Most of you reading this can probably remember back to September 11, 2001. You remember the shock and horror that we -- and I use that term globally, because the whole world was shocked and horrified -- all felt. Shocked because no one could understand why anyone would do such a thing. Horrified because we couldn't understand how it had happened. Why it had happened...
Why did it happen? Why did our government let such a thing as terrorists attacking the country happen? Or, an even better question, how did our government allow the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor. Surely (as conspiracy theorists have been saying for decades), the government knew. And, to bring it up to date, how did the French government allow the Charlie Hebdo massacre? I mean, they had had one of those guys in jail not all that long before. They had to have known!
Someone, somewhere, failed to act and allowed these things to happen because, you know, they could have stopped them. Should have. They should have proactively stopped the bad guys before they had done anything wrong. You know, like in Minority Report. Surely, the government has future-reading psychics hidden away somewhere and know about all the bad things before they happen and are just picking and choosing which atrocities to stop (hmm... and that kind of sounds like what the British did during World War II once they had cracked the Enigma machine).
Look, it would be great if we could see the future and know, for sure, who was going to do what bad thing and when, but that's just not how the world works. Some people will do bad things and some people will only talk about doing bad things, and it's difficult to tell which is which. It leaves us with two options:
1. Catch the bad guys after they do the bad things.
2. Toss people in jail (or worse) just because we think they might do a bad thing.
There's this conversation in Captain America: The Winter Soldier about this topic -- actually, the whole movie is about this topic, but there's one particular exchange that really captures it -- between Nick Fury and Captain America:
Nick -- "We're going to neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen."
Cap -- "I thought the punishment usually came after the crime."
I think this is the central conflict not just in the United States but in all of Western culture, right now. How do you balance the need to feel secure against the need for something that is actual just (as in justice) treatment for all people? I mean, it's one thing to shoot a man down who has pulled a gun on you, but it's another thing entirely to shoot a lot of people down for no other reason than you think they might have a gun on them. Or might be thinking about getting a gun.
In general, I think we, as a people, really do believe in the idea of justice, the idea that no one should be persecuted or punished before s/he's done anything wrong. Punishment comes after the crime. However, when something like the Charlie Hebdo massacre happens, we immediately start up with, "Why didn't you stop them?" And that supposes that we should, somehow, not only know that the person(s) was going to do something but that we should also catch and punish that person before the crime has been committed.
Sometimes, it's the same person crying foul over assassinations and drone strikes one day then demanding to know why some terrorist wasn't put away before killing some people. It's not a thing you can have both ways.
And the truth... well, the truth is that some people are going to do bad things, and there's nothing we can do to stop all of them... that is unless we stop everyone that we even slightly suspect. That means, well, that means you, because virtually everyone I have ever known has gotten mad at some point and threatened someone else. So we either have a society with no freedom but total security, or we have a society with freedom and risks where we do the best we can and allow people the opportunity to do the right thing. Yeah, it's a hard choice, especially after an extreme act of violence, but you can't have it both ways.
It's time we make a choice and stick to that choice and uphold that choice. Me? I choose freedom.