Archive for Tuesday, July 2, 2002

Liberty remains risky business 226 years later

July 2, 2002

This year's Fourth of July promises to be one of the more heartfelt in recent history. Patriotism is rallying around the flag in times of national crisis.
That is as it should be. Those who would do harm to our country need to understand they face a determined and united foe. The celebrations during this most important holiday should do much to demonstrate that fact.
The festivities will be good for our own psyche, too. We constantly hear of terrorists striking at us from under the sea, over the Internet or through nuclear means. Not surprisingly, polls indicate we are becoming less confident of our ability to prevail over the terrorist threat. A robust patriotic celebration should be a tonic for that. Not as empty bluster but as a reminder that our greatest resource is in the talents and resolve of ordinary citizens.
But in America, more is asked of citizens than waving the flag. We are asked to engage in national debates. This is always a delicate and complicated thing in times of crisis, but the exercise is essential because ultimately authority rests with our collective decisions. Debate and disagreement are part of that process. We understand all citizens won't reach the same conclusions, but the final path will be less treacherous because it has been thoroughly explored.
Terrorism does present unique challenges. Its practitioners can act with greater impunity because they understand their actions can't be traced to a homeland. They can exact terrible consequences with tools as simple as razor knives. But our country, which has only recently emerged victorious from two generations of conflict with totalitarian adversaries, has faced more formidable foes.
This Fourth of July, we should remember the American Revolution was a peculiar event. It wasn't fought to protect the residents of the colonies from physical harm. In fact, it endangered the great men who led it and all the lesser patriots who supported the cause. It was fought to secure the freedoms later hammered down in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Liberty continues to come with risks. We refuse the protective umbrella of a paternalistic state that would spare us from danger by intrusive interference in our daily lives and unrestrained removal of perceived threats. Although it might be foolish not to accept some constraints on our freedoms, it would be equally foolish to erode the basic rights our forefathers insisted could govern a progressive society.
That experiment was ridiculed then. Some would dismiss it now, but it is our strength.

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