The Founding Fathers were not universally nice people. The were venal and indecisive, made decisions based on political or economic gain, and had hidden vices. They were not gifted with prescience or an ability to see the future. In short, they were just ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Yet somehow they managed to craft a political experiment unique in the history of the world, one where all people, at least in theory, are equal before the law.
How is that experiment faring these days? It depends on who you ask. Our personal fears have allowed the emergency of a government that spies indiscriminately on its citizens using a bloated intelligence bureaucracy staffed primarily by contractors, replaces citizen soldiers with mercenaries, uses torture and assassination as instruments of state policy, and has laws that permit citizens to be stripped of constitutional rights by declaring them enemies of the state. Is this truly the America we want?
There are certainly those that would argue that these are necessary compromises that must be made to prevent threats to our way of life. I'm not naive enough to deny that there isn't some justification to these arguments. I have been a soldier and have worked in security during the terrorism scare of the 70's and 80"s. I understand the threat and am sympathetic to those centurions who stand on the wall.
But what is the that threat? The decimation of a city? We've survived that: San Francisco in 1906, Chicago 1871, Galveston 1900, Boston 1872, New Orleans 2005, and countless others. The death of thousands? An estimate 675,000 Americans died in the flu pandemic of 1918. Approximately 49,000 die each year from the flu.
My point is not to minimize loss of life or the suffering occasioned by a terrorist attack. These are horrible and senseless events and we are right both to fear them and to try and prevent them. However, we need to stop fearing terrorism as a personal threat and recognize that collectively we are stronger than any terrorist organization. No matter the nature of the attack, our society can survive so long as we hold to our values.
Vigilance is indeed the price of freedom but that vigilance needs to be turned inwards as well as towards external threats. There is a reason that the oath taken by any soldier or government employee is first and foremost to the Constitution and the rights it embodies. On this 4th of July, it is well to remember the quote attributed to Edmund Burke, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing."