Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessep would only be partially right today. It’s not that we can’t handle the truth, we’re just not getting much of it these days. When Jack stared across the courtroom and admonished a young Tom Cruise, he said, “We live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns.”
He continued, lowering his voice, “You want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.” The enemy Colonel Jessep was defending us from had rules of engagement about which there were timeless military truths. These rules were tested, broken and discarded on 9/11, and everything the public knew about warfare was altered forever.
The Obama administration and Congress are currently debating the extension of three provisions of the Patriot Act—one of the only enduring successes of the Bush Administration. Not only do I support the Patriot Act, I rooted for Nicholson in A Few Good Men, too. Don’t get me wrong, what happened to Santiago was reprehensible, but when it comes to matters of national security, I want people like Jack on that wall. (AFGM Jack. Not Bucket List Jack.) But today’s world is different. There are no walls because terrorists have no boundaries, no center and nothing to lose. It’s for this reason that these provisions and the Act itself deserve to stand.
As a member of the “liberal media” and advocate of free speech, this may seem like a counterintuitive position, but civil liberties rely on a mutual trust between a government and its people and a healthy fear of consequences when this trust is broken.
The Patriot Act is the modern day Colonel Jessep. Instead of standing on walls with guns, our national security agencies are listening to conversations on prepaid phones, sifting through bank records and watching remote Jihadist training camps by satellite. America may break a few eggs making this omelet, but if it prevents malcontents from packing vans with C-4 and driving them into stadiums and movie theaters, then so be it.
The three provisions in question involve the FBI’s ability to retrieve business and banking records of suspicious persons, establish roving wiretaps that track mobile conversations, and a “lone wolf” provision, which allows the government to follow foreigners with no association to a known terrorist organization. These are all useful tools at America’s disposal to continue the hunt against terrorists. But there is another threat that we need to talk about. The threat posed by the American-born dissident.
Before 9/11 there was Timothy McVeigh. An American dissident. A homegrown terrorist. He looked like us, spoke like us and served our country honorably in the military. Even today McVeigh would be tough to spot unless you were listening closely to his words, yet we are so busy yelling at each other that we have allowed a very dangerous tone to prevail on the Internet, on the radio waves and on television. It’s time we quiet down and listen.
Personalities such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are fanning the flames of discontent in America and the simmering “silent majority” is coming to a boil. One very troubling outcome is that their rhetoric is causing many Americans to engage in disturbing discussions about our President. The hilariously named “Tea Bag Party,” for example, is hosting protests around the nation, calling Obama everything from a Marxist and a Muslim to a dictator and a Nazi. Conservatives are turning out in droves, carrying signs of Obama as Hitler, witch doctor and Heath Ledger’s Joker.
This is when mistakes are made. While the government is busy rooting out evil around the globe, standing on Jessep’s wall and protecting us while we sleep, it’s up to us as a nation to remain vigilant and ensure that our hatred within doesn’t spiral out of control. But we can only do that if we quiet down and listen. The media must do its job and ferret out the bad information and even forego a couple of ratings points in order to establish a little decorum. The truth can only rise to the top when it’s not being drowned out by the harsh sound of lies.
That is a truth we can handle.
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