“Are you better off now?” The election battle cry of President Reagan in 1980, asking the American populace whether they were in a better position than when President Carter began his presidency. President Clinton revived the same idiom against President Bush (the first one.)
The question I ask, seven years later—“Are you better off?”
Obviously, the problem comes in what it means to be “better”? We often hear tales (and perhaps even lived them) where a newly married couple struggles financially to afford a tiny apartment, one barely-working car and a newborn on the way. Striving together, they struggle through and become financially independent. Yet what happens? They become worried and depressed over the rise and fall of their stock portfolio; over the new addition to the house; over who has to work how many hours to afford both Lexus automobiles. They see less of each other in their 4,500 square foot house than they did in their 900 square foot apartment.
Are they “better”? Financially—yes. Emotionally, mentally and as a family—no. Many would secretly sigh and look back with longing to the days they struggled financially, because the emotional teamwork was more satisfying than heated leather seats.
So now we are seven years later. Are you better off?
Certainly we have improvements in security. After the tragedy, we recognize the security holes in airports and have taken firm steps to patch those holes. It would be harder for a terrorist to replicate 9/11 today than it was seven years ago. This brought terrorism sharply into focus for Americans, making it a reality in our own country rather than something one read about in the papers happening to other people in other countries, speaking other languages.
But I also see our nation as having become a nation of fear. After a computer glitch caused delays in air travel, the first statement released was, “This is NOT a terrorist attack.” As if the first fear we had was “another 9/11.” We have an incomprehensible chart of colors; allegedly warning us to the level of possible terrorist activity (anyone know what color we currently are?) and the media immediately screams headlines when the color changes due to a “possible credible terrorist threat.”
We won’t publish books due to fear over terrorist response. We won’t publish cartoons because of fear over terrorist response. We slog our way through Afghanistan with no real purpose, no real objective—all on the fear that if we were not there Osama bin Laden would re-appear. We entered an unjustified war, based on faulty information. Why? Because we were afraid.
Our current presidential election process permeates with speeches and questions as to which candidate provides better national security. “Who do you want to answer the phone at 3 a.m.?” We fear what that phone call would be.
There are benefits to fear. Your body starts to produce adrenaline. Your senses become keenly aware. You become proactive as to looking for danger, rather than re-active. It is the difference between walking down a dark street in an unfamiliar neighborhood and walking to your car at your local grocery store at 2 in the afternoon.
After a while, though, we become numb to fear. The adrenaline stops. We are afraid, but we don’t know how to act, or how to respond. We become lethargically uneasy. Rather than being sharp and focused, we cower—from what or who we don’t even know.
Today, seven years later, it is time for the Phoenix to rise from the ashes. It is time to stand up and say, “Yes, I am justifiably afraid of terrorist attacks; but I am not going to let that cower me. I am not going to cringe in fear every time someone mentions 9/11. I am not going to allow my government, my legislators and my president trample my freedoms, lie to me, and ignore the Constitution of the United States.”
We have let the government decimate the rights we hold so dear, out of a groveling fear. Listen in to my telephone calls? Well…O.K. as long as it might catch terrorists. Lie about going to war? Well…O.K. as long as it kills terrorists. Let American soldiers die and die and die. Well…O.K. ‘cause we haven’t had any terrorist attacks since 9/11.
Enough! We must no longer allow our government to use the excuse of our fear of 9/11 to torture prisoners. To deny them habeas corpus. To stop reading them their rights.
We must channel our fear to react positively. Put in place safeguards to prevent terrorist attacks—yes. But not to the point of losing what freedoms we had prior to 9/11. Not to the point of becoming terrorists ourselves. Seven years later, the terrorists of 9/11 have gained a far greater outcome than they could ever imagine. They have brought the American Giant to its knees in fear, in concert with a government run amok.
Today we honor the victims of 9/11. We remember proudly the firefighters, police, dock workers and citizens who attempted to save as many lives as they could on that day. Some dying for their efforts so others could live. We recall our own horror and fear on that day—the surreal understanding terrorism had struck the homeland of America.
Rather than limply move along through another year with cringing fear, we must embrace our fear and say, “Never again.” We will oppose terrorism and protect our citizenry, but we will not forego our freedoms either. We will not succumb to the terrorist’s tools of fear and intimidation by allowing our own government to use those same tools to run rough-shod over our rights. We will demonstrate to the world that America can be a place of both freedom and security. That it is not an “either/or” proposition.
We will not allow our government to enact laws simply because the statute’s prologue claims it might stop another 9/11. We will not continue to live in fear of both our government and the terrorists. It is time they live in fear of us.