The ideas of freedom and individual liberty have never been more under assault than they are today. The Founding Fathers laid the groundwork for a society so forward thinking and revolutionary that moneyed power had a hard time accepting it, even back then. Within a few generations, the Founding Fathers’ ideas and framework were under assault by those elected into power after George Washington. These elected positions of power, in concert with wealthy private citizens and corporate entities, have ever since constantly sought to curtail these rights. Lack of technology severely crippled their efforts to rein in freedom. Until the late twentieth century, the vastness of the country limited meaningful surveillance. Once technology began to offer real intelligence at a national and global scale, there was still substantial resistance to domestic spying by our own government, especially from conservative Republicans.
That changed on September 11, 2001. Now that the fear and suspicion of terrorism has transformed America, those technological abilities are being turned to the curtailment of individual freedom and liberty in the name of safety. Despite Ben Franklin’s grim statement of reality, ‘Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety’, we have done just that. Today Americans are afraid and believe that the sacrifice of some liberty and freedom will make them safer. They are very wrong. The curtailment of individual liberty and freedom can only make us less safe. This seems counter-intuitive, but it is true. The events of September 11, 2001, clearly illustrate this truth. The cold, harsh reality of that truth is scary and makes us want to hand it off to big government. Unfortunately, big government cannot handle the responsibility-not in its current incarnation, and certainly not without instituting laws and procedures that would seem totalitarian even to our post-9/11 eyes. On September 11, 2001, the government’s inherent inability to protect us from this type of attack was clearly demonstrated.
Big government not only failed to uncover the plot, it failed to stop the first plane from hitting its target, and in fact, it failed to stop three out of the four airplanes hijacked on September 11, 2001. The brave people on board stopped Flight 93. They were free people, acting on information available in a free society; they were the ones to stop the only plane that did not hit its target. This is not meant to condemn the government and the military for failing to stop the other three planes. It is the nature of the bloated bureaucratic beast that is government to react slowly. Government is too big and pondering to react to the increasingly fluid and flexible attacks of 21st century terrorist organizations. Only, we as a people can compete with those organizations. In the years since 09/11/2001, we have given away more and more of our ability to defend ourselves against terrorists. Every time we cede an individual right or liberty, we make ourselves less safe, not more.
Today, the people on board Flight 93 would not be able to stop the terrorists. Today, all communications are subject to snooping due to the Patriot Act. Some DHS flunky would now cut off the cell phone calls that allowed those people on board Flight 93 to come to an enlightened decision as to what action to take. Perhaps, the passengers on Flight 93 fashioned weapons from pocketknives and nail clippers, which would now be denied them. Even after the 9/11 disasters prompted greater security at airports, passengers stopped the next terrorist attempt aboard an airline. The shoe bomber of 2003, Richard Reid, made it through security and was going to do his dirty deed on board, but he was noticed and restrained by passengers. Passengers stopped the Northwest Airlines bomber of Christmas 2009 as well. These passengers, who ignored seat belt signs and other restraints on their freedom within the cabin, stopped another potential act of airplane terror over eight years after the WTC attacks. Big government failed again, and the answer government provides is always to further restrain passengers and eliminate individual rights.
We are spending a lot of money and setting many bad precedents with these “no constitutional rights” zones being created in our nation’s airports. The fear of giving up one’s rights makes many want to stay away from airports, but the pressures of business force a different action. Air travel is essential in today’s world, so many reluctantly comply. Without clear alternatives, the reluctant comply fatalistically. This fatalism is not justified.
There is an alternative course of action that does a better job of protecting us from terrorists, while still protecting individual freedom and liberty. It is individual freedom and liberty that make us stronger and harder to attack. Conversely, we are actually weaker and easier to attack when we are not protected by the flexibility of freedom. We should roll back much of the body scanning and random searching of individuals, driven by shadowy, computerized databases. A secret no-fly list is simply not very effective when it contains the names of so many innocents. America is free, and its people must have freedom of movement without being required to show their papers. This is what it means to live in a free society.
If America’s solution to the terrorist threat is to end the free society we live in, then the terrorists have won! One of the positive effects of America’s old style freedoms was the incredible ease that our citizens could move about. A salesperson could hop on a plane at a moment’s notice and save that important account, for example. There is an ignored, and difficult to quantify, but very real, economic cost to these burdens that the new security regimen has brought. This drag on our economy has been completely ignored for the last decade.
Reducing this security burden should free up many millions of dollars to be spent more effectively. Specifically, we should have more air marshals. We should harden all the cockpit doors and allow pilots to carry side arms. If we had done nothing more than the aforementioned, we would have prevented repetitions of the World Trade Center bombings. There is no need to repeal the Bill of Rights within airline terminals. The fact is the terrorists are not likely to strike the same place, the same way, so where do we repeal the Bill of Rights next? Everything in our large, mobile society is a potential weapon to be used against us, and we seem on course to eventually expand the ‘No Bill of Rights’ zones to every corner of the nation.
The passengers on Flight 93 showed us the way. They demonstrated the power of the people. The greatness in America lies in her people and the diversity of those people. Due to the history of individual freedom and liberty, one hundred people plucked from the streets and put into an airplane will contain a wide range of people and skills. This is our strength. Among those passengers, may be current and former military personnel, police and firefighters, nurses and doctors, and even some gangbangers, bikers, and an assortment of bad asses, malcontents, and ne’er do wells, but they are all Americans…as messy as that is to live in. If we had done nothing to reform airport security after 9/11, there would have been no recurrence of 9/11, because the passengers on Flight 93 demonstrated the true mettle of Americans.
The phrase, “Let’s Roll!” should be immortalized in the American pantheon. Those passengers personified America in their final acts of courage. These civilians, these common Americans, were thrown together by random chance, but they did this nation proud when they stopped that plane. They truly saved lives by sacrificing their own. They made terrorists realize that Americans were not the sheep that we are often portrayed as.
It is the consideration of what happened on Flight 93 that we find the most confidence that our Founding Fathers’ elevation of the rights of the individual above all else, truly is the correct course. Not only is this the correct course, but a more defensible course than ever before. It is what makes America such a complicated, trailblazing experiment in human culture. We need to take back our country from the fear-mongers and take charge of our own safety and security again.
This book’s overriding theme is about America’s citizens standing up and setting the agenda for the politicians. Years after September 11, 2001, the course we took as a nation was obviously wrong. We allowed the politicians, liberal and conservative, to tell us what was best for us, rather than recognizing that the passengers of Flight 93 had shown us the way. The people of this nation must step up and take control of the ship of state by exercising their rights as free American citizens.
Let the politicians work out the details, but the leadership must come from us. Freedom is not free. We must think and understand the issues. We must question authorities that seek to retain power for themselves. Of course, America’s citizens cannot take the power back if we are too afraid. Politicians will always feed our fears to preserve their power and take the path of least resistance to stay in office. Unless we stand up and take responsibility for our nation and her policies, the government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall perish from this Earth.