Negotiable Collateral Damage: Civil Liberties Versus National Security in Times of Threat
Air University School of Advanced Air and Space Studies Maxwell AFB United States
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The United States, by virtue of its democratic system, finds itself torn at times between the defense of its physical security on one hand and the defense of civil liberties on the other. Through the democratic political process, the US government has developed a pattern of behavior for responding to threats to national security. This pattern of behavior includes six typical phases threat, othering, response, normalcy, restoration, and remorse.After detecting a threat to national security, the primary national identity shrinks to identify others who might support the enemy from within our borders. Othering permits a targeted response while not othering results in a broader response. Othering occurred against foreign-born citizens and resident aliens in the 1790s, Japanese-Americans in the 1940s, and American communists during the Second Red Scare. By contrast, othering did not occur against French loyalists in the 1790s, secessionist sympathizers in the 1860s, and radical Islamic terrorists after 911. Once the threat passes and normalcy resumes, the national identity expands again to encompass the previous others and the government restores civil liberties. Often, the process includes remorse over the action taken during the crisis. The pattern of restricting civil liberties in exchange for the perception of greater security is a result of the democratic process, which defines itself by majority, but not unanimous, opinion. This process of reducing civil liberties during times of threat provides evidence of the democratic process at work. Furthermore, othering a minority is less likely to occur in the future.This study develops this theoretical framework through three brief case studies and then applies it to more in-depth examinations of the threats of communism during the Second Red Scare and the threat of radical Islamic terrorists after 911. It compares these case studies to draw conclusions about the governments balance between civil liberties and security.