In the D.C. Comics film Wonder Woman there is a scene when Diana is preparing to leave the Themyscira with Captain Steve Trevor and her mother, Hyppolita, tells her, “Be careful in the world of men, Diana, for they do not deserve you.” That scene struck me when I saw the film in the theaters and has been weighing heavily on my mind ever since I watched the movie again after it came out on dvd.
While the term ‘world of men’ most likely refers to a world which actually has men in it, as opposed to the Themyscira which is an island populated solely by Amazonian women, it could also be taken to refer to the world of man outside the sanctity and security of their island paradise. Looking at it from that second perspective, there is a lot that the ‘world of men’, particularly the world of men in the United States, do not deserve; chief among them, freedom.
A few days back as I was walking through a parking lot, I saw a sticker on the rear window of an SUV that had the caption, “Freedom isn’t free” underneath a depiction of a soldier kneeling in front of an upturned rifle with a soldiers helmet set atop the shoulder stock; implying that many an American fighting man/woman paid the price for the freedom we take for granted.
While I am not for a moment taking away from the sacrifices made by our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who gave their lives for their country, I am upset that a good many Americans think it is the sole responsibility of others to put their lives on the line to defend the freedom they enjoy.
In his pamphlet The American Crisis, patriot Thomas Paine writes, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.” By stating it in that manner, he lays that responsibility at the feet of everyone who enjoys the blessings of freedom. With the way people think today, Paine may as well have written, “Those who expect to reap the blessing of freedom must support their troops and law enforcement and allow government to violate their rights so that they may enjoy the illusion of freedom.”
Yesterday at work everyone was talking about the Sunday shooting that occurred in Las Vegas. The topics ranged from what would cause an otherwise ordinary guy to open fire on a crowd of people to what can we do to prevent something like that from happening again. However it was the comment made by one person in particular that sparked my anger, “I would strip down to my underwear and let them search me if it made me feel safe.”
It is that attitude which has led America to accept every law ever written which violates any of our unalienable rights. Every law restricting our right to keep and bear the arms of our choice has been passed under the guise of keeping us safe. The Patriot Act, and all the violations of the Bill of Rights that it contains, was passed to keep us safe. Taking off our shoes and passing through full body scanners at airports in violation of the 4th Amendment’s protection of our right to unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant were implemented to keep us safe. See were I’m going here?
There is a phrase which Thomas Jefferson often used that I also subscribe to, “Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem” which roughly translates to, “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”
Although the erosion of our liberty has been going on for quite some time, it has only sped up dramatically since I took my first breath way back in 1958. I have witnessed our rights slowly being taken away from us to keep us safe, and I have witnessed as the American people sat back and did nothing about it.
Sometimes I have to wonder if the attention span, and memory for that matter, of most Americans isn’t limited to a sixty minute television show, or possibly a feature length film. How soon they forget the words of wisdom passed on by our Founders, and even those who lived during the lifetimes of some of the older Americans.
For instance, I know that there are many alive today who witnessed John F. Kennedy deliver the speech in which he said, “…ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” America was made great by the efforts of its citizens and their adherence to the principles upon which this nation, and our Constitution were founded. It was not made great by the efforts of our government to keep us safe, happy, and comfortable. Let me repeat that, America WAS NOT made great by the efforts of our government!
Then of course there was JFK’s predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower who said, “If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking…is freedom.” While that quote is un-sourced, Eisenhower did say the following as president of Columbia University in a speech given in Galveston, Texas in 1949, “If all that Americans want is security, they can go to prison. They’ll have enough to eat, a bed and a roof over their heads. But if an American wants to preserve his dignity and his equality as a human being, he must not bow his neck to any dictatorial government.” While Eisenhower didn’t directly come out and say it, I’m guessing that he also intended that his comments also included our own government should it ever become dictatorial or oppressive.
During his tenure as an Associate Justice to the Supreme Court, Hugo Black delivered a lecture at the New York University School of Law in which he said, “It is my belief that there are ‘absolutes’ in our Bill of Rights, and that they were put there on purpose by men who knew what the words meant and meant their prohibitions to be ‘absolutes.'”
It all boils down to the fact that a vast number of Americans do not know what the Bill of Rights is. They believe it to be a list of loose recommendations, not the ironclad restrictions upon our government that those who ratified those 10 Amendments meant it to be.
I don’t know how you feel about it, but when someone tells me that it is okay to violate my rights as long as it keeps the people safe, I want to scream out, NO IT’S NOT! The Bill of Rights is what it is, ten amendments placing the rights they describe in a lock box; not to be touched by government, or the will of the majority. I don’t think people today understand the meaning of words such as unalienable or inviolable; and if you ask me that is a big part of the problem when it comes to the loss of liberty we have experienced. If people do not understand the nature of their rights, or their origin, then how can they most effectively safeguard them?
The simple answer is, not only can they not safeguard them they are more often than not ready to surrender them if it means they can obtain a small amount of safety and security. Well, Ben Franklin had something to say about that mindset, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” How do you like them apples?
If you value your freedom; if you truly cherish it, then you and you alone are responsible for ensuring that no one, including your government, takes it from you. This, and this alone is my litmus test for patriotism; the extent to which one values and defends their rights. And from what I’ve seen, there aren’t many who live up to my standards; or as the old military saying goes, pass muster.
Our government did not grant us our rights, nor does it control them. Our rights come from our Creator and are part of our nature as human beings and cannot be surrendered without depriving us of our humanity.
Two years before Thomas Jefferson would write our Declaration of Independence, he wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America, wherein he declares, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure if we have removed their only firm basis: a conviction in the minds of men that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”
Liberty, simply defined, is the ability to freely exercise all of our rights; both those expressly protected by the Bill of Rights, and those which aren’t. Remember, there is the oft forgotten 9th Amendment which states, “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Is your right to eat, to breath, to freely walk outside your house specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights or Constitution? No, but I doubt that you’d agree to having those rights taken away from you.
Liberty, as defined by Thomas Jefferson is, “…unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.” (Source: Letter to Francis Gilmer, 1816)
Americans seem to think that tyranny cannot happen here; not in America were we have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights. I hate to burst your bubble, but tyranny can happen anywhere; even those places that have safeguards put into place to prevent it. All that needs to happen for tyranny to arise is for people to stop defending the principles which are outlined in documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And if Americans had the courage to take off their rose colored glasses and see reality, they’d see that tyranny is here right now; alive and well in the U S of A.
And it is to those who fail to understand the nature of their rights; their origin, and not only say it is acceptable that government pass laws which violate them, but openly ask that they do so just to keep them safe, I leave with the following quote from Samuel Adams:
If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.
In closing, I don’t know what you stand for; what your core values and beliefs are. Only you can answer that; and probably only after a bit of soul searching and deep introspection on your part. I also don’t know how far you are willing to go to defend what you stand for; but I’m willing to do whatever needs doing to defend the principles I believe in.
Our Founders demand no less of us if we are to consider ourselves among the ranks of patriots who truly stand up for the principles they fought, and some died for. Patrick Henry proclaimed, “Give me liberty or give me death.” While there was also this from Thomas Paine’s The Crisis, “Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”
Are you up for what your principles may demand of you, because the Bill of Rights is in need of some serious shoring up if it is to survive. If it goes, all that America stands for goes with it. I won’t let that happen, not on my watch and not without a fight. After all, I did swear an oath to defend the Constitution, (which includes the Bill of Rights) against all enemies…BOTH FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC.
I sincerely hope that doesn’t include you…