Student Question

Should freedom be sacrificed for national security?

Quick answer:

Freedom has often been sacrificed for national security during times of crisis. Historical examples include Lincoln's actions during the Civil War, the Alien and Sedition Acts of WWI, and the internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII. More recently, post-9/11 measures like airport screenings and the Patriot Act have reduced freedoms. While not universally agreed upon, many Americans accept these restrictions for perceived safety benefits.

Expert Answers

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This subject is one that has been debated often throughout our history. During times of crisis, Americans have seemed willing to accept restrictions on their freedom in order to promote a feeling of security or to help our country during times of war.

There are many examples where people’s freedoms were reduced or eliminated for a period of time. In the 1860s, Abraham Lincoln arrested legislators in Maryland who were going to vote for secession. This is one reason why Maryland, a slave state, remained in the Union. During World War I, the Alien Act and the Sedition Act were passed. These laws restricted what people could say and what they could do. This was done to help facilitate the war effort. We didn’t want our enemies thinking our people didn’t support the war. In World War II, Japanese-Americans were forced to move to relocation camps because they were perceived as a threat. During World War II, people also accepted the rationing system that was established. This limited what products could be bought and how many of certain products could be bought.

As we fight terrorism, some of our freedoms have been reduced. We go through screening at airports. Our luggage is examined and may be searched. People are being placed on watch lists or “do not fly” lists because of concerns about acts of terror. The government’s surveillance powers increased with the passage of the Patriot Act.

In each of these cases, rightly or wrong, most Americans have accepted the restrictions on their freedom in order to promote our fight in a war or to promote our safety. Not everybody has agreed these actions have been good for the country because it could set a precedent for additional restrictions or for future restrictions. For many Americans, the positive effects have outweighed the negative effects and most people have accepted the restrictions.

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