We are not a fearful nation, nor (if we reject Michael Chertoff’s continuing effort to scare us to death) will we become one. That said, we are certainly and willingly Balkanizing ourselves, dividing a previously United States into a rag-tag and very unAmerican obsession with what are essentially ghosts under the bed.
Derby Line, Vermont is an unfortunate current example.
Homeland Security Comes to Vermont, Changes in Border Town Unsettle Some Residents, blares a headline from the Washington Post;
DERBY LINE, Vt. -- The changes started coming slowly to this small town where the U.S. border with Canada runs across sleepy streets, through houses and families, and smack down the middle of the shared local library.
First was the white, painted lettering on the pavement on three little side streets -- "Canada" on one side, "U.S.A." on the other. Then came the white pylons denoting which side of the border was which. After that, signboards were erected on some streets, ordering drivers to turn back and use an officially designated entry point.
And along with the signposts came an influx of American Border Patrol agents, cruising through the town in their green-and-white sport-utility vehicles with sirens, chasing down cars and mopeds that ignored the posted warnings.
‘ The changes started coming slowly to this small town’ sounds like a badly written voice-over, opener to a Grade B movie.
Fade to screaming sirens and white SUVs chasing down—what?—international criminals? Not hardly. A kid on a dirt-bike, rolling through the wooded trail he’s ridden since Dad finally gave in to his pleas and let him buy a used Honda CRF 150.
“Don’t shoot, for God’s sake, that’s my kid!”
Derby Line has peacefully coexisted somehow with its American-Canadian divisions and friendships since 1791. The War of 1812 with Britain caused hardly a ripple of dissatisfaction among American and Canadian neighbors who shared church, the watching of kids and celebration of inter-marriages. The U.S. invaded Canada in that ill-begotten war, but apparently not at Derby Line. Washington, D.C. burned (partially) to the ground, but the New England area kept up a brisk trade with Canada throughout.
According to Wikipedia, the little village shared with Stanstead in Quebec is best known for the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, deliberately constructed on the international border and opened in 1904. The donors were a binational couple: Carlos F. Haskell was a local American businessman who owned a number of sawmills, while Martha Stewart Haskell was Canadian.
It’s not an accident that the line runs down the floor of the library, bisecting it’s reading-room.
The intent was that people on both sides of the border would have use of the facility, which is now a designated historic site. Patrons of the library from either side of the border may use the facility without going through border security.
Does Martha Stewart, the modern-day namesake of that Canadian woman know about this?
For longtime residents accustomed to a simpler life that flowed freely across a largely invisible border, the final shock -- and what made most people really take notice -- was a proposal by the border agents last year to erect fences on the small streets to officially barricade the United States from Canada, and neighbor from neighbor.
"They're stirring up a little hate and discontent with that deal," said Claire Currier, who grew up in this border area and works at Brown's Drug Store, which has operated on the same spot since 1884. "It's like putting up a barrier. We've all intermingled for years."
For the Department of Homeland Security, the changes are part of a gradual fortification of America's northern border that began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and has accelerated in recent years.
Well, the stirring up of hatreds is an initial and necessary step toward fascism. Too strong a word? That’s because you and I and most Americans and Canadians have been used to hearing it applied to Hitler’s Germany or Italy’s Mussolini. Calm yourself for a moment before writing me a hot reply about the necessity of protecting our cities. Look up fascism. The definition is: (noun) a political theory advocating an authoritarian hierarchical government (as opposed to democracy or liberalism). Fits pretty well.
Europe relies on efficient police work to track down terrorists, with not always perfect, but less intrusive restraint. During the worst of the IRA terrorisms, England never walled itself off from Scotland and (thereby) Northern Ireland. The United States shares with Israel a less effective, yet far more isolating rationale of walls, barbed-wire and checkpoints.
It has served them terribly and will serve us terribly as well.
The hardening of the northern frontier is unsettling to many in the small towns along the border. For as long as most of these people can remember, the line between the United States and Canada has been little more than a historic curiosity, rather than the hard and fast demarcation that is America's southern border.
Named the Secure Border Initiative, the project calls for more than tripling the number of agents along the northern border, adding boats and helicopters, and deploying sophisticated new technology including hundreds of millions of dollars in new communications equipment, radiation detectors and three different types of camera-mounted sensors in the uninhabited wooded areas.
