Perhaps the biggest moment that changed my life was the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. I was thirteen at the time and I almost remember that day like it was yesterday. Before 9/11, I believed that America was safe and never did I imagine such an attack would occur in my country. That event destroyed my sense of security. What made 9/11 even more personal for me is the fact that my cousin used to work at the World Trade Center – on the 89th floor. Fortunately, he was late for work that day and when he got off the subway, he was told to go back because the first plane had hit. As the events of the day unfolded I, my family and my friends stared at our TV screens in shock, horror and confusion. I realized that my life would never be the same. As I approach the age of twenty, I am more cognizant of the world and the suffering that exists within it.
What I also remember about 9/11 is the immense humanity and unity that followed. At that time, I didn’t feel like a Black American, I felt like an American. I also remember the immense trust and support given to the president at that time. Those who supported him, supported him even more and those who didn’t support him were willing to put aside their differences to provide him with the tools and support he needed to defend America from the threat it faced.
And what did President Bush do with that love and support? Did he use it to unite the country? Did he erect a new building in place of the ruins of the World Trade Center? Did he adequately protect this country? Did he protect our Constitution, the very foundation of this country that he swore to protect when he was inaugurated into office? No, he did none of that. Instead, he further divided the country between those who are “with us” and those who are “with the terrorists”. He didn’t erect a new building in place of the old World Trade Center. If you travel to New York City, you will still see a massive a hole in the ground. The nation’s biggest wound is still open – no bandage and still bleeding. And he did not adequately protect this country or our Constitution. Instead, he has done the following things:
- President Bush manipulated the attacks of 9/11 and lied to the American public to unleash an imperialistic war of aggression against Iraq, a country that posed no threat to the United States and had nothing to do with 9/11.
- He and his cohorts have marginalized those who disagree with him and labeled them as “appeasers” or “terrorist sympathizers” or those who “forgot the lessons of 9/11”.
- He has made this country less safe. As the 2006 National Intelligence Estimate proved, the Iraq war “has become the ‘cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim word and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.”
- He has squandered trillions of dollars in funding an militaristic juggernaut that has invaded and occupied Iraq, leading to the displacement and deaths of millions of Iraqis and the deaths of thousands American soldiers – our sons, our daughters, our sisters, our brothers, our fathers, our mothers, our friends and our neighbors.
- He has committed treason against this country by revealing the name of a CIA operative because that operative’s husband, Joseph Wilson, told the truth about Bush’s lies for invading Iraq.
- In the name of combating terrorism and “fighting for freedom”, he has erased our freedom by wiretapping our phones without a warrant.
- In the name of combating terrorism and “fighting for freedom”, he has tortured human beings in prisons such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, in violation of international law.
- In the name of combating terrorism and “fighting for freedom”, he has violated the Constitution on several counts, thrown away habeas corpus and disobeyed the Geneva Conventions, all of which form the bedrock foundation of our country, our freedom and our morality.
President Bush executed these actions in the name of protecting American national security. It is Orwellian to think that the people need to give up their liberty in order to protect their liberty. And yet, the people seemed to have forgotten Benjamin Franklin’s wise words that “those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”. After 9/11, the president seemed infallible and no one wanted to question him or his actions, as they would be branded as “unpatriotic” or worse, sent to a secret prison in some unknown corner of the globe to be tortured.
But there have been many times, throughout history, when leaders stripped the people’s liberty while claiming to protect them from some vague and external threat – only to watch them abuse that power for the wrong reasons. President Woodrow Wilson, under the Espionage Act, jailed pacifists and anyone critical of American involvement in World War I and denounced them as “traitors”. Under Executive Order 9066, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Americans for merely looking like the enemy that America was fighting against. As Roosevelt’s General DeWitt told Congress, “It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen – he is still a Japanese.” And Adolf Hitler is an example of the very worst. Legally and democratically elected as Chancellor of Germany, Hitler used the tools of democracy to eradicate democracy and transform Germany into a fascist empire. He wiretapped people’s phones, opened their mail, arbitrarily jailed anyone critical of his regime and even lied to the German public that Poland was a threat to the German fatherland – only to watch him unleash a bloodthirsty campaign of empire that would engulf most of Europe and result in a near-genocide of an entire race of people. At the Nuremberg Trials, Third Reich commander Hermann Goring said this:
“Naturally the common people don’t want war…but after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship…. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
While President Bush is nowhere as evil and sadistic as Adolf Hitler and the members of his Third Reich were, the fact that his actions match the strategies in Hitler’s playbook is enough cause for alarm.
The war in Iraq, the curtailing of our civil liberties and the atrocities committed in places such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are all signs of our beloved, democratic country creeping towards fascism. But we, the people, have the ability to take our country in a better direction. We have bounced back from the horrors of the Espionage Act and Executive Order 9066 and Germany is a much better place now than it was under Hitler. The people have done it before and the people can do it, again.
Democracy, liberty, equality, and justice are all sacred rights that can be easily taken away by a corrupt government. And when that government tells you to trade your rights for safety, the word “safety” is just a codeword for tyranny. As a man who loves democracy, liberty, equality, and justice, I know not what course others may take but I refuse to be a summer soldier or a sunshine patriot. I refuse to be shackled and enslaved by an oppressive system of greed and destruction. Give me liberty or give me death!