Whenever there’s been a crisis which threatens the survival of the United States, we’ve seen the leaders of that time period extend the usual
scope of their powers in an attempt to “protect” the American people and our great Republic. And in hindsight, nearly ever time that’s
happened, every time an American president has pushed the limits of their constitutional powers to provide more safety, those acts were seen in
retrospect as being excessive. Let’s revue:
THE SEDITION ACT OF 1798: This gave the federal government the power to close newspapers and summarily deport any foreigner during a “war” with
France that is now seen as being something less than a serious threat.
THE CANCELLING OF HABEAS CORPUS DURING THE CIVIL WAR: People with ties to the South could be arrested without cause.
THE INTERNMENT OF JAPANESE-AMERICANS IN WWII: People were locked up based upon their ethnic background. Even people who had been here for
generations lost their homes and businesses.
THE McCARTHY HEARINGS: During the Cold War, hearings were held in which ordinary Americans were accused of connections to Communism based upon
whether or not they agreed with Joe McCarthy.
At least three out of the four crises above could be seen as authentic threats to the survival of America. The Civil War, World War II, and the
threat of worldwide nuclear holocaust can be seen in retrospect as being real moments where our Nation hung in the balance. The ripping apart of the
very United States, the advance of Fascism and the murder of millions of Jews and other minorities in Europe, and the Cold War with its proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction were all moments when America could have been annihilated.
If we compare the events of 9/11 to those other three crises, it doesn’t quite measure up in terms of a threat to our survival. As noted author
and professor Joseph Ellis wrote in Sunday’s Op-Ed article in the New York Times:
Where does Sept. 11 rank in the grand sweep of American history as a threat to national security? By my calculations it does not make the top tier of
the list, which requires the threat to pose a serious challenge to the survival of the American republic.
In the last decade, Islamic terrorists killed 3500 Americans in this country. That’s about as many people who die of suicide every
month. As horrible as that event was, it does not seem to be such a Republic-ending threat that we should change the basic principles upon which our
government is founded, alter our entire foreign policy, or allow ourselves to be seen by the world as a nation that requires “pre-emptive” attacks
on other countries to survive.
Tonight, when George W. Bush makes his State of the Union Address to the American people, it might be worth counting the number of times he
mentions the attacks of 9/11. He’ll tell us that the rather extreme (by his own admission) policies of domestic spying, secret prisons, and
limitation of personal liberty are all necessary for the protection of the Nation. He will tell us that he does these things to keep us all safe. We
should all spend a moment to remember our history, and our Republic’s reaction to previous threats, and we should ask ourselves if the reaction to
the threat of Islamic terrorism has been proportional to the threat, and whether it's worth dismantling the legacy that the Founding Fathers left
It might just be that the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution were meant precisely
for such a time of crisis, and throwing them
away at a time like this just might be missing the very point.