"It was freer before, but we live in a different world now," said agent Mark Henry, the operations officer at the Border Patrol's Swanton Sector, headquartered in Swanton, Vt. The sector encompasses about 24,000 square miles, extending from the town of Champlain, in Upstate New York, on the east all the way across to the border with Maine. The sector now has 250 agents, up from 180 three years ago, and the number is scheduled to reach 300 next year.
I would submit that we only live in a different world if we elect to live in one. To allow 19 terrorists in hijacked aircraft to change our very form of government and constitutionally protected civil freedoms of movement and protection from unwarranted inquiry is to have already abandoned the game to the enemy.
What are we but our freedoms? Just another too powerful loose cannon smashing the china (small C) in the world order.
The nations of the world, who once looked our way with hope and envy, now see us as disturbers of the peace. Disturbing the peace (the unsettling of proper order in a public space through one's actions) is an American misdemeanor that is about to become (if we continue to let it) a felony against the civilized world.
I am not merely angry at the stupidity enforced against Derby Line and Stanstead. I am outraged at what has been asked of America and how easily it has been given.
Bombed at Pearl Harbor, our entire Pacific fleet on the bottom and 2,400 servicemen killed, Franklin Roosevelt addressed the Congress. That wasn’t three hijacked airliners, it was a deliberate attack by 353 warplanes launched from six separate aircraft carriers. The time was ripe for demagoguery and we had some (Japanese internment camps), but we also had a president who brought the country together in purpose rather than dividing it in fear.
Cicero told us two thousand years ago that ‘endless money forms the sinews of war.’ It was true two thousand years before him, but the writing has been lost.
300 agents now in Vermont alone, eager and ignorant, chase down kids and annoy lifelong neighbors, where there were but 300 along the entire Canadian border before Bush and Chertoff.
Bush and Chertoff? Cheney and Addington? Rumsfeld and Gonzales? Are these the statesmen to whom we offer up our Founder’s sacrifice? These rank politicians risk nothing of personal wealth and power. Washington, Jefferson and their peers risked the very real probability that they would be tried for treason and hanged, their fortunes confiscated. Not possibility--probability.
We have traded a sacred heritage for a handful of beads. Not even beads, this travesty of false preservation is worth less than beads. Will the real America please stand up, less the last of us be left to turn out the lights?
"We're more visible," Henry said. "We've gotten more aircraft, more vehicles, more boats, more ATVs -- pretty much everything, we've got more. And we've got more people to man them."
"9/11 changed everything," said Border Patrol agent Fernando Beltran, the operations chief for Swanton Sector's Newport station, which includes Derby Line. "This may have been Mayberry before, but it's not anymore."
Not in my America. In my America only your ignorance is more visible.
. . . for the border agents, Sept. 11 exposed the vulnerability of America's northern frontier and the ease with which anyone -- a terrorist with a portable nuclear device, for example -- could cross into the United States from Canada using one of the multitude of unguarded back roads or forest paths, or, in a border town such as Derby Line, simply by crossing the street.
Beltran said he instructs his agents to use discretion and "common sense." It goes like this: "If a kid [on the Canada side] throws a Frisbee over here, he can come and get it. But if he got the Frisbee and kept walking down to the Arby's to get a soda, we're going to stop you."
"We can't be wrong once," Beltran added. "If we're wrong once, that could be devastating to the whole country."
No Fernando, actually it’s your being there at all that is devastating to the country. You have already been wrong a number of times, wrong to intervene in small border villages, wrong to cut the streets of that village in half, wrong to disturb the peace along the longest unmilitarized border in the world, wrong to institutionalize what should be low-tech police work.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said it effectively and correctly, if we can take a moment to listen to a word of advice from the past, rather than the fear-mongering of the present:
The means by which we live have outdistanced the ends for which we live. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.
Confusing the means and the ends. Sounds right. Ability to do outrunning the reason to do. That, when you sit down, shut off the TV and put your feet up, feels right as well. Guided missiles and misguided men. Bingo, Martin. And for that and the other truths of your illuminated life, they assassinated you.
Illuminate: (verb) Make free from confusion or ambiguity; make clear.
A president that our current president claims to admire, said quite famously; “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Not perhaps as catchy and bite-sized as ‘bring ‘em on’ or ‘we do not torture,’ but a better quote and a better legacy upon which to be judged.
Amazingly, the choice of legacy is not his, but ours. We must choose the Bush legacy and lose our own or choose differently and save our nation.
It is as simple as that.