“Give me liberty or give me death.” ~ Patriot Patrick Henry
Most disagreements, I’ve learned, are the result of differing priorities.
For example, people who support releasing public employees’ salaries prioritize open government more highly than individual privacy. People who disagree place a higher priority on individual privacy. The California Supreme Court recently resolved that disagreement by selecting open government as the higher priority.
Polls show that most Americans agree that the war on terrorism isn’t going well – Osama bin Laden remains at large, the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, Iraq has become a terrorism incubator and has descended into civil war – but there’s little agreement on how to remedy the intractable situation.
That assessment isn’t a reflection on our troops serving in Afghanistan, Iraq – where my niece is deployed – and elsewhere, but on our leaders and their priorities.
Differing priorities are behind the disagreements in the six years since the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon about how to conduct the war on terrorism.
The reaction of the Bush Administration and its supporters to the Sept. 11 attacks was to endorse a win-at-any-cost approach to the war on terrorism.
That’s why they support liberty-diminishing tactics like enacting the Patriot Act, shelving the Geneva Conventions, winking at torture, suspending the writ of habeas corpus, allowing warrantless wiretapping, and preemptively invading a country that had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks.
Others disagreed, and instead endorsed fighting terrorism while defending the liberties that define America.
That’s why they denounce as un-American, unconstitutional, and counter-productive many of the tactics that members of the win-at-any-cost camp endorse.
They warn that waging the war on terrorism by diminishing our uniquely American freedoms is too high a price to pay, and is, in fact, a victory for terrorism.
They understand that the liberty that Patrick Henry deemed more precious than life is enshrined in the Constitution, which must be defended because that liberty is the terrorists’ ultimate target.
They understand that Patrick Henry didn’t say, “Give me safety or give me death.”
Which camp are you in, win at any cost or win while preserving liberty? Your votes reveal your priorities.
I put myself in the latter camp, and I think that the people who founded this country – from the Mayflower Pilgrims to the Revolutionary warriors – would join me.
The Pilgrims endured a harrowing and risky journey across the Atlantic to find religious liberty. Their deeds were proof that they shared Patrick Henry’s priorities.
During the Revolutionary War, colonists violently overthrew tyrannical British rule. Between 25,000 and 50,000 American soldiers died proving that they shared Patrick Henry’s priorities.
However, the Bush Administration’s conduct in waging the war on terror and the rhetoric of those who support it prove that they do not share Patrick Henry’s priorities. Worse, those misplaced priorities have created the intractable situation in which we now find ourselves.
That intractable situation is further complicated because many of the tactics employed by those who prioritize winning at any cost have instead strengthened terrorists.
That intractable situation is made nearly unbearable with the understanding that with the right priorities, it’s possible to defeat terrorism while preserving our Constitutional liberties and without fostering more terrorism.
Americans who place liberty as their top priority are frequently tarred as unpatriotic by those in the win-at-any-cost camp. When you examine Patrick Henry’s priorities, who really deserves the patriot label? In my opinion, it’s those who defend the Constitution.
We’re also often riduculed as defeatists. When you understand that waging the war on terrorism by diluting our freedoms means victory for terrorists, which group really deserves the defeatist label? In my opinion, it’s those who are willing to sacrifice liberty.
President George W. Bush frequently tells Americans that his duty is to keep us safe. His priorities are misplaced. He twice took an oath to defend the Constitution. That’s his sacred duty and it ought to be his highest priority.
Will Americans continue to sacrifice their precious liberties that were won and defended with the blood of patriots? I fervently hope not.
Instead, let’s use the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to realign our priorities with Patrick Henry’s. It’s the only way I know to begin to resolve the terrible mess that’s been made of the war on terrorism.
“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” ~ Presidential Oath