by large-scale warfare and the authoritarian policies often adopted during those periods.
Do increased citizen searches by civil and military police forces add to societal and individual security? Can you be secure in your person while also being subject to random search and seizure, heightened government surveillance of formerly secure modes of communication and the imposition of detention without judicial oversight? How does individual “security in self” affect societal (national) security? Is it a bane or the bedrock? Is individual security the same thing as freedom?
Ethnic conflict in the former Soviet states has indicated that the enforced peace and security with which various ethnicities lived together under the centralized control of Moscow merely subdued hatred and violence for the time being. Those same “evils” burned within and lurked just outside the gates. Ultimately, the fears and prejudices still led to conflict after the totalitarian power structure and its attendant control mechanisms fell. Does freedom improve these situations?
Possibly. Institutional transparency, freedom of information and improved education both horizontally and vertically (the amount of educated citizens and the depth of their knowledge) might lead to calmer, more logic-based interaction among ethnic groups, as it has shown itself to do increasingly in industrialized countries where the vertical sector of the spectrum continues to deepen our knowledge of those we live with. (This isn’t to say that we’re perfect, though.)
Beyond education focusing on improved relations within and without a country, educated discourse, research, and opinions regarding government strategies and tactics increase citizen involvement in government decision-making. Had, at the onset of the Gulf War, the American public known (or had the freedom to know) that the true aim of the war was increased American infuence in the oil-producing states of the Middle East and not as a simple humanitarian-minded mission to protect the sovereignty of small Kuwait and other states bordering Iraq, would the support of the war been quite so great? Would the war have ever happened? And, assuming Al Qaeda’s stated strategic objectives are honest, had the war and placement of foreign troops on Saudi Arabian soil not happened, would September 11th have happened? These questions cannot be answered. Maybe in a parallel universe.
The question may also be: Do we have enough freedom now to begin giving any up in the name of security? Do we have too little security that it needs the abridgement of freedom to intensify itself? And, if, as the Bush Administration says, the objective of “Islamic” terrorism is the destruction of American and/or Western freedom, is not even the smallest diminishment of freedom, even for the sake of security, an automatic “win” for “the terrorists” aided and abetted by our own national governments?
Who does this so-called freedom and security serve anyway?

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