What Have We Learned?

Sep 11, 2013
Anyone reading this sentence can tell you - precisely- where he or she was twelve years ago at 9:11 a.m. Eastern time. That's when our world changed.

Since then, we've surrendered a goodly amount of the elemental American essence. All in the name of "security".

We stand in long lines at airports as a nebulous government agency inspects our personal items (and our persons if we protest too-loudly) before we're herded onto an airplane. We've changed from passengers to cargo.

The majority of Americans have chosen to ignore the fact that those "temporary" changes have long been institutionalized. We're seeing the civilian equivalent of "mission creep" as TSA has been spread into other areas. They ask us personal questions and treat us as suspects, despite the fact the average TSA "agent" isn't a sworn law-enforcement officer.

Recently in Missouri, I pulled into the parking lot of the original Bass Pro Shops when an official-looking government vehicle pulled up. "Got any guns in there," the driver asked. I pointed down to the sign on the door that reads "No weapons stored onboard" and asked him what government agency he represented.

He hemmed and hawed around, and finally admitted that neither he nor his companion were law enforcement officers. They were TSA "Agents" on the lookout for suspect conduct or behavior. When I asked them if I was considered "suspect" simply because of the vehicle I drove, they told me not to be defensive and drove off.

The war on terror has turned into a long march to an undetermined destination. One of the first casualties was individual liberty. As I've traveled more than seven thousand miles across the country this summer, I've heard Americans complaining about "what we've become" since 9/11.

So who's winning the war?

Twelve years after our collective shock turned into a unifying anger, that same righteous indignation that saw our country strap on its gear and help the rest of our Allies win World War II has passed. If we're not asleep at the wheel, we're certainly napping.

Hundreds of people have asked me the same question: "is it too-late to change things?"
I have no set answer. It depends on where I'm asked. If you live in the northeast, I'm not going to offer much in the way of encouragement. That's because changing things there would require extreme changes in the way things have been done there for decades. If you're in the west, I'm more positive.

The secret to making change happen is actually pretty simple: show up. At local meetings, city halls, county court houses and, yes, even the state and national capital if necessary. You don't have to arrive festooned with angry slogans or dressed like the most rabid of sports fans. But you do have to be there.

That was something brought home to me on Sunday as I attended the memorial service of a good man who had, for more than two decades, been my standard for manly conduct. He made a difference around the world -for good- simply by living his convictions. Every day, with no exceptions.

His health may have failed, but he gathered himself a few days ago to record a final message to those of us being left behind. And it was powerful in its simplicity: "keep on keepin' on" he said, "don't ever stop being who you are. People need that salt and light example."

He didn't preach a sermon because there was no need. He had lived one.

On this twelfth anniversary of this generation's equivalent of Pearl Harbor, I find myself more tired and reflective than angered into action. Frankly, that concerns me.

Instead of watching and wondering what's next, we're at the point where each of us has a choice to make: sit and watch, or stand and speak.

Otherwise, our leaders (good or bad) won't care one whit.

In order to get their attention, we must make this the winter of our discontent. The time we sweep out decades of accumulated baggage dropped into our collective laps because we've convinced ourselves it's ok to change independence for "security".

Security and servitude are not the same thing.

Take a few minutes today to think about how you can make a difference.

Then go do it.

--Jim Shepherd