As the repercussions of Tuesday’s acts of terrorism in New York and Washington, D.C., become clearer to America, so do the realizations of what it means to live in a free society.
History proves that foreign policy, domestic action, and the social fabric can be ripped apart like the torn American flags shot by AP photographers Wednesday morning in a crisis situation. But unlike changes in foreign policy kicked in by the Vietnam War, or the uniting of forces in the domestic front during World War II,
Tuesday’s tragedy begs the question: How much freedom is too much freedom?
According to UW-Madison political science professor Don Downs, the course of action Bush takes will have to address this fine line between civil liberties and security.
“It is going to have a big effect on liberty. It has to,” Downs said. “You’re going to have more restrictions in flying, and liberty is going to be compromised.”
Travel freedom won’t be the only compromise.
Immigration laws, privacy rights, freedom of association, and the Fourth Amendment may all be sacrificed in some way or another in the name of security.
In a recent op-ed piece, Newsweek writer Howard Fineman looked at this issue.
“We’ve lost what’s left of our innocence,” Fineman wrote. “We will win this war as we have won others. But victory will not be easy, and we may have to give up some measure of freedom to preserve what’s best of the rest.”
UW journalism professor James Baughman said Americans have made sacrifices in the past and will do so in the future.
“I think we’re more willing to do that than we probably should be,” Baughman said. “When people understand risk you’d be surprised at what people will put up with.”
Now Americans face a new riddle, and the sacrifice will not be easy. The predictions are even harder to understand.
“The government has a responsibility to find out what happened, but it has to do it in a way that doesn’t compromise our civil liberties,” Downs said. “The government is going to be keeping a close eye on private groups in this country, but you don’t want [it] to violate freedom of association.”
The fine line between security and governmental violations will affect immigration policies as well. Tighter border restrictions are inevitable, as is close scrutiny of suspicious foreigners.
“We can’t start lumping certain ethnic groups or religions into guilt by association,” Downs said.
But restrictions on freedom may run larger than just armed guards on airplanes and video cameras at airports. Freedom of security is not blatantly expressed in the U.S. constitution. Neither are the freedoms of progress, growth, and making the country a stronger one. Yet these are the freedoms, taken for granted or not, that were shaken along with those buildings.
As Peter Grier, writer for the Christian Science Monitor, put it: “Now the very idea of America, as expressed in its symbolic buildings, has been successfully attacked. Going forward, one overarching debate will likely involve how that idea — of openness, of freedom of movement, of confidence in itself — may change.”
Downs said that increases in security at the cost of some liberties are surely worth it.
“I think it’s horrible, but I think it’s necessary,” Downs said.
Downs ventured even further, saying that our very base of freedom may be what made us so vulnerable to attack on Tuesday.
“Our strength is our weakness,” Downs said. “Unfortunately, there are evil people in this world who will take advantage of the openness and virtues of a free society. But it would be immoral for us not to do anything to protect ourselves.”
Downs said he is fully prepared to see slight liberties tossed out the window in the name of security, albeit with caution.
“I don’t think there is anything unreasonable with that,” Downs said. “The question is how it’s done. It has to be as minimal as possible.”
Maybe our fourth president would never have guessed what atrocities this nation faced this week, but it is clear he that recognized the fine line between security and liberty.
“In framing a government … the great difficulty lies in this,” James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper 51. “You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”