Laramie Movie Scope:
America, RIP

The day America passed away

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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September 11, 2001 -- I watched in horror today as a way of life seemingly charmed, protected and blessed for over 200 years passed away in fiery explosions in New York and Washington. I cried as I watched images of people jumping from the World Trade Center. It was the worst day of my life in many ways.

I don't know about you, but it made me sick to see the Palestinians on the West Bank cheering and celebrating the murder of thousands of Americans. We ought to increase military and financial aid to Israel just for spite. Then again, there's the view that this whole mess seems to date back to September 28, 2000, when Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Violence erupted, the peace process was sunk and the Israeli government unraveled. The little trip up the hill didn't seem to do anybody any good except for Sharon, who took advantage of the resulting chaos to became the next prime minister of Israel. While the Palestinians, and many others in the Arab world, were cheering about our tragedy, our old enemy, Russia, showed compassion and support for us, as did our old enemies Japan and Germany, who also lost people in the World Trade Center attack. It is a strange world we live in today.

It used to be different. The United States had led a charmed life as a country up until September 11, with no major successful attacks by foreign powers or foreign terrorists since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii 60 years earlier, and Hawaii wasn't a state back then. To find a day with a comparable number of violent deaths on American soil, you'd have to go back to the Civil War. We've had a remarkably open society for the most part. We used to feel safe here in our own country. That's all different now.

President Bush was correct when he noted that the September 11 tragedy was an attack on our freedom. Little by little, though, we've been losing our freedoms over the years. During the Red scares of the 1940s and 1950s it became fashionable for conservatives to limit the freedoms of speech and association, later liberals attacked the freedom of religion, banning prayer in public schools. Liberals also enacted legislation limiting the freedom of speech and association. Political correctness, "hate speech" regulations and out-of-control sexual harassment regulations further limit freedom of speech. Freedom of the press has eroded significantly in the last 20 years. Large corporations have gained significant power over sources of news and media outlets and have gained significant power over the press in the courts as well. Government is systematically choking off access to information which used to be public property. This is being done under a variety of guises, including privacy and national security concerns. Control of information is power and the government is getting more powerful.

Fear is the biggest threat to freedom. People are willing to give up freedom in the name of security when they are afraid, and they are afraid now. If they aren't, they should be. Airline passengers gave up a lot of freedom after a rash of airplane hijackings a number of years ago. They are going to have to give up more freedoms now. The policy of open borders between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico is going to be questioned. Our immigration policy is going to be questioned. Arab-Americans are going to be even more uneasy (they have already received numerous threats). There will be calls to increase the size of the military even more than what has been discussed before; a military which is, by the way, no longer a citizen army of draftees, but a professional military machine. The giant corporations which run this country, which indeed, run much of the world, are going to demand more security, and they don't give a damn about the personal liberties of American citizens.

New kinds of digital cameras and face-recognition software may be used on a more wide scale basis. The phrase "Big Brother is Watching" comes to mind. There is going to have to be additional security on passenger flights, perhaps even armed guards. Airline security has been a joke for years. Perhaps it took incidents like this to make us face the facts. We have to remember, however, that no matter how much attention we give to security, nothing can stop a determined, clever, well-funded terrorist. We can increase our level of safety, but can never be guaranteed of safety.

We're going to have to pay more for air travel, it's going to take longer and we'll have less privacy. Speaking of privacy, the government may already be monitoring supposedly private phone calls, and the situation will probably get worse. According to an article by Patrick S. Poole in USA Today, a computer system called "ECHELON" may be monitoring all phone calls. The article read, "ECHELON is actually a computer component to a global spy system controlled by the National Security Agency (NSA) and shared with the GCHQ of England, the CSE of Canada, the Australian DSD, and the GCSB of New Zealand. These organizations are bound together under a secret 1948 agreement, UKUSA, whose terms and text remain under wraps even today."

ECHELON may nevertheless prove useful in tracking down the terrorists who supported the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. One must suppose there is a similar system to monitor e-mail. You remember the restrictions on encryption software imposed by the Clinton administration? That subject will raise its ugly head again. Encryption software allows terrorists, and ordinary people, to have private e-mail conversations. Privacy is a very bad thing from the CIA and NSA's point of view. While some legal scholars believe privacy is a protected right under the U.S. Constitution, others, like former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, say the Constitution does not guarantee privacy. President Bush's next appointment to the Supreme Court is likely to agree with Bork's view. Why? Because the right of privacy is the basis for Roe V. Wade, the decision that legalized abortions, and Bush is politically committed to overturning Roe V. Wade. One more vote on this already heavily politicized court, and Roe V. Wade is history, and perhaps privacy rights along with it.

It is a modern political curiosity that there are no great champions of personal liberties in Congress. Instead, we have champions of corporate liberty. The conservatives, some of whom claim to be libertarians, are mostly theocrats who are in favor of taking away some individual freedoms, with the notable exception of one-half of the second amendment (the part of the sentence that does not mention anything about the need for a "well-regulated militia"), and Bible-related issues like prayer in schools. They wouldn't even be in favor of guns without heavy donations from the gun industry-backed NRA. Liberals are no better. Their big freedom issue is abortion-on-demand, which isn't freedom at all, if the issue is considered from the unborn child's perspective.

In the light of the September 11 attacks, it is apparent that a balance must be struck between individual liberties and security measures. For the reasons listed above, many upcoming proposals may not be very balanced. It is in your best interest to keep an eye on this debate in the upcoming weeks, months and years. Make your voice heard. The issues are very important to your personal freedom and to your safety. My own view is that we ought not to give up too much liberty in the name of security. Otherwise we will probably end up with neither freedom nor security.

Think of all those people on those four jetliners, in the World Trade Center and in the Pentagon, as freedom fighters. They died as casualties in an undeclared war. In this war, there is no distinction between the front lines and the "home front." I'm thinking of the gallant police and firefighters who died fighting to save people in the trade towers. I'm also thinking of the airline passengers who may have fought the terrorists and thus caused one jetliner to crash in Pennsylvania many miles short of its target. Did they die so we can lose the very freedoms that make this country so great? If we do end up losing our liberties in the vain pursuit of security, then the terrorists who attacked us on September 11 will have won the war.

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Copyright © 2001 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)