(Image source: Commons)
War is a process of violence in which two combatants dehumanize each other and themselves in an ongoing effort to do harm to one another. War is physically and spiritually toxic, an ongoing degradation that inflicts terrible injury on both the victor and the vanquished. Sadly, sometimes war is justifiable as a means of self defense, as a choice between the lesser of two evils. But war is always an evil. It is never just, right, or virtuous — no matter how virtuous those who fight it may be.
In the United States’ never-ending War on Terror, a war against an ephemeral enemy who is as often the result of our imagined fears as of actual forces that actively seek to harm us, we have done great damage to our very real enemies, to enemies we imagine or wrongly identify as such, and, perhaps most tragically, to ourselves.
This assertion does not degrade the terrible losses that were inflicted upon us during 9/11, nor does it deny the right we were endowed with, as a nation and a people, to defend ourselves and to seek out those enemies who inflicted such grievous wounds upon our nation, its peoples, its children, women, men and families. But it is entirely appropriate to say, at this time, that though immense effort has been undertaken to fight off our enemies and bring the terrible war that they inflicted upon us to their doorsteps, and though much of this effort has been successful, we have not taken equal efforts to ensure the very American values we hold dear and seek to protect are not also destroyed by our own rash action.
Often times, it has been said that the ends do not justify the means. So it is also worth asking the essential question: by what means have we achieved security? It has also been said, by monsters themselves, that the danger in fighting monsters is that one risks becoming a monster. So we must ask ourselves — have we become the very mirror image of the thing we most fear? Have we taken up the tools and weapons of the very dictators and despots we have said we despise?
In answering this question, we must ask ourselves — what is tyranny? Is it absolute rule? Is it the ability of government, through its own laws and practices, to inflict violence on any people, even its own, to achieve the goals of the day without check or consequence? Or is it the ability of government and its agents to create a state of constant fearful surveillance in which even its own citizens are under permanent suspicion of the most heinous thoughts and acts? A form of continental prison in which we, the prisoners, must constantly prove our innocence of conforming to the fluid definition of what is a ‘terrorist?’
As for absolute rule, we seem, thankfully, somewhat departed from that terrible state, but not so far as we were before the War on Terror began. As for our government’s uniliteral application of violence, there are many peoples around the world that have just grievances against our government — for its use of drones to conduct what might be called an assassin’s war and for the terrible collateral damage such actions inflict. And as for the third, we have only to look at NSA’s PRISM program and the Patriot Act upon which it stands for its flimsy justification.
American citizens are endowed with essential liberties by our Constitution. It was a Constitution developed by founders who justly feared tyranny and, though quite flawed themselves, went about setting down values that were beyond the confines of the flawed human sphere they inhabited. They permitted themselves to dream of a better world inhabited by better people. A world in which governments did not act in a predatory manner against its peoples as the English had against them. They were still blind to their own deep and abiding flaws, yet they could come together to set down a noble precedent and to hold themselves and their offspring accountable to a high ideal.
That ideal endowed, in part, in the Fourth Amendment, included a guarantee that Government would not conduct searches without a legal warrant of suspicion, determined by lawful process through the conduct of careful investigation in limited instances. Now, the entire US populous is subject to constant search of their conversations, internet and phone records without any prior determination of fault. Such a massive, a-priori and all encompassing action is a vast and a direct violation of the essential freedom guaranteed to us by the Constitution.
So our government, in the seemingly rational pursuit of security for its people, has chosen the unjust and unlawful course of expansive power, constant surveillance, and endless suspicion over one of the most basic human rights precedents upon which the legitimacy of that government stands. And in this conduct, our own government, born to high ideals and yet struggling to achieve those lofty goals since the day of its inception, has inflicted upon its own people a near constant state of fear, suspicion, and phantom warfare.
For one must ask the very reasonable question — when does a war against a thing so nebulous as terrorism end? Is anyone who commits violence or plans to commit violence against US political interests a terrorist? If so, then the war and related surveillance will likely never end. And do even minor instances of such violence continue to justify that we, as a people, give up one of the critical freedoms that lends such value to being an American?
In short, do we destroy the very things we hold most dear for fear of what may happen? And must we be forced to constantly imagine that each of us, one day, could be a ‘terrorist?’
There is, indeed, a dire, deep and abiding need for peace. But such peace cannot be achieved through an endless state of violence. Responsible de-escalation and disarmament — of all parties — is the difficult but entirely worthy path to a lasting peace.
And what do we achieve through this endless war but degredation and corrosion of the very things we hold most dear? For in the end, no civilization can continue to effectively function under a constant state of fear, warfare, and the related policies of endless suspicion and surveillance. Such policies will only lead to a government that increasingly fears and views as enemies the citizenry it is sworn to protect.
It is for this reason that the constant surveillance must stop and that we must wholeheartedly return to protecting the rights Americans most deeply value. Life, liberty, equality, happiness — none of which are possible without peace or in the presence of a paranoid tyranny of constant government surveillance.