How much will we sacrifice in the name of security?
“It is harder to preserve than obtain liberty.” — John C. Calhoun.
They all looked very official as I awaited the arrival of the Allegiant Air flight last Thursday out at the airport formerly known as Walker Field.
“They” were the men and women wearing the blue and grey uniforms of the Transportation Security Administration. At one point there were 10 of them in the vicinity of the second floor landing, nearly outnumbering those of us gathered to await the emergence of arriving friends and relatives.
My first thoughts were those of a selfish taxpayer considering financial impacts of a bureaucracy that’s burgeoned since that fateful day over a decade ago when two airliners flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and a couple of others crashed into the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. I wondered whether those angry about budgets and deficit spending ever connected the dots that link our twin desires for safety and fiscal responsibility.
Back in the day, it didn’t take 10 armed guards to supplement airport baggage and ticketing personnel. We weren’t forced to disrobe at checkpoints, schlep our toiletries into plastic bags and make certain our nail clippers were securely stowed. We weren’t awash in funny-but-sad stories like the one about the Massachusetts women whose cupcake was confiscated a few days ago because, in the eyes of the TSA, its frosting was considered a potentially dangerous gel.
Heck, the kind of touchy feely pat downs some airline passengers now endure somewhere between Point A and Point B once would have brought criminal charges.
Then my thoughts turned to more important impacts of our fearful reaction as a country to the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001. What we’ve sacrificed in the name of still-ephemeral safety and security. And whether we’re really better off.
God knows what is really being monitored under terms of the Patriot Act that became law in the rushed reaction to 9/11. We’ve just heard the discussion around the lost battle waged by Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and others over provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act that allow the military to arrest citizens suspected of “belligerent activity” on U.S. soil and detain them indefinitely without trial or legal counsel.
Some folks abandon their fiscal conservatism when it comes to financing a steel border fence along the boundary that separates us from folks who don’t look like your blond-haired, blue-eyed columnist. But they aren’t as concerned about our northern border with more fair-skinned neighbors. Others wonder if wars against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan and our forays into Pakistan have improved our security or our standing in the world community.
Most of us celebrated the demise of Osama bin Laden but spent little time considering the morality of other assassinations via remote control.
Defenders of servicemen pictured urinating on enemy corpses think it’s OK to lower ourselves to the level of those who would harm us.
Some think a court system we’ve nurtured for more than more than 300 years is incapable of dispensing justice to prisoners still being held at Guantanamo.
Closer to home, we have two people I know and respect for their community spirit and involvement, John Stevens of the Airport Authority Board and Grand Junction Mayor Tom Kenyon, offering very different perspectives about the controversy over airport security and fencing. And silence from the federal agency that supposedly mandated that fence and checkpoints for everyone from airport customers and employees to, for God’s sake, the kids in the Civil Air Patrol.
I’m much less worried about spending on what seems to be an over-the-top TSA presence at the Grand Junction Regional Airport than I am about some of the hard-fought freedoms and rights we seem willing to sacrifice in our ongoing search for that last incremental bit of safety and security.
Our forefathers risked all to establish those rights and freedoms. We seem unwilling to accept any level of risk to maintain them.
“We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.” — Edward R. Murrow