When studying previous wars, a question which frequently occurred to me was “How did people at home live with the war?”
What was it like, wondering whether peace or more bloodshed was around the corner? If the Afghan war is any indication, the home front is relatively insulated from the horrors of combat. This remains true in America today, where most Americans have only experienced the carnage of September 11 via television or photographs. Those who have been near Ground Zero inform me that the smell is terrible, and that photographs do not in any way convey the reality of the devastation.
With respect to the expansion of governmental power, I confess to being amazed. I expected that a week or so after the attacks, the President, or another such high official, would declare that we must keep our heads. Destroying liberty to save a free country, after all, makes no sense. And yet it hasn’t happened. The politicians have asked us to snitch on likely terrorists, to continue using the monopoly Postal Service (as if we have a choice about where to send letters), and to continue to fly, even though our belongings will be inspected in minute detail.
And so it seems, as with every other war, the powers of the state shall grow at the expense of civil society. Rather than getting better, America is growing weaker and more sickly, as the compulsory state expands at the expense of the revenue-producing cattle whom it allegedly exists to serve (the cattle are we citizens).
What to think? I think that things are going to get worse before they get better. Perhaps I have no good reason to think so, but it is my instinct. I will be only too happy to be proven wrong by subsequent events.
Consider, however, the War Between the States, and human nature in general. The War between the States was a long time coming. To put it differently, after the American colonies seceded from Mother England, it took a great deal of provocation, usurpation, and fleecing before the Southern states decided to secede from the voluntary compact known as the Constitution.
This fits with human nature. Generally, human beings will put up with a great deal of discomfort before they are inclined to act. This is a simple cost-benefits analysis. The costs of doing something, especially something drastic, are often outweighed by the risks, by the uncertainty of success, and by the knowledge that it could always be worse.
It seems, therefore, that the situation with respect to civil liberties in America is going to get worse before it gets better. How much worse is not a subject on which I can possibly speculate. How long such a degradation of our civic life may last is not certain. One hopes that there will be a push to repeal the extension of snooping powers after the shooting has stopped and the terrorists have been duly sent to their Maker.
In order for that to happen, however, Americans will need to remain vigilant, and they will need to ask for it to happen. Now that the government has been given more money and more power, do not expect the government to give it up on its own.
Things may get worse from here. Despite this possibility, the so-called “Republican revolution” of 1994, as limited and short-lived as it was, gives us reason to remain hopeful. Americans are not likely to forget how to throw the bums out at the ballot box.
Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
© 2001 David Dieteman