Neither Liberty nor Safety?

Haviland Smith, a retired CIA station chief who served in eastern and western Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff, writes an essay entitled “Ten Years Later” reminiscing the 9/11 al-Qaida attacks and the ensuing ten years. See link here.  He makes a number of interesting points, one of the most salient is the various intrusions on liberty taken in the name of security and safety. “In the aftermath of 9/11, Americans were clearly prepared to and ultimately did surrender their civil liberties and individual rights in the hope that doing so would add to their own physical security. We forgot Benjamin Franklin’s injunction that “they who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Apropos to one of Mr. Smith’s points was an opinion peace in The Economist in early summer 2001 entitled “Free Jenna” referring to the then President Bush’s imbibing daughter. That author was filled with wonderment about why there was such an obsession in the U.S. with a 19 year old women wanting to have an alcoholic drink or two with her meal. He opined that in addition to a lingering Puritanism, Americans have “a pathological obsession with safety.” And “the only way to keep these dangers at bay is to regulate even the most trivial bits of behaviour (sic). Hence the need to replace standard playground equipment with “safer” alternatives, such as one-person see-saws and transparent tubes to crawl through. And where else would photocopier toner come in packets that warn you not to eat the contents? See link 6/7/2001 Of course, suing for an injury that could have been avoided with a modicum of care by the injured person has been an American pastime. Now, after 9/11, flying commercially is a monumental hassle. Color-coded alerts (which make about as much sense as the various “alerts” for missing children named after previous victims), and even making the Super Bowl stadium a virtual armed camp are commonplace. We cannot make a large cash transfer without the government knowing about it, nor can we even check out library books in privacy. Didn’t take long for the Economist essayist to be proven absolutely right.

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