– By A. Somers
Shortly after 9/11 I had a conversation with the apprentice editor on a film I was working on. He made the statement
” I think the government should take away our civil liberties in order to protect us”.
I was so stunned by that statement I wasn’t even certain how to respond.
Let’s try this: He’s Korean/American. We’re having problems in our relationships with North Korea right now. It’s not too difficult to imagine the possibility of a conflict leading to military action. Now assume that we allowed our government to do away with our civil rights, as he proposes. What will prevent the government from interning him in a camp for the Duration of the conflict with Korea? Nothing.
This is not some far-fetched conjecture. Consider the internment of over one hundred thousand Japanese Americans during World War II. Consider that today, thousands of people have been taken prisoner by the U.S. Government in the war on terror – not charged with any crime, not given access to family, or legal representation – simply imprisoned by the government. No Trial. No due process. Just freedom revoked.
Faced with a tragedy like 9/11, it’s very easy to think that
“giving up civil liberties to fight the bad guys”
is a good idea. If you’re an honest citizen then there’s no reason for you to fear a totalitarian government, right? But that is where an important reality check is in order. If you have no civil rights, then you must rely entirely on the goodness of the government, as well as each and every person in that government, and each and every one of your neighbors.
Without civil liberties what is to prevent a racist cop from inflicting his racism on a target minority? Nothing – as innocent minorities convicted on false testimony can attest.
Without civil liberties what is to prevent your neighbor (that has a grudge against you) from “turning you in to the authorities” for some alleged crime (one you didn’t commit, but that he reports anonymously that you did)? Nothing – as many have found, anonymous tips are a
great way to get back at someone you don’t like.
Without civil liberties, we are all open to the gravest destruction of our private lives, even if we are the most honest and hardworking of citizens.
If you don’t believe that a government unchecked by civil rights is capable of injustice then you need to review history. While it’s always easy to bring up the recent past of Nazi Germany, The USSR and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the distant past points to even more serious human rights violations. In fact, it was these excesses of past governments (including the one we freed ourselves of in 1776) that resulted in our forefathers developing the Bill of Rights for our own constitution.
No society can survive and thrive when absolute power is given to the governing body. As the saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Understanding this premise leads us to the realization that civil liberties are the most precious and frail of rights and must be protected at all costs. Our legacy of civil liberties in this country have been paid for by the blood of our fathers, grand fathers, and great great great great grand fathers. To throw these rights away for the misguided illusion of greater security would be a most serious
This is true in the Uk aswell! Especially as we appear to follow america in everything she does!