I remember when I was in college and driving on the University of Maine campus back in the early 90s. Young college students being the unenlightened ideologues they were and are, would often step into the road to cross without looking both ways for oncoming vehicles. I’m sure many of them simply regarded it as their right to cross the road, regardless of the dangers. It was the job of the car drivers to stop for them.
As a cop, I would tell people that “rights” were not force fields set against the laws of physics. Even if a person does have the right of way to cross, it’s still a good idea to look both ways before one steps into the street. Just because the state has given you the right to cross and mandates that a vehicle stop and wait (this is not always the case by the way), doesn’t mean that a .5 ton car will bounce off you in reverence of state law. As such, I consider a pat down the same as looking both ways. A little more time, but it’s worth it, with no material harm done. If the government took cash out of my pocket every time I stepped through security, then I’d have a problem. It seems the right to be un-offended is the only right being violated. And as a cop, I offended many sensibilities, to the point where I didn’t want to tell people what my job was, lest they give me a laundry list of how their rights had been violated by cops in the past.
And I think that this idea applies to pat downs and other security measures taken to minimize the threats of terrorism. Some want to stubbornly stand their ground claiming their right to be free of too much government intervention. But what about all of the people getting on the plane that want to know that no body else is carrying a bomb? Legal rights will not protect them from an explosion.
But as far as I can see, no one’s rights are being violated. People of course can sue the government claiming that search and seizure laws are being violated. If they are, I feel confident that the courts will figure it out. I also suspect they’ll come to the same conclusions as before.
This also leads me to the second part of this posting, which is that some people want to call this a war, and yet do not want to feel the least inconvenienced by it. In this America and in this war, it is a very small percentage of the people doing the actual fighting and suffering. There’s been no draft, no co-opting of industry by the government, no forced imprisonment of Muslims simply for being Muslim. In fact the the majority of the discomfort experienced by Americans is the ceaseless drum beat of news coverage about the war. Would most people really know there’s a war on if the news didn’t tell them so?
All of these facts stand in stark reality to what Americans of past generations faced in war. Conscription, racially based imprisonment, huge death rates. None of which we face today. And yet a pat down has some saying that the terrorists are winning because we’ve been forced to change something in our day-to-day lives. Well excuse me for thinking that that’s to be expected in a war.
“We’re only fighting yesterday’s threat”, some say. Yes. But if you didn’t fight yesterday’s threat, it would continue to be today’s threat. If I’m in a gunfight, and I keep shooting enemy soldiers in the chest because they have no body armor, guess where I’ll be aiming in the next fight? The chest–it’s the biggest target with plenty of blood in it. Put body armor on the enemy and suddenly I have to aim for something less lethal or at least smaller, like the head –a notoriously bad gamble in a gun fight. And so it goes with terrorists. Yes we have to constantly adapt. Sometimes that means inconvenience (in the most convenient age in history). When we find our rules too constricting, we, as now, will be forced to consider what we value more: Our rights and convenience or security.