by Robert Gillis
Published in The Foxboro Reporter 9/2004

Days after September 11, 2001, I wrote a column expressing grief, outrage and pain from the terrorist attacks on our country. Nothing has changed since then; like most Americans three years later, I am still in shock and horror at the memories and aftermath of that day. I can’t forgive or forget it.

In the same column, I also wrote the following, some which I am repeating here. I am frightened by what I wrote, because it has proven to be quite prophetic.

[Note: What I wrote then is bulleted and italicized]

  • The tragedy isn’t just the destruction of the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and the tremendous loss of life. The tragedy is also an attack on our ideology, our open society, and our freedom.
  • In the aftermath of the disaster, it is our way of life that has become the new target, and there are some things to consider.
  • First, while it is very important that security is upgraded at airports, and we must improve security here on the home front, we must not let our zealousness for security compromise our rights or the rights of others. We must not lose what we have fought for centuries to obtain.
  • None of us will mind delays at airports for security, but we wouldn’t want to see photo-ID checks at the mall, or random police stops of ordinary citizens walking the street. It will so easy in the times ahead to want to pass all kinds of new laws and ordinances that on the surface will make us seem safer, but in actuality will chip away at the freedom and open society that we have fought to achieve.
  • We can become too suspicious, too paranoid, and too eager to pounce. We must be vigilant to enact security that is absolutely necessary, and not inadvertently begin to create a totalitarian society like the ones so many of our forebears died fighting. Yes, our open society makes us more vulnerable, but it is one of America’s greatest strengths. If we lose too many of our rights or freedoms, then the terrorist really have won.
  • After Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese in 1941, mass-hysteria and racism swept our country, and thousands of innocent Japanese-Americans, most who were US born citizens, were rounded up and placed in internment camps for years by the US government. They lost everything—their homes, their possessions, their way of life. However, no Japanese-American was ever charged with treason during or after World War II.

I wrote that three years ago, and had no idea how prophetic they would be. Consider:

  • In the aftermath of the disaster, it is our way of life that has become the new target, and there are some things to consider.

Yes, our way of life is the target, but not just from terrorists. In 2004, our constitutionally guaranteed rights are also being targeted. Our way of life is changing, and in many cases, not for the better.

  • We must not lose what we have fought for centuries to obtain.

Too many brave Americans have died to keep this country free. Many are dying today in Iraq and in other places. Their service honors us. But in some ways I think we dishonor them as very slowly, one by one, we allow our rights — guaranteed by the Constitution – to be reduced, or taken away from us. It isn’t a denial of the right to free speech to forbid someone from yelling “fire” in a crowded movie house. But it IS a denial of free speech when protestors at the Democratic National Convention were fenced in like some scene from the Nazis rounding up the dissidents. This country was founded on protest against an oppressive government. I’m reminded of the many service people who say, “I may hate your opinion but I will die to preserve your right to speak it.” As long as protestors aren’t hurting anyone or interfering with people coming and going, and not interfering with public safety (neither of which seemed to be the case at the DNC) they have a right to be there and protest.

  • We must not let our zealousness for security compromises our rights or the rights of others. … We can become too suspicious, too paranoid, and too eager to pounce. We must be vigilant to enact security that is absolutely necessary, and not inadvertently begin to create a totalitarian society like the ones so many of our forebears died fighting.

I’m concerned with the now-ubiquitous signs that tell us to report any suspicious behavior. What or who exactly is suspicious? And who are we looking for? Be very careful here – you might be profiling. You might be discriminating. You might be opening yourself up for a lawsuit.

Maybe the suspicious guy is a white, blonde-haired guy who looks like me. Don’t laugh – I got profiled at an airport in 2000. (No mistake-I was specifically told, “You have been profiled.”) Apparently my traveling alone with only one suitcase was very suspicious. My luggage was searched and went through the super-duper X-Ray machine. I was polite; I answered all the questions, but what if I made a fuss? Would I have been arrested? I sure look like a terrorist, don’t I?

Profiling didn’t begin with 9/11.

While it makes good sense to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior, I think we’re becoming TOO suspicious, too wary. How soon before we’re watching and profiling everyone? In the extreme, we could reach a point when we are turning in friends and family to the state.

Impossible?

Are you sure?

Remember, it happened in Nazi Germany during World War II. Gradually. Slowly. In the interest of “security.”

  • None of us will mind delays at airports for security, but we wouldn’t want to see photo-ID checks at the mall, or random police stops of ordinary citizens walking the street. It will so easy in the times ahead to want to pass all kinds of new laws and ordinances that on the surface will make us seem safer, but in actuality will chip away at the freedom and open society that we have fought to achieve.

