Let's Truly Fight for Freedom
In the wake of the attack on America, George W. Bush presented America with a remarkably idealistic set of goals. On the day of the attack, Bush declared: "We go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world."
While Bush seeks to punish those who attacked us - and those who harbor them - he has not lashed out for blind vengeance against all who embrace a different faith, or disagree with our nation's values.
If we are to truly fight for freedom, how should we go about it?
The rhetoric of America's own religious and military fanatics makes it abundantly clear how we should NOT proceed.
First, we should NOT embrace or even tolerate mass murder as the answer to mass murder, as conservative politicians and talk show hosts have done. Nor should we embrace assassination as a principle of foreign policy, if for no other reason than to deny legitimacy to any terrorist who might assassinate OUR leaders, who can never truly be insulated from attack. Nor should we beat the drums of war so loud that millions flee their homes, risking starvation as wandering refugees.
Second, we should NOT blaspheme God - and divide America - as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson did. America was not attacked because we jealously protect our civil liberties, thanks to the ACLU - and our Founding Fathers, whose Constitution the ACLU defends. America was not attacked because we have overcome our centuries-old prejudices to respect a woman's moral right to choose, and to embrace gays and lesbians as loving members of our human family. To presume to know God's motives - and to distort them for ideological and political reasons - is pure blasphemy.
Third, we should NOT fight for freedom by destroying our own freedom, as Bush and Congress seem determined to do. What is left of our freedom if we permit surveillance of every e-mail and mouse click, without requiring a warrant? What is left of our freedom if our faces are scanned and our movements are tracked whenever we go out in public?
Finally, we should NOT fight for freedom by using the outpouring of support for our nation's leaders as a club for attacking political foes. Nor should we use it as battering ram to enact a partisan agenda on missile defense, education, or Social Security.
How, then, should we fight for freedom?
First, we should insist on the truth. There are many questions that need to be asked and answered: with an annual budget of $30 billion, why were our intelligence agencies completely unaware of the pending attack? Are we certain that Osama bin Laden is behind the attack, or are we simply guessing? If bin Laden is our enemy, what role did our initial support - and recent assassination attempts - play in turning him into the ruthless murderer he has become? If bin Laden draws his support from disaffected Muslims throughout the Middle East, how can we offer hope rather than anger and despair?
Second, we should insist on accountability. In order to fight effectively, we must temporarily expand the powers of our government and our military. But this cannot be a blank check. Those who are fighting on our behalf must be willing to explain and defend their actions, and what they do in our name. They should welcome searching questions and constructive criticisms, and not view them as disloyal attacks.
Third, we should insist on shared sacrifice. When America's armed services are risking their lives - mostly the sons and daughters of working families - it is obscene to give even more tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. Nor should Congress seize on this crisis to shovel billions of dollars to their favorite defense contractors.
Finally, we should insist on self-restraint. We have tremendous destructive powers at our disposal, but we should resist the impulse to use them. As we know from our own awful experiences, acts of violence have a limited impact upon buildings, but an enormous impact upon human hearts. We must take this knowledge to heart, and use violence only as a last resort.
Freedom is a noble goal to fight for - one that all Americans and the world can embrace. But it is an extraordinarily difficult goal to attain, and requires the wisdom and good will of all of us.