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Poll: Freedom Versus Safety

Depressingly, although not a big surprise, barely more than half of the people in a recent AP poll would choose preserving freedom versus protection from terrorism.

With the anniversary of 9/11 quickly approaching I believe it would be a good time to reflect on where we are as a nation.

Much like we can’t, as a nation, create wealth by assuming ever-increasing amounts of debt, we can’t preserve freedom and liberty by sacrificing more and more freedom to the state.

I don’t believe freedom versus safety is an either / or issue. It isn’t as if you have to give up an ever-increasing amount of freedom to achieve more safety. For example, I imagine a maximum security prison would shield me pretty well from terrorist attacks. However, I don’t really want to go to prison.

Much of the so-called airport security is more for show than it is effective at preventing attacks. There are far too many stories where children, the elderly, etc. receive undue, humiliating and inexplicable attention from airport security screeners. Blanket security is, in reality, nothing more than a security blanket intended for travelers, and not effective security. 

We have also been in an almost constant state of war since 9/11. In my opinion, this has reinforced both our fear of being attacked, and also conditioned the public to sacrifice freedom for the promise of safety. These wars have become increasingly nebulous with no definite end-state. Modern warfare has tended toward thwarting enemies and blocking their actions, rather than achieving definitive victory. This is not something our government would want to acknowledge publicly. Imagine the president telling the parents of a soldier fighting in a foreign land that their child may die, not so victory can be attained, but so we can block another foreign power from influencing a region, attaining resources, etc.

Given our current unsustainable government debt levels, it is hard to see – over the long-term – how we will be able to maintain our increasing military commitments. Something, eventually, will have to give. If history is any guide, it will likely be our own economy and internal stability.

I have always thought that part of the purpose of 9/11 was to force our nation to choose between untenable options. After the attack, we could have chosen to not respond. This likely would have invited further attacks. Instead, we chose to go on the offensive. This has resulted in a very high tempo of wars, at a great human and economic cost. In search of safety, many have been willing to sacrifice personal liberty. This sacrifice is something that foreign terrorists, in my opinion, probably could not have achieved even with a constant wave of attacks. Unfortunately, the public has allowed this to happen. In essence, we sacrificed our own liberty for the promise of safety.

As a former member of the military, I definitely believe we need to defend ourselves and ensure – to the greatest degree possible – that our nation is safe and secure. In the long-term, our country can’t be safe and secure if we sacrifice our personal liberty. Nature loves a vacuum. Don’t doubt for one minute that any government, once liberty is sacrificed, will be loathe to give it back. In our country, liberty and a more (or less) free-market capitalism have been intertwined. This system of free-market capitalism has been subject to increasing regulation and manipulation over time. Our current economic crisis has further weakened this system. The stresses of deficit spending and crony capitalism are causing even more rapid deterioration. The parallel erosion of our economy and personal liberty is not coincidental. Economic liberty and personal liberty reinforce each other, and it should not be surprising that the erosion of one would lead to erosion in the other.

We have been blessed to live in a nation where personal and economic liberty were highly valued and protected. Increasingly, this protection has been removed. It is especially, disheartening that so many people willingly have sacrificed their liberty for the promise of safety. This is not a trade-off that, over the long-term, can work. Sacrificing personal liberty will cause an erosion in our economy. Many who demand safety from an enemy will also demand safety from an uncertain economy. But safety, and certainty, aren’t something that can be guaranteed, while hunger for power and money are much more certain. Eventually, you discover that the gatekeeper who promised safety has become the prison guard who won’t let you out. 
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