Ten years ago 19 murderers using box cutters cold-bloodedly killed thousands of Americans.
Some events are scars on the memory. I can only imagine that 911 is for recent generations what Pearl Harbor and the JFK assassination were for previous ones. I can still remember the exact position I was standing in my living room when news of the event came over the television set.
To say this changed America is almost trite. If Americans were ever complacent about the dangers that lurk out in the world, it certainly stopped that day. It was one of those moments when as a people we looked into the abyss, and, true to form, the abyss looked back.
For many Americans, the Twin towers attacks filled them with a terrible resolve; a just desire to punish those responsible and to make sure it never happened again.
But this is where our leaders failed us.
America is more than a place, or a thing. It is an idea. It is the idea of individual liberty. It is the idea of equal justice for all, of innocent until proven guilty, of the rule of law, of a free market, of the supremacy of the Constitution. Kill the idea, and you kill the country.
The murderers on board those planes killed themselves to a purpose. In our reaction to their treachery they saw a path to America’s defeat. By banking on our leaders acting out of rage contrary to the ideas we hold so dear, they could see us eventually destroying ourselves.
How then have our leaders acted?
Instead of treating the hunt for Osama Bin laden as a criminal affair, it became a tool for replacing the Afghan leadership with ones of our own choosing. What could have been a short, punitive search for a fugitive became a long, meandering, painful, expensive and bloody exercise in nation building.
In the pursuit of preventing a recurrence of 911 all Americans have lost their protections to illegal search and seizure. Government permission is required to travel, and consent to search is assumed simply because you travel. American citizens are being searched without warrants on ships, trains, planes, and buses. Government agents perform physical acts that would be considered crimes in any other context, and should be.
Our government routinely performs searches of mail, electronic communications, and even the private homes of citizens without warrants. For many years, those who witnessed such searches and spoke of them could be put in jail simply for saying so. Government has given special immunity to companies for assisting the government violate wiretapping laws.
Those arrested for acts of terrorism have a completely separate legal system to determine their guilt or innocence. Even if found innocent, our Presidents, with the consent of the Congress and the courts, are holding some in prison indefinitely anyway.
Since George W. Bush’s day, the executive has maintained it has the prerogative to kill American citizens overseas if the government suspects they are engaged in terrorist activities, and it has actually done so. There is no judge, jury or public evidence involved.
Our government has openly admitted that it engaged in torture of apprehended criminals for information. Our former Vice President quite openly admits that he favors a form of torture for which we executed Japanese Officers.
Financial privacy does not exist anymore. Government has unlimited access to nearly anyone’s private finances. Many banks routinely report transactions of $2500 or more to the government as a suspicious activity.
We are currently fighting three undeclared hot wars, and at least two cold ones. Our President refuses to comply with the War Powers Act, and the Congress refuses to object. Every day the wars continue to consume more men, money and materiel slowly driving us into bankruptcy.
Herein lies the failure of our leaders. The Twin Towers were never really about 19 crazed murderers. They were always about us, and how we deal with what they did.
On this solemn day, ten years on, when we remember the dead, let’s think of the kind of legacy those who died would have wanted for America.
Would they have been happy that liberty became another casualty?
Pete Blome is a retired military officer and Chair of the Libertarian Party of Okaloosa County.