L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 184, July 29, 2002
A Little Over a Decade Ago
Special to TLE
A little over a decade ago, I was flipping through channels when I saw on CNN something that stopped me cold. The screen was filled with chaos. People were dancing on top of the Berlin wall, ripping down its guard towers, and smashing it to pieces with sledgehammers, picks, and in some cases, bare hands. It was inconceivable. The gray monolith that promised death for anyone foolhardy enough to challenge it was being mocked and destroyed. For some time after that, every day seemed to bring something new and wonderful-statues of Lenin being ripped down and beheaded, all the dreary edifices of totalitarianism destroyed one by one. Freedom, it appeared, had triumphed. Some went so far as to declare the end of history.
That was then. While anyone who held on to any degree of sobriety pointed out that liberty was never a given, few would have predicted that the creeping hand of totalitarianism would emerge in our own nation and be welcomed by so many of its citizens. September 11 brought with it images as cataclysmically horrifying as the images of the fall of the wall were enrapturing. It seems as though every day since then has brought with it a new erosion of freedom, a new concession to big brother that the government assures us is just temporary and necessary to fight terrorists. Every week it seems as though another country is declared to be part of the Axis of Evil and subject to President Bush s never-ending Orwellian jihad. One can come to a single conclusion: the terrorists have won, and won big.
In college under Dr. Sam Sarkesian, a retired Green Beret Colonel and an expert in small wars, and later in the Marine Corps, I was exposed to much discussion of terrorism. All of the experts seemed to agree that terrorists have two primary goals: to bring attention to their cause, and to disrupt the way the targeted society functions. Al- Quaeda has achieved spectacular success in both areas.
Like a disruptive child, terrorists seek attention whether positive or negative. Although the attention Bin Ladin and his gang have received after their attacks was overwhelmingly negative, they have still achieved their goal. The majority of the world declared Al Quaeda s actions to be unquestionably evil, but the majority is not the entirety. There are those who saw the mass murderers of September 11th as martyred heroes, and Bin Ladin s gang of fundamentalist thugs as a new ally in the war against the great Satan, America.
Once the attacks had occurred, there was little we could do to prevent the murderers from gaining attention for their cause. We did, however, have a choice about whether we allowed their second goal to be met. We made the wrong one.
In the days after the attack, Bush did a remarkable job of leadership. His speechwriters put the perfect words in his mouth, and he delivered them with passion. Since then, W has done everything conceivable to ensure that the terrorists achieved their second goal. If the terrorists hate us for our freedom, we seem to be well on the way to redressing their grievances. In a piecemeal process, we are eliminating the very things that made the United States a heroic experiment.
For the sake of the morally impaired denizens of Washington DC, allow me to make things simple. The terrorists believe in the subservience of the individual to the collective, as exemplified by the state. This nation is morally superior because it is founded on the idea that the state exists only to secure the rights of individuals. Although any honest reading of history will show that we have betrayed this ideal numerous times, the dream remains. Only by remaining true to the Founder s vision can we maintain this superiority. If we cave in to the idea that the collective trumps the individual, that individual rights are merely privileges that the government may dispose of at will, we will become no different than our enemies.
If we allow our government to betray the ideals of the Founders, if we trade the remnants of our liberty for false security, we will have done more for the terrorists then they could ever have done for themselves.