In my generation the What were you doing? question was about JFK's assassination. For some it was MLK's assassination, or RFK's or John Lennin's maybe even the day Elvis died. In Oklahoma it's about the bombing of the Murrah Builing. The rest of the country seems to have amnesia on that one. This weekend it's the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. I really have nothing to say about it that Bruce has not already so eloquently expressed in a speech delivered on the Oklahoma State House chamber on Feb. 11, 2003.
We must especially beware that any liberty we suspend for fear of terrorists could easily be forfeited for generations to come. The freedoms we enjoy in our democratic society are worth whatever dangers we will face, whatever risks we must take, and whatever sacrifices we choose to make. America must not retreat from two and a quarter centuries of hard won civil liberties. Never before have we settled for being the land of the safe and the home of the secure. We’ve always had the courage to strive to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.Instead of the frightful overreaction we have witnessed since September 11th, our nation would do better if it would respond to terrorism the way the people of Oklahoma responded to the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. That bomb did not prompt us to surrender our civil rights or to infringe on the rights of others.
Unlike our federal government:
We did not suspend the constitution.
We did not send the police out to round-up, lock-up or expel all the foreigners and immigrants in town.
We did not hold suspects indefinitely without access to the courts or to counsel.
We did not tape conversations between suspects and their lawyers.
We did not suspend the laws requiring probable cause for wiretaps or search warrants.
We did not expand the role of the military in domestic law enforcement.
We did not torture suspects to obtain information, nor did we allow surrogates to torture suspects for information.
We did not create a military tribunal to try and execute suspects without applying the Constitution or state and federal laws.
We did not endorse assassination as an alternative to capture.
We did not create a private foundation to issue ID cards to all citizens.
We did not create a network of free-lance spies to report anything that might be considered suspicious.
We did not create a massive computer system to keep tabs on every aspect of our citizen’s daily lives.
And, we did not use the bombing as an excuse to suspend the first, second, and fourth amendments and then attack militias or invade white supremacist compounds to make them disarm.
What we did was to rescue survivors, clean-up the wreckage, rebuild our city and bring the criminals to justice.
The bombing of the Murrah Federal Building did not destroy the freedom-loving, risk-taking, self-sacrificing spirit of the people of Oklahoma. Neither should the criminal acts of a few terrorists destroy the freedom-loving, risk-taking, self-sacrificing spirit of our nation.
Since September 11, 2001 it has become commonplace to say that the world changed that day. Some things did change. Several thousand precious, unique and irreplaceable lives were lost and the lives of many more were irreparably harmed. I must object, however, to assigning any significance to the evil that transpired that day.
In my mind, the most important lesson to be learned from that day is to be found in the images of heroism and the examples of self-sacrifice demonstrated by the men and women of the New York City fire department and police department and others like them. We need to learn from the people who left places where they were safe and secure and walked courageously into harm’s way to rescue the victims of a grave injustice. From them we learn that there are some things in life that are more important than safety and more valuable than security. Only those who have learned that lesson have the capacity to truly calculate the price of freedom and security.