Many people expect a balance between national security and civil liberties from the United States, one of the world’s greatest democracies. However, this balance has been evasive throughout the nation’s history.
Unfortunately, this remains the case today. On Dec. 20, President George W. Bush signed the postal reform bill into law and released a ‘signing statement’ asserting the right to open domestic postal mail under emergency conditions without a warrant.
This news comes one year after a government secret domestic electronic eavesdropping program was uncovered by the media. As controversy erupts over constitutional rights, this most recent curtailment of civil liberties serves as the marker of a nation ready for battle and a reminder of the value of liberties often taken for granted.
In a post-9/11 world, Bush has joined the ranks of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John Adams and other past presidents who have made civil liberties among the first casualties of war. The question now posed is, ‘What have we learned from history and what sets the War on Terror apart from that history?’
History shows that the government doesn’t always get it right in matters of balancing civil liberties and managing national safety concerns. Roosevelt is hailed as one of the nation’s greatest presidents. However, he also approved the detainment of 100,000 ethnic Japanese within the United States, despite little evidence of any link to enemy agents. Two-thirds of those detained were U.S. citizens. The memory of the Japanese internment during WWII is now one of the greatest blotches on this country’s honor. Sixty years ago, fear and hysteria overrode civil liberty and today the clich