As we enter our fifth year in the so-called war on terror, we have reacted to the 9/11 attacks about as destructively to our deeply held principles as the terrorists could have hoped.
If Osama bin Laden and his ilk wanted to destroy our way of life, as President Bush repeatedly claims, we are helping them succeed in ways the terrorists could never accomplish. We, and we alone, are in danger of changing our national character.
Not to minimize the deaths on Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists would have to pull off a World Trade Center attack each and every month to equal the number of traffic fatalities in this country. At this point, terrorists do not have the capability to seriously harm us.
There is a precedence, noted by James Fallows in a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly. Before World War I, anarchists were feared and loathed. They were considered a worldwide threat to the way of life at the time.
Like the terrorists of today, anarchists could not seriously harm those mighty empires. Left to their own devices, neither terrorists nor anarchists can take over any country; their isolated, small attacks cannot harm the economy; their hatred does not seriously threaten our way of life.
An anarchist’s assassination of a head of state sparked the destruction of those 1914 societies, but only because the countries destroyed themselves. We are doing much the same, in small ways and large.
Physical and mental torture is illegal and immoral, and our overly harsh interrogation techniques are definitely borderline. It should come as no surprise that, given the uncertain circumstances of the conflict, many prisoners are innocent people who were turned in for revenge or who were caught up in the fog of war.
At the very least, we have held for years in isolation innocent people who have no chance to clear themselves. In this area alone, but in others as well, we have become what we loath.
Through various provisions in the Patriot Act, plus incursions on our liberties both large and small, we threaten to change our national character. Free, liberty-loving Americans are becoming less free, more suspicious of their neighbors, more willing to let government control us, all to fight enemies who, on their own accord, could never seriously harm us.
We are doing terrorists’ work for them.