What Price Security?

I am running a campaign to station the National Guard at all the grammar schools in my local area. Terrorists from Chechnya proved that our children are vulnerable to attack. On a fateful day last summer, they took hundreds of Russian children hostage, and a good number of the kids eventually died in the siege.

Hence, my campaign is not irrational. It involves positioning heavily armed soldiers at all entrances to our schools. I am also proposing a biometric security scan - fingerprint or retina ID will do - to screen all parents on file.

Of course I am not serious. But it is instructive to push boundaries in order to appreciate the balance that we must strike between security and paranoia. Terrorism is a real threat globally. It is not simply a manufactured bogeyman of the Bush administration, however much Bush & Co. aim to manipulate for their own political agenda the fears that terrorism evokes.

For that reason, we need to engage in a meaningful civic debate about what reasonable security measures would look like. On the other side of that coin, we ought to determine what civil rights and social routines we are unwilling to sacrifice regardless of increased vulnerability to acts of terror. For example, militarizing our schools, as above, offers maximum security, but it also shifts us toward an abnormal social life that most of us would deem unacceptable.

DONALD RUMSFELD must have received his training on civil liberties at the School of the Americas. The Pentagon chief is happy to push the boundaries, and he means it for real. In a late-2004 summit of the hemisphere's defense ministers, held in Quito, Ecuador, Rumsfeld opened his own campaign to reverse nearly two decades of democratic reform in Latin America. Though the summit went largely unreported in the U.S. media, we may look back at it in years to come as a significant political watershed for the region.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2005
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