Reflecting on his 20 years of military service as a US Air Force officer, and noting the dramatic changes in both law & culture over the past decade, Lt. Colonel (ret.) William J. Astore wrote last week about the acquiescence of Americans to what he describes as “Fortress America.” In Uncle Sam Doesn’t Want You—He Already Has You, Astore exhorts Americans to challenge the national security state in order to preserve basic liberty principles. Referencing young people who may not recall an era in which privacy was ever respected, he explains:
Many of the college students I’ve taught recently take such a loss of privacy for granted. They have no idea what’s gone missing from their lives and so don’t value what they’ve lost or, if they fret about it at all, console themselves with magical thinking—incantations like “I’ve done nothing wrong, so I’ve got nothing to hide.” They have little sense of how capricious governments can be about the definition of “wrong.”
Astore goes on to note the sycophancy of Hollywood, reflected in movies repeatedly glorifying US intelligence agencies despite their serial crimes, in sharp contrast to the films of the 1970s and 1980s that offered storylines and narratives more reflective of the agencies actual behavior. He also takes on border security and police militarization:
If you’re bold, gaze out across the increasingly fortified and monitored borders we share with Canada and Mexico. (Remember when you could cross those borders with no hassle, not even a passport or ID card? I do.) Watch for those drones, home from the wars and already hovering in or soon to arrive in your local skies—ostensibly to fight crime. Pay due respect to your increasingly up-armored police forces with their automatic weapons, their special SWAT teamsand converted MRAPs (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles). These vintage Iraqi Freedom vehicles are now military surplus given away or sold on the cheap to local police departments. Be careful to observe their draconian orders for prison-like “lockdowns” of your neighborhood or city, essentially temporary declarations of martial law, all for your safety and security.
Ultimately, Astore’s vision entails not only institutional reform, but a broad-based, cultural resistance that could take many different forms. His closing words evoke the interests of future generations, and challenges us to do our parts today to ensure their opportunity to enjoy the liberties enshrined in our Constitution.
Together we all need to do our bit, not as GI Joes and Janes, but as Citizen Joes and Janes, to put personal liberty and constitutional principles first. In the spirit of Ronald Reagan, who told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this [Berlin] wall,” isn’t it time to begin to tear down the walls of Fortress America and shed our militarized mindsets? Future generations of citizens will thank us, if we have the courage to do so.
Nor is this the first time that thoughtful voices from the Air Force, in particular, have raised their voices to challenge the national security state. In December 2011, the county encompassing the Air Force academy became the first jurisdiction to affirm Due Process principles threatened by the domestic military detention regime enshrined into law by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. While existentially bent on challenging the national security state, BORDC salutes thoughtful servicemembers like former Board member Tim Smith, and retired officers like William Astore.