Some things just don’t go together.
We don’t often think of this in relation to war and freedom but it is equally true. America has strong written rules regarding freedom of speech, assembly, rights to be heard by a judge/jury, protection against seizures without warrants etc. much of which has been enshrined in our Constitution. But what happens when we become embroiled in a conflict? How well do these freedoms mix with a state of war?
During the Civil War, Lincoln issued numerous executive orders and military regulations without the initial sanction of Congress. He declared martial law far from combat zones, seized property, suppressed newspapers, and suspended habeas corpus, all based under Article II of the Constitution. The Commander-in-Chief was well, commanding. He was acting according to his discretion all for the public good. Congress would often agree with him after the deed was done and the Supreme Court was reluctant to disagree during the War. The times were desperate and people generally understood that things would go back to “normal” after the war and things did.
The same basic events occurred in the subsequent major conflicts World War I and II. Seizures of factories, mines, railroads, price restrictions as well as wartime restrictions on speech occurred. The order by Roosevelt, Executive Order # 9066, which cleared the way for the deportation of Japanese Americans to internment camps resulted in the now famous Supreme Court case Korematsu v. United States. The Court held that is was legal to do so.
We look back now aghast but it was really par for the course. Roosevelt at one moment of conflict with Congress said “In the event Congress should fail to act I shall accept responsibility and I will act.” A Commander-in Chief with some fire in his belly. Right? After the war, things again largely went back to normal.
Let’s fast forward to the present. After America was attacked on September 11, 2001, Bush issued numerous executive orders relating to the deployment of military and security forces and the detention of captured terrorist suspects. We have stretched our normal understanding of and treatment of American citizens. We narrowed our definition of torture to allow for water boarding and we began to utilize our immense powers to spy even upon our own citizens which was activity only furthered by President Obama. Fourth Amendment violations? It’s war, nothing new to see here just move along.
April 12, 1861- April 9, 1865.
December 7, 1941- September 2, 1945.
September 11, 2001-?
As we approach the thirteenth anniversary of the war on terror, now four years longer than any war we have fought previously no end is in sight. Civil liberties continue to be assaulted and I wonder how long till the oil of freedom becomes completely separated? Must we surrender our freedom in order to protect it? Who has won then?
To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin from long ago,
If a free people feel compelled to relinquish liberty for security they deserve neither and in the end—
will get neither.