A telling Wall Street Journal article titled "Security Comes Before Liberty," by Jay Winik, describes the actions of the Adams, Lincoln, Wilson, and Roosevelt administrations to promote security during wartime, at great cost in liberty. The article paints a scary picture, not least because the measures in question enjoyed widespread popular support; Winik notes, "however unconstitutional many of FDR's policies may seem to us today, they were not even controversial until a generation later." (Aside: I detect possible authorial bias there; given that the article's from the WSJ, I have to wonder whether the WPA and other New Deal programs are among those the author considers unconstitutional. But regardless of that, the point still holds about the specific case in question, which was Executive Order 9066, the order that shipped all persons of Japanese descent off to internment camps. Since I've digressed from the point, I'll repeat it: Executive Order 9066 was not (widely) considered controversial at the time. Now that's scary.)
Winik draws a different conclusion than I might. He notes that after each of those wars was over, civil liberties were restored. He therefore concludes that we have no need to worry if the current administration sees fit to abrogate certain liberties, as they will no doubt restore them after the current state of war ends.
A comforting thought (at least, comforting to those who are not of Arab descent, who are not dissidents or pacifists, who are unlikely to be imprisoned for objecting to the war or, say, tortured for having an Arabic name). I hope that if we do go in that direction, things turn out that well. (Assuming an end ever comes to this war; as with the War On Drugs, I don't quite see how a War On Terrorism can ever achieve its victory conditions.) But I admit to a certain degree of skepticism.
Eugene Debs was put in prison in 1919 for advocating against recruitment efforts. He wasn't released 'til ten years later. That's a long time to wait for restoration of civil liberties.
I seem to recall reading somewhere that people are supposed to have "certain inalienable Rights," and "that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." But I guess they don't make inalienable like they used to.
(Okay, having issued that sound bite, I have to back off from it. To be fair, it's clear from this article that the lack of inalienability started in pretty early, so it's not like the idea that those rights aren't really inalienable is a particularly new one.)
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