The inSecurity Blanket Resources


by Shawn Douglass, thinkTank 2008 producer

As the already interminable Presidential nomination process heats up, there is surprisingly little rhetoric from the majority of candidates about the potential and actual perils of the Patriot Act and other increased security measures on our daily lives. What freedoms have we given up in order to protect our nation? How do we live in a country where we are encouraged to be vigilant about our neighbor’s actions? How has technology altered the way we interact with our government? I am interested in these questions and in keeping the conversation alive in the national discourse (or at least the local discourse). With the help of our arts partners – Teatro Vista, Rasaka Theatre Company, and Usman Ally – we hope to provoke renewed discussion about these and other questions from a variety of perspectives.

As I looked for background material on these issues, I came across Geoffrey R. Stone’s clear and compelling short history of U.S. civil liberties in wartime. Following is an excerpt that speaks to the tension between national security and individual liberty that is the focus of Remy Bumppo’s thinkTank 2008.

A Culture of Civil Liberties

from War and Liberty: An American Dilemna: 1790 to the Present by Geoffrey R. Stone,
reprinted with permission

As Justice Robert Jackson observed more than half a century ago, “it is easy, by giving way to passion, intolerance and suspicions of wartime, to reduce our liberties to a shadow, often in answer to exaggerated claims of security.” The United States has a long and unfortunate history of overreacting to the dangers of wartime. Time and again, we have allowed fear to get the better of us. Some measure of fear, of course, is inevitable – even healthy – in time of war. Without fear, it would be difficult for a nation to make the sacrifices war demands. An essential challenge to democracy is to channel fear so it plays a constructive rather than a destructive role.

As we grow fearful, we naturally insist that our leaders protect us, and elected officials, often distressed themselves, quickly respond. It is logical to seek safety in the face of danger, especially when we can mitigate the threat to ourselves by disadvantaging others. This enables us both to secure our own safety and vent our anger at those we may already loathe. If we have to put some secessionists or anarchists or Japs or Reds in jail in order to increase our sense of security, so be it. Indeed, all the better. This is not theory. It is the unimpeachable lesson of history.

In light of the inevitable pressures of wartime, is there anything we can do to prevent the recurrence of such excesses in the future? Are we doomed to repeat this pattern over and over again?

It is often argued that given the sacrifices we ask citizens (especially soldiers) to make in time of war, it is a small price to ask others to surrender some part of their peacetime liberties to help win a war. As the Supreme Court argued in Korematsu, “hardships are part of war, and war is an aggregation of hardships.” This is a seductive but dangerous argument. To fight a war successfully, it is necessary for soldiers to risk their lives. But it is not necessarily “necessary” for others to surrender their freedoms. That necessity must be demonstrated, not merely presumed. And this is especially true when, as is almost always the case, the individuals whose rights are sacrificed are not those who make the laws, but minorities, dissenters, and noncitizens. In those circumstances, “we” are making a decision to sacrifice “their” rights – not a very prudent way to balance the competing interests.

Mr. Stone is a professor at The Law School of The University of Chicago. He has written a number of books, including Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism, which received the 2005 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, and the 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for best book in the field of history. He is currently working on a new book, Sexing the Constitution.  


Civil Liberties and National Security

by U.S. Senator Russ Feingold

Headshot: Russ Feingold

I commend the Remy Bumppo Theatre Company for devoting this production to the issue of civil liberties and national security. Today, while we work to protect our national security, we must also redouble our commitment to preserving our values and the basic rights that make us who we are. Our Constitution and our laws are merely words if we do not defend them. And there has never been a more important moment to defend the law and the Constitution, or debate the critical questions that the threat of terrorism poses. This production is one important way to examine these questions, and to discuss the importance of protecting both the safety of the American people and their rights and freedoms.

Like us, our nation’s founders did not live in a time of hypothetical enemies. They wrotethe Constitution and the Bill of Rights right after they had fought the Revolutionary War. Yet when they drafted our nation’s most vital legal document, they wrote a Constitution of limited powers and an explicit Bill of Rights to protect liberty in times of war, as well as in times of peace. Our challenge today is to preserve that commitment for ourselves, and for generations to come.

In the U.S. Senate I voted against the PATRIOT Act and fought its reauthorization because while it contained many important and necessary provisions, it went too far in infringing on Americans’ basic privacy rights. Working with members from both parties, I pushed for changes to the Patriot Act that would have strengthened the tools needed to fight terrorism without undermining our liberties.

I have also fought to hold the administration accountable for the President’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program. And most recently, as Congress has considered the so-called Protect America Act, which permits warrantless surveillance in certain circumstances, I have worked to ensure that we protect the rights of American citizens. Just as the founders struck a balance centuries ago in our Constitution, we too can strike a balance that ensures the government can collect the communications of suspected terrorists, while providing the checks and balances required to safeguard our constitutional rights.

There have been periods in our nation’s history when civil liberties have taken a back seat to what appeared at the time to some to be the legitimate exigencies of war. Our national consciousness still bears the stain and the scars of those events: the Alien and Sedition Acts, the suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, the internment of Japanese Americans, German Americans, and Italian Americans during World War II, the blacklisting of supposed communist sympathizers during the McCarthy era, and the surveillance and harassment of antiwar protesters, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., during the Vietnam War.

We must not make those same mistakes again. Our national security must be our highest priority, but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of the rights of our citizens. We can fulfill our duty to protect both the American people and the freedoms at the foundation of America.

Additional Articles:

6 at Guantánamo Said to Face Trial in 9/11 CaseNew York Times article by William Glaberson
FBI Wants Palm Prints… – article by Kelli Arena and Carol Cratty
Odyssey of State Capitols and State Suspicion – New York Times article on artist Ramak Fazel