July 31, 2002

READER CHUCK HERRICK accuses me of “conditional patriotism” in light of my various posts criticizing homeland security. He says if I were a real patriot, I’d be happy to surrender my civil liberties in the name of war, and that I shouldn’t set preconditions of governmental competence before I am willing to do so:

I was there during Vietnam. I watched when the war came to a close in the ’70’s and all the long-hairs promptly cut their hair, quit demonstrating, and went out and got corporate jobs and started collecting material possessions. When the draft ended, it was like a light switch was thrown. What I’m stating is that today’s version of that convenient lack of patriotism is alive and well in today’s Libertarianism. And, you’re not even being asked to carry a weapon and go into battle. All you’re being asked to do is to give up a few, “cherished” liberties in order to beat our enemies. Frankly, it’s rather pathetic.

You signed on for the former? No, you did not. I’ve made my case that in WWII, the ineptness in the government and in the military was just as egregious. You’ve a capacity for research. Use it to do some historical research on just how inept the government could be during WWII. My bet is that what you’ll find will stagger you.

I’m not that easily staggered. But Herrick misunderstands. I’m not talking about competence (everyone makes mistakes), but good faith. By refusing to deal seriously with the problems of homeland security, and by substituting bureaucratic wish lists and appearance-oriented political solutions for real action, the powers-that-be have made clear that they’re not serious about the war, at least on the home front. Ashcroft won’t fire the people who screwed up before 9/11 — when even FBI agents were speculating that Osama bin Laden had a mole in FBI headquarters because the incompetence seemed so spectacular — and yet I’m supposed to pretend that searching old ladies at airports and confiscating tweezers proves they’re serious? You want me to sacrifice civil liberties for a war, you’ve got to show me a war. Then we’ll talk.

The Vietnam analogy, it seems to me, cuts the other way. That was another war that was waged with more of an eye toward the wellbeing of the bureaucrats waging it than toward actually winning. (Herrick, whose email indicates that he works for the federal government, may take that the wrong way, but there you are). The Drug War is another example. Both of those failed, miserably. Homeland Security is looking more like those conflicts than like, say, World War Two. That’s my beef.

Herrick apparently confuses me with those protesters who felt that it was immoral to wage war in Vietnam. My own view is that it was immoral to wage war halfheartedly.

Reader Kenneth Summers says this:

What bothers me far more is restrictions on liberties in the absence of war, precisely because there is no distinct “end to hostilities”. This is why, in the “WOT”, I think we need to be extremely careful about what we allow. Ditto for the War on Crime. Big fat Double Ditto for the War on Drugs. Our liberties will be safer if we actively take out Iraq and Soddy Arabia [spelling intentional – more so after I looked up the derivation] in a hot war than if we pussyfoot around and keep accepting incremental restrictions.

An example is the FDR presidency – the programs, rights infringements, and restrictions which remained after his presidency (works programs, gun restrictions, ridiculous tax policies) were primarily those implemented for fighting the depression and Prohibition crime. Those that were lifted (censorship, military tribunals, travel restrictions, rationing – I even include the draft here because it would have ended, as it did after WWI, were it not for the cold war) were those for fighting the war. Unlike a war, there is no “return to normalcy” for crime and economic downturns.

I think that — as the post that somehow set off Mr. Herrick noted — restrictions on civil liberties so far haven’t been very onerous. But I also think that Homeland Security has been a joke, from the airline tweezer-ban right on down the line. I think that it’s allowed to be a joke because people in the government don’t think it’s very important. And if they don’t think it’s very important, why should I?

UPDATE: Reader Chris Mosely emails:

Unfortunately, it’s worse than you thought. The *very day* the feds announced the arrest of the skating kingpin, a man living in NJ, who was known to have sold fake ID to at least one Sept 11 hijacker, eluded police and FBI by fleeing to Egypt:


In other words, the long arm of the law can reach into Italy to find a guy who bribed skating judges, but can’t arrest someone in New Jersey who aided the Sept 11 attackers.

BTW, if you read the AP article it also says that this guy wired money to Saudi Arabia. Surprise!

I’ve been giving the feds the benefit of the doubt on “homeland security” but this tears it for me.

Well, nobody’s perfect, and I’m prepared to forgive (almost) any number of honest mistakes. I’m less forgiving when it appears that people aren’t taking the issue seriously.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader points out that it was the British, not any part of the Homeland Security apparatus, that found this al Qaeda training camp in Alabama. Another reader sends this quotation from Petronius Arbiter: “We tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing and a wonderful method it can be for creating an illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.” I’ve seen this quote before, and I don’t think it’s really Petronius. But it’s apt, nonetheless.

ERROR-CORRECTION UPDATE: Lynxx Pherrett says I’m wrong about the Alabama Al Qaeda training camp. Uh, okay. But I wasn’t “disingenuous” — I was writing what I thought to be true.

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