Saturday, April 20, 2013

Book Reviews and Social Commentary, All Rolled Into One

So I'm sure that you, like all the rest of us, were following the drama as it unfolded in Boston yesterday. When I was near a tv, I was watching. Other times, following obsessively via twitter and facebook, making sure to know exactly what was going on at all times. The pictures of empty streets in Boston were mesmerizing.

When the reports came out of the capture and arrest of the second suspect, I felt relief. But in the hours since, the best way to describe my state of mind is unnerved. Why?

This man was a suspect.

Forget for a moment all the emotion you may have felt over the last week and look back at what happened. The authorities release some photos of these brothers at the Boston Marathon wearing backpacks. From there, the assumption has been guilt. And the world went a little crazy.

The city of Boston readily and easily was subjected to a form of martial law.

People openly cheered when one brother was shot dead.

All over social media, people who are good individuals became part of the mob mentality, speculating that it would be better if the second brother was killed without a trial as well. More than once there were people bemoaning the fact he was, in the end, taken alive.

People saw no problem that he was not (as I understand) mirandized and has not been provided with a lawyer.

Is this the way you want your country to be? 

Is he guilty? Maybe. Probably. Have I, or any of you, seen evidence of that guilt. Nope. What we, collectively, have allowed is for the government and the media to whip us into a frenzy where, because we feel threatened, we are willing to voluntarily give up all sorts of rights and protections. We turned our backs on "innocent until proven guilty."

And that is scary.

Maybe my current reading selection feeds into my unease. I'm reading In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson. [Aside: highly recommended.] It details the story of the American ambassador to Germany in the 1930's. Through the eyes of this family and the staff of the US embassy, you watch as the German people accept, incrementally, their freedom being taken away. People are arrested and detained without trial. (Ominously referred to as "protective custody.") The country moves from a Republic to a brutal dictatorship.

Obviously, bringing up the Nazis is kind of like turning it up to 11. It's not that I think the US is Nazi Germany. And for the love of all that's holy, please don't read into this any sort of comparison of our leaders to Hitler. That's not at all what I mean.

But I think we need to be exceedingly cautious about allowing our government to have us live in a State of Fear. Using terrors and dangers real or imagined to cause us to do things like accept effective martial law. Or call for the suspension of Constitutional rights. Which, sadly, is quite bi-partisan. It took Rand Paul's filibuster to get the President to say on record that the US would not drone citizens on American soil. And here we have Lindsey Graham on twitter:
Bombing the marathon finish is an awful, horrific thing. But does it really mean we get to switch to the Laws of War and strip Tsarnaev of counsel? Under what other circumstances will our government decide that we don't need those pesky Constitutional rights?

And how easily will we the people let them do it in the name of safety?

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