The United States of America: land of the free, and home of the brave…or is it?
Historically, U.S. leaders have had no qualms about being hypocritical while speaking of freedom. Contrary to the idealized images painted by grade school history classes, the founding fathers of “the land of the free” were not nearly as concerned with obtaining liberty for all, as they were with liberating themselves from having to pay taxes. While this shouldn’t be surprising to anyone (especially since “No taxation without representation!” was practically their catch phrase) keep in mind that one of the primary reasons that their taxes were raised was to repay the British Empire for their help with violently driving Native American tribes from their land. It is not so easy to sympathize with the guys complaining about being “oppressed” by taxes, when you realize that those taxes were repayment for help with violently oppressing the natives. Since these events took place before the United States declared its’ independence, they technically can’t count against it. The United States’ official tradition of hypocrisy in regards to freedom can be traced back all the way back to 1791: to the very moment that the Bill of Rights was ratified. In order to justify keeping slaves despite having just enacted a document guaranteeing all citizens certain rights, the leaders at the time just decided that only white, landowning men would count as citizens.
Some may argue that these events are dark spots in our nation’s history, and could never occur in modern America. Many believe that we have evolved as a nation and would no longer tolerate such gross infringements on human rights. While there are laws protecting US citizen’s rights, these laws and rights mean nothing if the government does not respect them. The following quote is a clear example of how easily our rights can be taken away.
“In February, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the Secretary of War to establish Military Areas and to remove from those areas anyone who might threaten the war effort. Without due process, the government gave everyone of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast only days to decide what to do with their houses, farms, businesses, and other possessions.”
Unlike the previous examples, this event occurred less than a century ago. As a result of the national panic caused by the attack on Pearl Harbor, many Americans were rounded up and forced into camps for no reason other than being of Japanese descent. These people had their most basic rights stripped away for being Japanese American. This incident proves just how easily our rights can be taken away.
As disturbing as it is that Japanese American’s rights were blatantly disregarded by their own government, it is even scarier when you take into account that the order that led to this event never even went through proper legislative channels before being enacted. The detainment of Japanese Americans was initiated by an executive order. The power to enact executive orders is not given to the president by the constitution. In fact, according to “Article 1 Section 1 of the constitution, all legislative powers are vested in congress.” Despite technically being unconstitutional, every president since George Washington has issued them, with the exception of William Henry Harrison (Source). It is disturbing to see how many of these orders have been passed. The number of executive orders passed by each president demonstrates a disturbing pattern; they are becoming increasingly more common as time goes on. While most presidents have made relatively few executive orders up through Chester Arthur, no president has issued under 100 executive orders since then. (Source)
In recent years, the government has even attempted to take away our rights through secret acts. One of the most prevalent examples of how secretive government actions can challenge our freedoms is the NSA scandal. This scandal involved the NSA secretly spying on American citizens through electronic means. This program was intentionally kept secret from Americans under the premise of national security. Although these programs supposedly protected us from our enemies, they dealt a direct blow to our freedom and privacy. According to the authors of “On NSA Spying: A Letter to Congress” there is a law enabling the president to perform warrant-less searches on American citizens for fifteen days. However, as the constitutional scholars that wrote the article point out, “Congress explained that if the President needed further warrant-less surveillance during wartime, the fifteen days would be sufficient for Congress to consider and enact further authorization”. In other words, the President broke the law by secretly continuing these programs for more than fifteen days. If the government can secretly take away our right to privacy, is it not possible that they may have already secretly taken away some of our other rights? Technically, they already have.
Although there are many legitimate threats to our freedoms, none are as dangerous as fear. If one looks at history, it is clear that one of the most commonly used methods of deceiving people into willingly forfeiting their freedoms is by making them afraid. Look back at the example of the Japanese internment camps. If not for the fear caused by the attack on Pearl Harbor, these camps would never have existed. We can see history repeating itself. The enactment of the Patriot Act following the terrorist attacks on September 11th is another example. After the horrendous events that occurred on September 11, 2001, action was necessary. We acted in haste, and the Patriot Act was rushed through avoiding the scrutiny normal bills are subject too. While many were literally cheering while this act was passed, they failed to realize all of the freedoms that had been undermined. This act allows for US citizens suspected of terrorism to be arrested without due process. This act also allows for “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which violate both U.S. and international law. In an attempt to legalize his actions, President Bush declared that terrorists are not citizens or combatants but “unlawful combatants.” Since unlawful combatants are not protected by the rights that a citizen or a foreign soldier is, they could be detained indefinitely, and tortured.
In conclusion, fear, deception, and vague legal wording have all attributed to diminished rights of U.S. citizens. If we remain vigilant and pay close attention to what is really going on in our government, we can avoid losing any more of our rights. For example, Americans were able to stop SOPA from passing by protesting. We need to realize how important, yet fragile our freedoms really are. We are a government for the people, and by the people. We must not allow our government to forget this.