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Op-Ed

1984 Revisited

First we had the shoe bomber. So then we had to start taking our shoes off. But now we have the underpants bomber. Before it’s over, we’ll probably all be required to have a colonoscopy just before we board a plane. Well, better safe than sorry, right?

Most of us know what the founding fathers said about liberty and security, and how the former is supposed to trump the latter. Today though, if Patrick Henry ran completely naked through airport security yelling his famous “give me liberty or give me death” over and over, he would be summarily shot. Several times no doubt. The airport would go on lock-down, flights would be delayed, passengers would be spending the night. For a time, the entire system of air travel would be disrupted. Patrick Henry, the 18th century patriot, has become Patrick Henry, the 21st century anarchist.

It took a little over 200 years, but security has finally replaced liberty as the preferred pillar of our democracy. The curmudgeonly H.L. Mencken saw this coming way back in 1926, when he wrote in Notes on Democracy, “The average man doesn’t want to be free. He simply wants to be safe.” But I think even Mencken would be amazed that a couple of dozen cranky terrorists could bring a nation of 300 million to its knees so easily.

In the beginning of George Orwell’s classic (and prophetic) Nineteen Eighty-Four, the hero, Winston Smith, looks out of his apartment window at the “Ministry of Truth,” where he works. At night, and almost a mile away, Winston could nonetheless see the large white letters emblazoned on the building. They spelled out the three most important government slogans: “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” “Ignorance is Strength.”

Welcome to 1984.

Published in the Joplin Globe on January 21, 2010

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