Vigilance is Necessary

For one of us, it was difficult to accept the Peace Testimony when first a member of the Religious Society of Friends. It was not until her son was in the Mekong Delta that she became aware of the futility of war. She came to the realization that the mothers, wives, and sisters of all those fighting on either side were praying the same prayers, "Lord, keep my husband/son/brother safe." Now once again we are at war and expect the God to whom we pray to keep our men and women safe.

After the tragedy of September 11, it was heartening to see our country come together in unity, to pray together, to make sacrifices to honor the victims of this tragedy. But now flags are flying everywhere, and crowds chant "USA, USA." Suddenly we are fearful. Although we love our country and its ideals, all the flag-waving and patriotic rhetoric remind us of Germany in the 1930s. There, too, the flags waved, while the swastikas waved and were proudly worn, and the people shouted "Heil Hitler." And where did this flag-waving and adulation lead? To an unimaginable horror!

There is an analogy to be made here: many in this country are waving flags, responding to the leadership of the president with unquestioning loyalty while civil liberties are being threatened: the overwhelming passage of the USA Patriot Act by the House and Senate represents wide-ranging limitations on civil liberties; innocent Afghan women, children, and men are being killed; not to mention the destruction and desolation that the defense of what we deem our liberty is producing. Our nation is agreeing to atrocities perpetrated upon the guilty as well as upon the innocent. Is wanton cruelty ever justified?

There can be no argument about the fact that our nation’s security system failed us miserably when it became possible for 19 terrorists trained by our flight schools to hijack four planes and cause immeasurable death and destruction. Our intelligence and security systems obviously need to be vastly improved, but let us not permit that to happen at the expense of our civil liberties and the targeting of innocent foreigners living in our midst. Surely we can detain (without torture!) for as long as seems necessary, with appropriate counsel, proven al-Qaida members, and we can monitor known terrorist networks without negating the values that define the democratic system in the U.S.

It is our contention that there needs to be organized opposition to the suggestion that an exceedingly expensive missile system be developed. The New York Times and the Nation have printed news stories and commentaries that persuasively state the futility of this particular method in this war and opposition to further bombings in which innocent civilians inevitably are drastically affected, even if they survive.

We are disheartened and frightened by what appears to be unprecedented approval of decisions made by the president and those he has placed "in charge" of this war. We urge members and attenders at Friends meetings to insure that their individual voices and—at least as important—the voices of their meetings are heard when as a nation we are engaged in unconscionable practices. We are reminded of the words of Wendell Phillips, abolitionist and orator, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."