Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy

By Susan N. Herman | Go to book overview

Conclusion

What is clear is that this “war on terror” will never come to a
public, decisive end. It is likely, however, to shape the way we think
about and experience American democracy as well as its rights and
privileges for generations to come
.—Anthony D. Romero (2007)1

As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression.
In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains
seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be
most aware of change in the air
however slightlest we become
unwitting victims of the darkness
.—Justice William O. Douglas2

Democracy isn’t what governments do, it’s what people do.—Howard
Zinn

PERHAPS THE MOST important reason the destructive War on Terror campaign has been allowed to continue with so few modifications is the assumption that 9/11 was such a unique event that we are justified in making exceptions to our usual principles to meet the extraordinary threat of terrorism. But the threat of terrorism is neither new nor unique. The framers of our Constitution lived in a world of British sleeper cells and reactionaries threatening to reverse the results of the American Revolution itself.3 It is impossible to read James Madison’s Federalist Papers account of his concerns for the security of New York without an uncanny sense of déjà:

[N]o part of the Union ought to feel more anxiety than New-
York. The great emporium of its commerce, the great reservoir
of its wealth, lies every moment at the mercy of events, and may
almost be regarded as a hostage, for ignominous compliances with
the dictates of a foreign enemy, or even with the rapacious demands
of pirates and barbarians.4

-209-

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