Ron Paul | August 10 2004
Last week’s announcement that the terrorist
threat warning level has been raised in parts of New York, New Jersey, and
Washington, D.C. has led to dramatic and unprecedented restrictions on the
movements of citizens. Americans wishing to visit the U.S. Capitol must, for
example, pass through several checkpoints and submit to police inspection
of their cars and persons.
Many Americans support the new security measures because
they claim to feel safer when the government issues terror alerts and fills
the streets with militarized police forces. As one tourist interviewed this
week said, “It makes me feel comfortable to know that everything is
being checked.” It is ironic that tourists coming to Washington to celebrate
the freedoms embodied in the Declaration of Independence are so eager to give
up those freedoms with no questions asked.
Freedom is not defined by safety. Freedom is defined by
the ability of citizens to live without government interference. Government
cannot create a world without risks, nor would we really wish to live in such
a fictional place. Only a totalitarian society would even claim absolute safety
as a worthy ideal, because it would require total state control over its citizens’
lives. This doesn’t stop governments, including our own, from seeking
more control over and intrusion into our lives. As one Member of Congress
stated to the press last week, “people who don’t want to be searched
don’t need to come on Capitol grounds.” What an insult! The Capitol
belongs to the American people who pay for it, not to Congress or the police.
It is worth noting that the government rushes first to protect
itself, devoting enormous resources to make places like the Capitol grounds
safe, while just beyond lies one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the
nation. What makes Congress more worthy of protection from terrorists than
To understand the nature of our domestic response to the
September 11th, 2001 attacks, we must understand the nature of government.
Government naturally expands, and any crises – whether real or manufactured
– serve to justify more and more government power over our lives. Bureaucrats
have used the tragedy of 9/11 as an excuse to seize police powers sought for
decades, such as warrantless searches, Internet monitoring, and access to
bank records. It should be no surprise that the recently released report of
the 9/11 Commission has but one central recommendation: bigger government
and more spending at home and abroad.
Every new security measure represents another failure of
the once-courageous American spirit. The more we change our lives, the more
we obsess about terrorism, the more the terrorists have won. As commentator
Lew Rockwell of the Ludwig von Mises Institute explains, terrorists in effect
have been elevated by our response to 9/11: “They are running the country.
They determine our civic life. They shape our private life. They decide how
public resources are spent. They may dictate who gets to be the next president.
It should be obvious that the government doesn’t object. Not at all.
The government benefits, by getting ever more reason for ever more money and
Every generation must resist the temptation to believe that
it lives in the most dangerous time in American history. The threat of Islamic
terrorism is real, but it is not the greatest danger ever faced by our nation.
This is not to dismiss the threat of terrorism, but rather to put it in perspective.
Those who seek to whip the nation into a frenzy of fear do a disservice to
a country that expelled the British, fought two world wars, and stared down
the Soviet empire.
Liberty is lost through complacency and a subservient mindset.
When we accept or even welcome automobile checkpoints, random searches, mandatory
identification cards, and paramilitary police in our streets, we have lost
a vital part of our American heritage. America was born of protest, revolution,
and mistrust of government. Subservient societies neither maintain nor deserve
freedom for long.