There are a couple of old axioms. One is win the war and lose the peace. The other one is destroy the village in order to save it.
There is no doubt that the crimes launched on Sept. 11 and the people directly behind them must be identified and punished. A barbaric act was perpetrated on Sept. 11. America must respond. But where and how America responds, under what conditions and to what extent policies and laws shift to meet the challenge ? these are questions that continue to evolve.
As focus intensifies and information surfaces, things become more clear and more complex at the same time. Some of the present reality has to do with war; but even more of it has to do with peace, with just what manner of peace will be left after our time of war.
The mood in the United States these days is both inspiring and alarming. Compassion and courage form a big part of this inspiration as neighbors help neighbors and donations to assist in the nation's recovery rise to record levels. But fear and anger are also present. Uncertainty about the future combined with a seething rage for those who committed this horrific mass murder; these do not dissipate easily and can quickly turn to hatred. Hopefully, these unfortunate conditions will not be too easily exaggerated or exploited.
But in the midst of sincere preparation and execution of a difficult war, the public must remain conscious that in fighting those who know not the meanings of the democratic values and liberties we hold dear, that we do not become our enemies. We, ourselves, must not attack our beliefs from within, not destroy democracy in order to save it.
Growing quickly from these new events national security as primary social order is upon us. It is not a comfortable trend for those who cherish their freedoms and privacy, and certainly should send a cautionary note to journalists. Conditions in America that made it possible to advocate for social change are rapidly shifting.
Where will this leave serious opposition to current environmental policies and globalization? How will it affect minority voices within society? How will tribal advocates fare in a climate where confronting state and federal imperatives is a part of daily survival?
The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001, PATRIOT ACT, and the Public Safety and Cyber Security Enhancement Act of 2001 are not easy pills to swallow without major concerns about civil liberties.
Republicans ? the party of small government ? are presiding in an era that threatens the widest expansion of governmental law enforcement power in history. Investigative and prosecutorial power is expanding. By all accounts the U.S. Constitution is already being stretched by the nation's legislative response. The civil protections of all Americans are significantly put at risk as part of the war on terrorism. Privacy rights are seriously compromised by much expanded legal use of wiretap and secret home searches. The hope is that this will be temporary, however, the signal of a "long, protracted war" is clear upon the land.
Defense against asset forfeiture or the seizure of property or funds from citizens, non-profits or other organizations is seriously compromised. Nor will prosecutors have to disclose any evidence for seizing properties. The government can argue that disclosure would compromise national security. A serious catch-22 is coming. In the context of today's war footing, is it possible America could go too far in framing up a war scenario that will leave no room for a proper exit? Are we going down a road of difficult if not improbable return?
Also at issue is that the actual protection of the citizenry, in the form of quality civil defense and law enforcement intelligence, has not been credibly forthcoming. No significant leads have yet been drawn on the anthrax culprits, and so, for the American public, there has been no sense of relief from being easy targets.
There have been more than 1,000 secret detentions, but with a pittance of arrests, jittery nerves remain. There is much confusion in how to protect civilians and what to do to prepare for various types of attacks. The country still awaits cohesion in civil defense while the war in Afghanistan moves steadily and cautiously forward.
The greatness of America has been its constitutional and educational commitment to civil protections for individuals and groups. In its vigilance against terrorism, America must not lose focus on protecting just what the terrorists have sworn to destroy. We should not destroy democracy and freedom in order to save them.