Historian and Yale Professor Dr. Jay Winik’s recent commentary in the Wall Street Journal, “Security Comes Before Liberty” (read it with the lights on), shows an excellent grasp of history but fails and frightens in its conclusions. Each of the American leaders mentioned in the article pushed the country further and further away from the original concept of the United States. Unlike what Dr. Winik maintains, civil rights in this country were not returned to their previous levels after they had been curtailed in the name of national security. Each time there was a small erosion of our rights and monumental growth in the scope and breadth of our government. Our country, which has become an empire, was not built in a day but with one small step at a time. As with wartime taxes, social programs, the institution of executive orders and the like, our government has shown a remarkable inability to keep itself in check.
The greatness of this country comes from the people and not from the government. Dr. Winik is certainly correct in his analysis of the dictatorships of each of these presidential regimes. But I believe his ultimate conclusion indicates a true lack of understanding about the foundations of this country. His words should scare any liberty loving American to death. Dr. Winik seems to believe that the preservation of this country should be accomplished at all cost and that we must trust the government to do whatever needs to be done in its self-preservation. I believe the preservation of this country means nothing when compared to the individual liberties believed by our founders to be as necessary as breathing.
Dr. Winik also seems to postulate that somehow the acts of our Presidents should be revered, that simply because they’re history they take on an almost gospel like reverence. I would answer that each of these Presidents violated the law and could and should have been tried and convicted of treason.
The thought of placing your life in the hands of any human being should be a scary prospect. Trusting our Presidents with the ultimate care of each of us is a dangerous game. The reason: concentration of power breeds corruption and ultimately dictators. Our founders knew this and that is why we have three governmental branches, not just one.
The sole area of Dr. Winik’s commentary that I agree with has to do with the rights of those who are not citizens of this country but are living within our boarders- those on visas, green cards, etc. Our immigration policy should reflect concern for our citizens and not non-citizens. Certainly no one should be abused in any sense. They should simply be deported. But again, this action concerns “non-citizens”.
As with gun control laws, law-abiding citizens are the ones that will ultimately pay the price for increased restrictions on civil liberties. There has been no information presented to the public which proves the just passed homeland security measures would have done anything to prevent the September terrorist attack. What would have aided their apprehension is tighter immigration control which does not impede the rights of citizens. This, coupled with a balanced foreign policy toward the Middle East, should have been the first steps taken by our government to ensure our future safety. Unfortunately our leaders don’t seem to have the stomach to stem the flow of new human fodder for the voting booth or the willingness to occasionally say NO to Israel.
As with Lincoln, Wilson and Roosevelt, today’s leaders will opt to sacrifice the lives of our soldiers and the liberties of our citizens before they would begin to question whether we actually did something to precipitate the attacks. At very least our policies created an environment which provided moldable masses eager to be led by a nut like Bin Laden. But there is no self-examination when you are infallible, the greatest, the best and above reproach.
I actually owe Dr. Winik a debt of gratitude. He has provided an accurate assessment of a few of America’s best-known leaders who were willing to put themselves and the government ahead of the people. Thank, indeed.
The naivete of Dr. Winik’s analysis amazes me. He has accepted the actions of each of these men on their face instead of reflecting on the myriad of issues involved in World War II or the War Between the States for example. The actions of these leaders cannot be analyzed in a historic vacuum. And this is what he has done. Bottom line: His commentary left me with a lingering chill. Perhaps, though, his thoughts will propel others as it did me to further speak, shout and thrash about as much as necessary to ensure the United States is still a country worthy of our citizenship.
October 27, 2001