“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.” ~ Poet and philosopher George Santayana.
One year ago today, four planes were hijacked by 19 men armed with box cutters who set into motion an evil plot that changed a nation.
The horror of more than 3,000 deaths; the dread of watching the second plane approach the World Trade Center towers; the frightening spectacle of the towers’ collapse; the wrenching last phone calls from victims who knew their doomed fates to their loved ones; the inspiring courage of emergency workers in the face of grave danger; all of these and more have left an indelible impression on Americans and the world.
The events of Sept. 11, 2001 will mold this generation in the way that Pearl Harbor formed the Americans often called “the greatest generation.”
On Dec. 7, 1941, – the date President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said would “live in infamy” – Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. More than 2,400 Americans died in the attack, which brought the United States into World War II. In the shock and fear that followed Pearl Harbor, some mistakes were made, notably the internment of Japanese Americans. More than 120,000 American citizens were removed from their homes and placed in “relocation centers.” According to one Web site, the only significant opposition to the internment of Japanese Americans came from Quakers and the ACLU.
I hope in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks we can avoid similar missteps. As I watch our government try to protect us against terrorism, it concerns me that we are being forced to give up freedoms in the name of safety.
“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety.” ~ Statesman and patriot Benjamin Franklin.
Civil libertarians worry that the federal government is ignoring civil rights in the post-Sept. 11 fight against terrorism. They cite the hundreds of foreign nationals who have been detained, many without criminal charges filed against them, and the cases of two Americans suspected of being “enemy combatants” and thereby restricted from access to open courts.
The USA Patriot Act, approved by Congress with uncharacteristic speed and limited public debate, gives broad new powers to the federal government to spy on American citizens, all in the name of national security.
Rather than roll back our freedoms, we should flaunt them. We should give anyone suspected of any crime – including “enemy combatants” – a fair and open trial. Give them due process and access to representation. Let the press and public witness their trials and read the court documents. Show the world that justice in America is afforded everyone. Show the downtrodden in other countries that we pay more than lip service to freedom and liberty, we live it, even when it’s hard.
Let the legacy of Sept. 11 be that we value our freedoms more than ever. The freedoms that so inflamed the intolerance of the terrorists, the freedoms that allow us to enjoy a prosperous, diverse, tolerant, open and free society, those freedoms must flourish – not diminish – as a result of Sept. 11.
Let Americans also remember that our government is in place to serve us – the citizens – and it is our patriotic duty to be knowledgeable about our government’s actions and to question anything that limits our freedom and liberty.
“Give me liberty or give me death.” ~ Statesman and patriot Patrick Henry.
Americans – thanks to the wisdom of the founding fathers who drafted the Constitution – have the right to freedom of expression, the right to privacy, the right to an open government. Life without these liberties, however “safe” it might be, is not free.
Let us take precautions to prevent future terrorist attacks; let us find and punish those responsible for Sept. 11; but let us not do it at the expense of what is the essence of America – freedom. Let us not destroy the Constitution with our efforts to protect it.
“May it serve as a constant reminder of our past so that Americans in the future will never again be denied their constitutional rights …” ~ Plaque at the Poston, Ariz. internment camp for Japanese Americans.