Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sometimes Looking Back Can Be Instructive

This is a final exam question and answer from a Political Science class I had almost 10 years ago. This was written in June of 2002, but some of it is even more important today, with Obama in office.

The picture is a B-36 (if memory serves) that I took at the US Air Force Museum a couple of years ago.

During the quarter, we spent a great deal of time discussing various issues involving the attack on America of September 11, 2001. Following the attack there has been considerable discussions concerning “Homeland Security” and the need to provide every American with safety and security. This has resulted in debate concerning greater and increased surveillance, intelligence gathering, enhanced techniques for searching baggage and personal belongings prior to boarding airlines, ships, boats, trains and airlines; this security has been enhanced along our borders, at our sea-harbors, in mass transportation.

As Americans, we have always enjoyed enormous freedoms that, before September 11, 2001, we seemed to take for granted.

• Please explain the impact of these increased “Homeland Security” implements as they relate to you personally as an American with the expectation of considerable personal, human, and constitutional rights.

When the first man climbed out of a tree, his culture warred with the existing one, which decided to stay in the tree. Sociologist will tell us that every society will have a major culture that drives the society, and a subculture to war against it. When cities and their major cultures were far enough apart to only meet occasionally, clashes were infrequent. But when each culture expanded to the point where cultures clashed almost daily, great wars were fought, until each could claim a defensible border.

The Romans were the first to try a multicultural experiment, leaving in place local customs and culture, instead of supplanting it with their own, and using their considerable influence to stop the warring between the societies under their control.

What does this have to do with Homeland security? Nothing, and everything. Societies kept their security by being homogeneous, and outside influence and threats were easily identified and dealt with. Our culture since the signing of the Mayflower Compact in 1620 has been one of rule of law and majority. This made our society attractive to people from every culture and corner of the globe. This makes us very un-homogeneous, and culturally very difficult to identify an outsider, particularly one who is a threat. Without investigation we have no idea who is a threat to our security, and who isn’t. At issue is who should do the investigating, who should control the information developed, and what should they with all that data.

The innocent man should have nothing to fear from a fair and honest government. The trouble is do we have a fair and honest government? Will we always have such faith in our leaders? Can we trust the government to investigate and NOT use that information to control society? The “emanations from the penumbra” of the 14th Amendment gives us a right to privacy, especially from government intrusion. When we do get a regime we don’t trust, it’s too late to get our rights and information back.

Now we’re getting to the crux of problem. Does our inherent American distrust of government equal or out weigh our need for security? Everyone agrees that drunken driving is an issue requiring government regulation. But at what point does our need to be secure from the drunk become a higher priority than the right to travel the highways, free from the molestation of random roadblocks? Can we punish, in this respect, the innocent and with the guilty? Isn’t that what we are doing with all of the security checks at airports, surveillance of boarding passengers and delays for extra checks? Punishing the innocent because of the guilty few?

This all may seem to be the long way around the barn, but no decision can be made in a vacuum, it needs to be supported by something, and in this case shouldn’t be taken lightly. The only two legitimate functions of government are to protect our security, and to protect our liberty, and here those two functions clash. In order to maintain the one, we need to lose some of the other.

I am reminded of a program in California a few years ago where in order to keep a certain type of firearm, it needed to be registered with the state, and payment of a $15.00 fee was required. Eighteen months into the program all of the registered owners received a letter containing their refunded fee, and a new law explaining they had 20 days to turn the gun in for destruction, or get it out of the state. It is actions like these, where a governing body collects information for one stated purpose and then uses that same information to, metaphorically at least, beat you over the head that worry cognizant folks.

Every despotic regime in the history of the world had a phobia for controlling the populace, and their movements. If the Bush administration wants turn into a regime where we need to justify, catalogue and authorize our movements, and need to show our “papers” before being allowed to travel, how much more regulation would we need? Past what has been put into place since September 11th? If not this Administration, what of the future? Gore in 2004?

Part of what worries me about these new regulations is their permanency. When will we be free of these regulations, if ever? Creating a Cabinet post for Homeland Security seems make these new rules permanent. George Patton once said you win a war by “Making the other poor, dumb bastard die for HIS country,“ a sentiment Israel seems to have taken to heart when dealing with terrorists. Maybe instead of a Department of Homeland Security would should create a Department Terrorist Insecurity, keeping the pressure and attack on the problem, and release the victims from government control.

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