Sunday, March 26, 2006

It is the Constitution

We took the family to Washington DC last week for spring break. Our kids are at good ages (11, 8, 7) for DC - strong enough to trudge from museum to monument to government building, but not old enough to be too surly about it.

I really enjoyed seeing the actual copies of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights in the National Archives. Unlike the movie National Treasure, where Nicholas Cage steals what looks like a gift shop copy, the actual text on the paper is so faded it is almost impossible to read.

I can’t help but make the connection between those faded original documents and our fading values as a people. Americans, especially the self-proclaimed patriotic ones, seem to have little use these days for the rights this country was founded on.

How did we get into a state where people can be locked up forever without legal rights, we torture people we unilaterally deem evil enough, we invade countries that do not threaten us, and we allow the president to brazenly break the law by wiretapping without warrants? These documents don’t actually mean anything unless we hold ourselves accountable to them.

It also reminded me of this poem, which I have always disliked:

It is the soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.

Um, sorry, no, this is just false. It is the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that give us that freedom, not a bunch of guys with guns. Soldiers throughout human history have been far more often on the side the oppressor than the oppressed.

The truth is that oppression is almost always enforced with some kind of violence, whereas attaining freedom often does not require an army (see India, American Civil Rights, and South Africa for recent examples). Countries don’t attain freedom just because soldiers march through them (see Iraq), but because reporters reveal the truth, poets inspire people to great deeds, organizers create mass demonstrations, and most importantly, leaders create constitutions that guarantee basic human rights.

And in the end, if no one cares about the meaning of those founding documents, freedom will fade just as easily as the ink in which they are written.


Ghetto Prince said...

Wow. Way too much thought went into that, for you to be on vacation.

Yes, this country (and by country, I mean the citizens that make up this nation) seems to have lost sight of its most basic tenet. I look around and people are so concerned about their own individual lives, that no one is really concerned about "the other guy." That is, until they feel that "the other guy" threatens their daily routine. When this happens, they only care about making the threat go away, as quickly as possible. Even if it means violating the very principles that this country was founded on. People are willing to look the other way, as long as they are made to feel safe.

I made the following comment to a friend recently:

If the early American colonies been comprised of the type of people that live in the USA today, we'd still be English colonies.

The sad thing about freedom is, it tends to make one lazy.

Dan S said...

Well said, Prince.

It's fascinating to me that the same people who in the 90's were bemoaning how terrible the government is because of how much it restricts their freedom, are now the exact same people who support suspending all kinds of rights and expanding the power of the federal government.

Ghetto Prince said...

What can we do? I talk to many teenagers about what it means to live in the USA and there's so much lethargy that it's baffling. No one is really willing to fight for or stand up for matters based soley on principle. They just don't care. That is until it happens to them or someone they love.

Much to my amazement, they figure that "this is just the way that it is and the way that it's supposed to be." They think rights and equality are all just myths. I know why they feel this way. I see the same things they see. I know why they lose faith in law, government, authority, etc.. However, I when I see it, I almost always attribute it to the particular individual that's causing the problem. When they see it, they blame the entire system.

They grow up with very little (if any) confidence in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. So they fully expect their rights to be violated and freedoms to be taken away at the whims of some politician or authority figure. That's what's most sad. They expect it. It's normal to them.

So, again, I ask. What can we do?