Extremism in the defense of Liberty is no vice...or is it?
By John D. Turner
1 October 2001

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

- Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759.

Now more than ever, we as Americans must be on our guard to ensure that the essential liberties our forefathers fought and died for are not trampled under the heels of those who would seek to limit those freedoms; whether in a desperate search for a little perceived safety, or to fulfill a larger agenda previously thwarted.

The events of 11 September have caused many to call for measures ranging from Government takeover of security at our Nation's airports, to renewed calls for a National ID card; all in the name of "security" and fighting the war on terrorism. The natural inclination towards personal safety has caused many to stampede in the direction of those promising security in exchange for a "temporary" suspension of personal liberties.

Measures such as a National ID card, unthinkable merely weeks ago, suddenly become thinkable, even desirable, to those seeking reassurances. However seductive these promises may seem, we must, at this critical juncture in our nation's history, stop and think about the possible ramifications of such measures. For what profitith it to win the war on terrorism, but to lose our freedom in the process?

In our desire for security, we may be setting up the mechanisms by which the United States could, in short order, become a de facto police state.

National ID cards are one scheme being set forth to protect us from terrorists. Even assuming that a card could be created that could not be counterfeited or compromised, have you given any thought to what such a system would entail? For one, in order to work as envisioned, it would have to be interfaced in some manner to a large centralized database which would contain pretty much all information that could be tabulated on every individual in the United States. Since this ID card would be required to do just about anything, this means pretty much anything you do would be known to the Government. This would include such things as who you are, where you live, where you work, where you go, your shopping habits, what stores you frequent, what you buy, what you read, where you vacation, who your friends are, the list goes on and on. It would have to be invasive and pervasive; government intrusion in our personal lives on a scale to be envied by the most despotic dictators of the past and present.

"Well, if I have nothing to hide, who cares?", you may ask. "After all, this is to fight the war on terrorism!" Yes, but what happens after that? And if this turns out to be a protracted fight, as it may well become, what happens during the fight? Such a database represents power. And when have you ever seen government willingly give up power without a fight?

Power corrupts. And as we have often heard, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Are there any provisions for this database to go away after the terrorist threat has abated? Not that I have heard. And exactly when will the threat go away? What is the end game here? How will we know when we have won?

On the 14th of September, President Bush issued a proclamation declaring a state of national emergency. On the same day he also issued presidential executive order EO 13223 which enabled the calling of up to 1 million Ready Reservists of the Armed Forces to active duty for up to two years. Why is this significant? Because the declaration of a national emergency enables presidents to use executive orders to exercise emergency powers.

You might think that these declarations expire after a certain time, like when the original threat has dissipated. You would be wrong. Currently, the United States is operating under no less than 15 declared national emergencies, not including the recent state of emergency declared due to the events of 11 September. These proclamations have been renewed annually since their declaration, and include the following: Iran (every year since 1979), Libya (since 1986), Iraq (since 1990), Yugoslavia (since 1992), proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (since 1993), UNITA (Angolan anti-communists, since 1993), Middle East terrorism (since 1995), Colombian drug dealers (since 1995), Cuba (since 1996), Burma (since 1997), and Sudan (since 1997). In 1994, the expiration of the Export Administration Act of 1979 caused President Clinton to declare and renew a state of national emergency. Add to these the Taliban in Afghanistan (1999), Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in the Russian Federation (2000) and Sierra Leone in Africa (2001), two days before he left office.

Even more importantly, a declaration of national emergency triggers a myriad of Federal laws, granting immense power to the President and other governmental agencies. These statutes, of which over 470 are known to exist, are scattered throughout the various titles of the U.S. Code, some even buried in the appendices. Nor are they specific as to exactly what national emergency they pertain to. Many are generic, as this example, the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, authorizing the requisition or purchase of any vessel or watercraft during a national emergency.

"Whenever the president shall proclaim that the security of the national defense makes it advisable or during any national emergency declared by proclamation of the president, it shall be lawful for the Secretary of Transportation to requisition or purchase any vessel or other water craft owned by citizens of the United States.

Note that this statute is valid for any national emergency; even the one declared due to the expiration of the Export Administration Act of 1979 (which remains in effect today, incidently). For more information on this subject, check out Sarah Foster's article dated 27 Sep 2000. Her article, sponsored by World Net Daily is a detailed eye opener, and contains many links to other source material on this topic.

I am not suggesting here that President Bush is about to become a dictator. However President Bush will not be in office forever. He may not be re-elected next time. And even if he is, he can only serve two terms. What if this emergency goes longer than eight years, as it well may? And what about the other 15 declared national emergencies on the books? We need to be careful that we don't set up something that can't be dismantled.

How many government programs have you seen disappear in your lifetime? Chances are, not many. A couple of years ago, a bill was introduced in Congress to eliminate a tax on your telephone bill. This tax had been in place for over 100 years. It was originally intended to be used to fund the Spanish American war. I think its safe to assume that particular war has been paid for by now. Yet Congress, having passed the tax, never saw fit to remove it once the event for which it had been enacted passed into history. What happened to the bill to remove the tax this time? It failed. Congress, it seems, can always find a way to spend money.

How about excise taxes on rubber, enacted to pay for WW II, which you still pay every time you buy a tire. How about the Rural Electrification Project, intended to bring electricity to rural America? Now that over 99% of the country has electricity, you would think this could go away, wouldn't you? Apparently not, as it is still in the budget.

You can bet that the office of "Homeland Defense", a new cabinet level position created by President Bush to help coordinate the war on terrorism will still be here 15-20 years from now as well. By then, despite the fact that it is supposed to be an advisory position, it will probably be as big as the other cabinet offices. One thing about Government bureaucracies; they tend to grow, not shrink. And once established it practically takes an Act of God to get rid of them.

Take it to the bank. Anything we set up here to combat terrorism will be here long after you and I are dust. Any liberties we relinquish we will have to fight darned hard, with our own elected officials, to get back. We must make sure that our eyes are wide open and remain so throughout. Americans have a tendency to trust their Government, particularly during times of national emergency. This is not a bad thing, as in order to overcome adversity it is necessary for us to all work together, to pull in the same direction.

Allow me to continue the quote from Barry Goldwater at the 1964 Republican Convention, which I used as the title of this piece: "...and let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." While I may disagree with the first part of his quote, the second, particularly in this case, is right on target. Indeed, this is not the time to allow moderation or Partisanship to impede our pursuit of justice. Partisanship and divisiveness have no place in a struggle for the nation's survival. However that doesn't mean we should check our brain at the door. President Reagan's advice concerning the Soviets, "Trust, but verify" was sage. It also seems to me to be prudent when dealing with our Government as well. To do less would be foolish on our part.