The current controversy over government telephone and Internet surveillance puts reasonable Americans on the horns of a dilemma.
We want to be safe. We understand that in order to deal with modern terrorism we must use modern methods. That includes monitoring the phone and Internet traffic of those who would do us harm.
Who would do us harm has become increasingly hard to determine. The Boston bombing points to a huge hole in our defenses. If we must fear some among us then we must monitor domestically, something we are very loath to do.
It has been a tenet of our republic from the beginning that the government should have as little intrusion into our lives as possible. There have been times — post revolution, civil war, the world wars — when our fear has overcome our loathing and Americans have acquiesced to things that in quieter times would be anathema.
No one is proud of sending thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent to camps during the Second World War but, at the time, it seemed necessary. Only in retrospect did our collective conscience turn our fear to shame.
So it is now. We are fighting a foe that apparently cannot even be won over by the joys of life in America as a college kid. That being the case, we cannot know who our enemies are and they are thus more fearsome.
One horn of our dilemma is our belief in the absolute right not to have our phones and Internet usage monitored. The other is our driving desire to have picked up a clue about the Boston bomber boys that would have saved our fellow Americans from that tragedy.
Until or unless we can find some middle ground we are condemned to be perpetually impaled upon the horns of our fear of terror and our loathing of government surveillance.