Land of the Free, Home of the Afraid?

On Facebook a friend recently shared an article from The Atlantic titled "A Repbublic Demands Courage From Its Citizens" that essentially calls into question most Americans' perception that America is indeed the Land of the Brave. The piece focuses on our willingness to set aside the values that have largely defined our society for generations – basically we're against torture and for civil rights – in reaction to threats that aren't really as bad as we perceive them to be. From the article:

We have suffered several thousand casualties from 9/11 through today. Suppose we had a 9/11-level attack with 3,000 casualties per year every year. Each person reading this would face a probability of death from this source of about 0.001% each year. A Republic demands courage — not foolhardy and unsustainable "principle at all costs," but reasoned courage — from its citizens …. To demand that the government "keep us safe" by doing things out of our sight that we have refused to do in much more serious situations so that we can avoid such a risk is weak and pathetic. It is the demand of spoiled children, or the cosseted residents of the imperial city. In the actual situation we face, to demand that our government waterboard detainees in dark cells is cowardice…

Look at it this way. 

There were almost 10,000 drunk-driving fatalities in 2011 alone. That's the equivalent of three 9/11s in people killed, plus many more seriously injured, every year. Is a majority of Americans ready to lower the blood alcohol limit to 0.01 and to mandate breathalyzers on all ignition switches? Nope. That would be an onerous government intrusion on liberty. I'm fine with that. But it vexes me when the same citizenry faces the significantly lower risk that terrorists pose, spends far more on prevention, and still insists that targeted killings in Yemen and Somalia can't be constrained, because taking more care to save innocents would threaten us. 

These concerns are very real. Simply ask yourself this question: If Canada's  Security Intelligence Service were to fly drones into Michigan and fire missiles at well-armored SUVs that they had strong evidence were carrying gun runners who were directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Canadian citizens, and in the process they accidentally killed four American families who happened to be traveling in the vicinity on their way home from a church picnic, how would you as an American feel about it? Horrified? Terrified? Incensed? You bet. Now ask yourself this: After an episode like this how would we Americans react to Canada insisting that we do something to take care of our gun problem? Would we see the Canadians as a well-intentioned society trying to be the world's "good cop" or would we see them as vigilantes willing to suspend any semblance of due process and recklessly endanger innocents in an effort to protect its own citizens? 

The point is that many of America's practices during its War on Terror have eroded our moral standing in the world, and while our "hawks" would like us to believe that our practices convey an image of strength to the world the reality is that our society is exhibiting cowardice.  Don't confuse that notion with the notion that our armed forces are perceived as weak – to the contrary they've exibited a great deal of courage and fortitude over the last decade after being put in some very tough positions – but our society can only appear weak when we overreact to a threat that is not as great as it's perceived and when we abandon core principles that have always defined our society.  As the first paragraph in the excerpt makes clear it's not that we shouldn't fight back against terrorists, it's that we should do so in a way that's proportional to the threat and without sacrificing our principles. 

In a nutshell we need to grow some you-know-whats and we should demand our elected leaders do the same.

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