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Security through common sense

Bernt Wahl Berkeley
Thursday April 18, 2002

To the Editor: 


After the events of September 11, 2001, our nation’s priorities have shifted from issues of personal liberties (privacy) to national security concerns. For many of us -- minimal government intrusion advocates included —recent events provided a wake-up call for calls to safeguard our homeland from terrorism, while seeking proper governmental restraints to our liberties.  

Article IV of The Amendment to the Constitution states that, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated …" How does this play out in today’s world where rouge organizations are bent on inflicting great harm to our way of life. In the modern world we now face threats from biological, chemical, nuclear attack and as well as conventional weapons, things that our founding fathers could hardly imagine. In the context of our Constitution, what contingencies should be made available to our government if massive destruction can be inflicted on our democracy?  

These issues are now affecting us personally as never before. For many of us attitudes toward privacy have changed since the World Trade Center incident. I remember in years past that giving a thumb print at the Department of Motor Vehicles felt like an intrusion to personal privacy, being figure printed was for criminals! Today I am a little more understanding to these intrusions. 

Presently there are several security measures being put in place at our nation’s airports: explosive detection equipment, beefed up patrols, and limited carry on provisions. Last Christmas while traveling through Burbank Airport I was given a through body and bag search. It was not pleasant, who likes to have their body fondled like a tomato by a stranger, but at least I did not have to drop my pants like Michigan Congress John Dingell. If inconveniences help deter tragic events from happening then most of us are willing to agree they are necessary. The question remains, do these measures deter would be terrorists? 

Resent studies show that many security provisions are still judged as ineffective, as Sky Marshals from the ‘Red Team’ recently demonstrated for CBS News. In their tests, hazardous materials and weapons were successfully smuggled through security check points ten out of thirteen times at seven major airports. If enacted safety measures do not detect potential threats, then what other options do we have? An effective foreign policy with actions that stride to reduce terrorist threats is the most likely answer.  

One way to help to promote peace is for nations to work together for the common good. The United States should take the lead in this aspect, building coalitions where ever possible and learning to be humble in the process. Team building should not only be a concept used by corporations. 

Our nation should show the world that we disserve our leadership position not through militarily might --though it should be used as a deterrent to terrorists— or economic strength but through our principles to liberty, understanding in world affairs, and compassion to nations in need.  

One of the first steps that the United States Government can take in establishing the integrity needed to be an effective global leader is to be more culturally sensitive. In the first few weeks after the World Trade Center event, the Administration made quite a few errors that showed how out of touch our government can be. Our Administration pontificated this in calling our Afghanistan mission ‘Infinite Justice’ a ‘crusade’ – showing both our arrogance in reference to when European Christians set out to defeat the Muslims and that we believe ourselves to be the final judge in what is right. In another more benign fashion, the well intentioned government supplied the Afghan people with meals containing peanut butter, a foreign food they did not eat. At least the humanitarian aid was a step in the right direction. 

If we have learned anything from the last century it should be that in order to bring lasting stability to a region, each player must value the gain of cooperation over the potential loss of conflict. This was shown so poignantly after World Wars II with the United States’ roll in the Marshal Plan. If the ‘war’ on terrorism is going to be won, it will have to be done so in the marketplace, the schools, and polling places; and not on the battle field or through rhetoric.  

People of the world have basic needs; they want a safe place to: live, raise families, get a chance for an education, have an opportunity for a fulfilling job, and have freedom to worship. If national governments can fulfill these basic needs -- free from want, hunger and fear -- most citizens will resist forces that propose a counter way of life. It is the duty of our government and our citizens to work with other nations to foster actions that promote these ideals. 

For upon the principles of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ our founding fathers brought forth a Constitution that continues to guided the world for more than two and a quarter centuries, and why today it is still providing to be a foundation for democracy. 


- Bernt Wahl