Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?

Posted on July 4, 2014


It’s worth remembering that the “founding fathers” of our country were brave enough to stand up to what they saw as tyranny. They were willing to risk their personal and political fortunes, their freedom and their very lives to oppose the Crown over issues like unfair taxes, curtailment of credit, being forced to accommodate soldiers in their private homes, and a litany of ever-increasing restrictions placed on the Colonists by the Crown. We know how that all turned out.

As we hopefully wind down the Afghanistan war this year, nearly 13 years since the 9/11 attack – 13 years!! – I have those Colonists in mind quite a lot. I think about the Constitution, and most of all the Bill of Rights – those first ten amendments that were important enough that the authors insisted that they be formally codified into law, as specific, deliberately articulated protections against government abuses.

“Ought not a government, vested with such extensive and indefinite authority, to have been restricted by a declaration of rights? It certainly ought. So clear a point is this, that I cannot help suspecting that persons who attempt to persuade people that such reservations were less necessary… are wilfully endeavoring to deceive, and to lead you into an absolute state of vassalage.”

the Anti-Federalist writing as “Brutus”, 1787

If this is how cautious the Founding Fathers were in establishing the Constitution; if this is how careful they were to separate the powers of the various branches of Federal government, to reserve most powers to the States, and to enumerate those individual liberties so essential to the character of the new nation – what might they think of us if they could see us today?

I’m afraid they would be disappointed in many of our post-9/11 developments. We have allowed fear of terrorism to hand over a blank check to the Federal government in the name of “keeping us safe.”  We have allowed “terrorism” to be used as a magic word enabling the authorities to ignore habeas corpus, and to encroach on the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. We have commingled prisoner-of-war status with Federal prisoner status. We have blurred the lines between our Federal court system and war tribunals; we have blurred the line between acts of war and criminal activity. We have even come to the point of having secret courts rendering secret verdicts on the permissibility of secret wiretaps against Americans and US Persons.

But before “terrorism” was that magic word, “the war on drugs” was the magic phrase. We have long been violating the Fifth Amendment in the form of Forfeiture of Assets, in which the government combats “criminal activity by stripping criminals of their ill-gotten gains.” The problem here is that the government can seize your property without even charging you with a crime, much less convicting you of one. And then, the IRS hasn’t been very good about following legal procedures in seizing property, either, so there’s that.

It’s all pretty Orwellian, isn’t it? Yet, we say little in opposition, or worse – we the public justify the government’s actions in our own minds, telling ourselves that it’s worth it all to “keep us safe.” Safe from drug dealers, organized criminals, terrorists, school shooters, anything from pedophiles right on down to peanut allergies.  The more we ask our government to intervene in order to secure our safety, the more they will intervene, until ultimately we get a result that we really didn’t want.

I’m all for physical security, but national security consists of a lot more than that. The economy, infrastructure, employment levels, health, education, food security – it’s also all of these things, and more. It’s about keeping your nation strong and resilient, more than about keeping it “protected.” Protection is never 100% guaranteed; that’s why strength and resiliency are more important than mere safety.

There is no doubt, this 4th of July, that the Star-Spangled Banner yet waves, but I ask: what is it waving over? Are we still the free and the brave?