Freedom and Force of Will

TW: war on terror, indefinite detention, indefinite warfare

If you haven’t already, you should peruse over the President’s speech on Thursday, which contained this interesting tidbit after being interrupted by a woman in the audience who wanted him to consider not only releasing the detainees in Guantánamo but provide restitution to them as well for their years lost:

I think that — and I’m going off script, as you might expect here. The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. Obviously, I do not agree with much of what she said, and obviously she wasn’t listening to me in much of what I said.  But these are tough issues, and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong.

When that judge sentenced Mr. Reid, the shoe bomber, he went on to point to the American flag that flew in the courtroom.  “That flag,” he said, “will fly there long after this is all forgotten.  That flag still stands for freedom.”

So, America, we’ve faced down dangers far greater than al Qaeda.  By staying true to the values of our founding, and by using our constitutional compass, we have overcome slavery and Civil War and fascism and communism.  In just these last few years as President, I’ve watched the American people bounce back from painful recession, mass shootings, natural disasters like the recent tornados that devastated Oklahoma.  These events were heartbreaking; they shook our communities to the core.  But because of the resilience of the American people, these events could not come close to breaking us.

He elaborated on this point about resiliency before concluding:

Our victory against terrorism won’t be measured in a surrender ceremony at a battleship, or a statue being pulled to the ground.  Victory will be measured in parents taking their kids to school; immigrants coming to our shores; fans taking in a ballgame; a veteran starting a business; a bustling city street; a citizen shouting her concerns at a President.

The quiet determination; that strength of character and bond of fellowship; that refutation of fear — that is both our sword and our shield.  And long after the current messengers of hate have faded from the world’s memory, alongside the brutal despots, and deranged madmen, and ruthless demagogues who litter history  — the flag of the United States will still wave from small-town cemeteries to national monuments, to distant outposts abroad.  And that flag will still stand for freedom.

Now, as Obama suggested, it’s not clear where the “off the cuff” remark ends and the rehearsed speech begins again, but he smoothly transitioned back into clearly something larger which he was more prepared for. What he came to deliver was at least in part that message: freedom is expressed through survival. In essence, he wholeheartedly believes that the goals of his government should be to protect immigration, recreation, commerce, and free speech, but that he considers those to be best promoted through this war, which he suggested would last at least another decade.


(Now why does this sound familiar? From here.)

Even quoting Orwell here feels a touch out of place. Obama didn’t actually say the word “peace” but rather framed the issue as basic survival against natural phenomena – terrorism has apparently no more social cause than a tornado. Likewise, survival is not discussed as a “peace” but as tenacity, daring, or even strength. The Obama Administration is often discussed as being quite technocratic, so it makes sense that ignorance would be out, but to then pair strength and war together is to miss the point of the Orwellian exercise. Peace, he hoped, would sell better than either of those two. It’s up to us now to decide if Orwell was right about that.

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