Monday, January 05, 2009

The National-Security State Metastisizes

Michael Yon, who has reported from Iraq and Afghanistan with great distinction in recent years, tells of the fate that befell a Thai friend of his when she ran afoul of the national-security state:

While the U.S. Immigration officer named Knapp rifled through all her belongings, Aew sat quietly. She was afraid of this man, who eventually pushed a keyboard to Aew and coerced her into giving up the password to her e-mail address. Officer Knapp read through Aew's e-mails that were addressed to me, and mine to her. Aew would tell me later that she sat quietly, but “Inside I was crying.” She had been so excited to finally visit America. America, the only country ever to coerce her at the border. This is against everything I know about winning and losing the subtle wars. This is against everything I love about the United States. We are not supposed to behave like this. Aew would tell me later that she thought she would be arrested if she did not give the password.

Humans are driven by fear; it is a basic survival instinct. Politicians are driven by the need to accumulate and retain power; it is what they do. And these two basic facts of life often collide to unfortunate effect, especially in a society that claims to cherish individual autonomy.

The threats – infinitely clever terrorists, illegal drugs seizing hold of every child – always seem so powerful, and the burdens so distant. The national-security state always seems nonthreatening when the victim is Some Other Person – that Muslim over here, every one of whose people just bring it on themselves, that union activist or gun nut over there who just won’t keep quiet, that person way over there who shouldn’t be moving that much money around anyway. What does the innocent person have to fear, anyway? What’s a little technical violation of civil liberties when our security is at stake?

Until, that is, our liberty is gone. Would the founding generation have put up with this nonsense?



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