I appreciate the bombproof trash containers and extra security in heavily traveled areas like airports and train stations, and I can understand the need to take off my shoes at the airports, along with the triple ID checks. I think those measures are warranted and sensible. No problem there.

But the DNC came into town and suddenly there were random checks – and random searches on the MBTA. The ACLU protested but not much came of it. “It’s in the best interest of everyone,” we’re told. “Security,” we’re told. So we put up with it.

But when I see MPs in kakis in downtown Boston, when I see soldiers with machine guns at airports, I feel like we lost World War II. I feel like we’re in a state of martial law. I worry that in the future I can be stopped at any time by any soldier or officer who will ask, “Papers please” and detain or arrest me if I don’t have the proper documents.

Impossible?

Are you sure?

It’s happened in the past. It’s already happening at airports. Why not the subway? Why not Any Street USA?

And by the way, the next time anyone wants to have an event anywhere in Boston that requires the level of security the DNC needed, we should say NO. Thank God nothing happened but so many of the security measures – like removing mailboxes miles away – were over the top. To shut down I-93, I-95 and R-128 and inconvenience hundreds of thousands of people who need to get to work “in the name of security” so the DNC can have a party is just ridiculous. If the area cannot be secured without shutting down major highways during rush hour, then – here’s a no-brainer – don’t have the event there.

  • …thousands of innocent Japanese-Americans, most who were US born citizens, were rounded up and placed in internment camps for years by the US government. They lost everything—their homes, their possessions, their way of life. However, no Japanese-American was ever charged with treason during or after World War II.

Don’t get me wrong – I walked Ground Zero a week after the attacks. I hate the terrorists and the evil that attacked us and cannot and will not forgive it. I feel most of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay are probably guilty, members of Al Qaeda or somehow involved with terrorist calls. Most are designated enemy combatants and terror suspects. They probably belong there.

But why have so few of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay been charged with a crime? It’s been YEARS. YEARS. I’m not saying they are innocent. I’m saying move along the judicial process now. Charge them with a crime, conduct a fair investigation and trial, and either convict them, or let them go. Besides, wouldn’t it be better for morale in this country to know that the guilty are being punished? That some progress is being made in the war on terror? Would we stand for our people being held for years in some foreign country without being charged with a crime? I doubt it.

  • If we lose too many of our rights or freedoms, then the terrorist really have won.

When I was at U/Mass we had to write an essay in response to a very controversial article called, “The case for torture.” In it, the author describes a nightmare scenario where a nuclear weapon is in place somewhere, and the guy who hid it is in police custody. The author contends that the terrorist guy should be tortured by the police with electricity to get the location of the bomb.

A very scary situation that’s not so hypothetical anymore. But what if torture does get condoned, “in the interest of security?” Not just at far away prisons in Iraq, but right here in the USA? Imagine a case of mistaken identity where some poor guy was tortured to an inch of his life. Imagine fearing the authorities the way the Germans feared the Gestapo. Imagine seeing your rights stripped away one by one. Imagine our prisons becoming like a scene from “Midnight Express.” All in the name of security.

Impossible?

Are you sure?

Like I said, Days after the attacks, Sue and I visited ground zero. I well remember the wreckage and destruction as one of the most visceral experiences of my life. I’ll never forget it. I hate the people who caused it. I want to see Osama Bin Laden nuked. I want Saddam Hussein to hang. I have no sympathy for the guilty and terrorists. They should all hang. Seek out and punish the guilty.

Enact reasonable security measures wherever possible, and be more alert and informed. Restructure government organizations to better track terrorists entering the USA.

These actions are underway and help us all sleep better at night. No problems there.

My fear is in our zealousness for “security,” one by one our personal freedoms will be stripped away forever. It’s already started. It’s happening so slowly you might not even notice it.

If we are not careful, history may record that September 11 was the beginning of the end of American democracy and freedom itself, and that the terrorists did indeed win.

Be vigilant – Pray for our brave service people who serve us so well. Watch the news. Read the papers. Stay informed. Keep your eyes open for the suspicious packages and behavior. Many of the new security actions are prudent.

Be vigilant. Are your rights being protected? Stay very, very informed. Get involved in your community. Don’t ignore injustice in any fashion, even if it’s as simple as writing letters to the editor and to local leaders. Keep your eyes open for the attempts to take away America’s freedoms.

What did they used to say during World War II? “Say what you want about Mussolini, but he makes sure the trains run on time.”

Think about it.

 

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