ne of the first things our children will be learning in this new school term are the flaming words of Patrick Henry: “Give me liberty or give me death!” What they may not encounter are the words of journalist H. L. Mencken 150 years later: “Most people want security in their world, not liberty!”
When we were fighting a King, liberty was the mission. Now that the US has become more king-like itself and the crown is on our head, we often find top-down order has a better feel to it than bottom-up revolution. At least once we are old enough to have a stake in society.
So, yes, our children should learn the value of personal liberties vs the danger of governmental repression [be it from the police, the IRS, or the NSA]. However, the problem for every democracy is where you draw the line? How do you maintain the delicate balance?
In the film A FEW GOOD MEN, lawyer Tom Cruise accuses Marine commandant Jack Nicholson of crossing that line, and smashing that balance. As Nicholson stands trial for abuse of authority, Cruise demands: “I want the truth!” To which the feisty old veteran snarls: “You can’t handle the truth!”
There is more than a hint of hypocrisy when we chant “freedom,” but then look for a cop when we or our children are in trouble. Especially when it’s only later that we become fussy about exactly how those cops keep us safe. If you listen closely, aren’t we whispering: “Keep us safe, just don’t tell us too much about how you do it.”
A whisper that can be heard when it comes to the dirty details to how we send in our Swat Teams, fight our enemies, monitor our allies, sell our arms, and drone our targets. If Patrick Henry debated H.L. Mencken in our childrens’ classrooms this fall, you have to wonder who would carry the day…?
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