In the realm of criminal behavior and its social ramifications, nothing has influenced minds of Americans stronger than terrorism. The pervasive and consuming energy created by such criminal phenomenon has permanently altered the US way of life. The global war on terror declared in 2001 has had a profound impact on all Americans in terms of variety of aspects. The US citizens have had to sacrifice certain liberties and freedoms in the fight against terrorism, the majority of which the federal government has decided to deprive them of without any consultations with the public. Such sacrifice has been often justified by a claim that the only way to secure freedom is to curtail it during the times of national crisis. Nevertheless, the questions to be discussed are whether anyone can define timeframes of the global war on terror and whether the freedoms and rights taken away for the sake of winning the war will be returned to the public, taking into consideration the eternal nature of such phenomenon as terrorism. The American nation has learnt many valuable lessons since 2001 concerning it and its capacity to overcome major crises as a cohesive unit, but the war on terror has brought many disadvantages and issues that impact everyday life of ordinary American citizens. Current paper attempts to analyze in brief how the global war on terrorism has affected ordinary Americans and their lives, as well as to provide a brief overview of freedoms and rights that have been impacted in the process of fight against terrorism. The final section of the paper concerns my personal experience relating to the issue under consideration.
Terrorism is a criminal phenomenon that has existed for thousands of years in different forms and in different countries. People all over the world have met it vice and tried to combat it through various means. But in the USA the phenomenon came to the forefront of public and governmental attention in 2001 after the tragedy of 9/11. In September of that year, the American nation had to acknowledge that terrorism was an integral part of the world order of the new millennium that rebellious and terrorist groups employed as a tactic of a covert war against the US and its allies. It was unexpected that such tragedy could occur on the territory of the USA and lead to thousands of deaths among the civilian population. It was also unexpected that the country proved to be unprepared to deal with terrorist threats on the domestic soil in an efficient way. The nation demanded resolute actions and prevention of similar tragedies in the future. Therefore, all actions and measures adopted thereafter may be a response to the single terrorist event that has divided the history of the country into two period, in particular before and after the 9/11 events. Thus, it is evident that terrorism has a significant effect on psychology and morals of people. Persons who have had some personal direct experience with terrorism either as victims or relatives of victims require professional assistance to cope with anxiety, stress, fear, grief, anger and other emotions evoked by contact with the vice. However, the entire nation also requires counseling and assistance after major terrorist events that impact its well-being and threaten its security. It needs restoration of confidence in safety and security in order to be able to move beyond the tragedy and its devastating impact. It also needs the government that will take resolute measures and steps to eliminate the phenomenon of terrorism on the US territory and will do al possible to defeat it in the whole world as it is the only way to ensure prevention of possible attacks on the country in the future. Nevertheless, the public often fails to admit that it is hardly possible to eliminate terrorism in the entire world and in all its forms, partly due to its pervasive and vague nature and partly due to the fact that it often stems from social inequalities and repression of freedoms and rights in some particular countries. Initially, many terrorist organizations that are now international have been small local groups rebelling against the policies of their respective countries as a part of radical grassroots movements that either could not or did not want to do it peacefully. Therefore, it is perilous to assume that further repression of freedoms and rights can solve the problem of terrorism as, on the contrary, it is likely to contribute to de-radicalization of more individuals who would want to oppose the government and its authoritative policies, although underlying intention of such policies may be a fight against radicalism and terrorism. Nowadays, many people join terrorist organizations with a view to opposing the USA and its role as a global peacekeeper, as well as due to its interference with foreign affairs in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It poses a threat to the national security of the country and promotes adoption of more stringent measures aimed at preventing and fighting terrorism in the country. Hence, to some extent, it creates a vicious circle of adopting new measures to fight terrorism that at the same time inspire terrorists to fight the USA.
Apart from psychological effect, terrorism and fight against it also have a significant influence in financial and legal terms. The cost of the global war on terrorism has been enormous for the country. Of course, it is not possible to blame the financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent recession on the fight against terrorism, but it has certainly contributed to financial problems of the country. Some claims suggest that the overall cost of the war on terror amounts to $3 trillion (Davis, 2012), “however, if one includes the annual defense budgets, homeland security expenditure since 2001, veteran programs, and the interest on the principal borrowed for military spending, the cost balloons to an astronomical eight trillion dollars” (Davis, 2012). It means that the war on terror costs about $70,000 for every American family, which is double size of the average income of an American household (Davis, 2012). Moreover, such costs will not be reduced as implemented military innovations and future anti-terrorist operations may result in further expenditures for the common US citizens. Instead of improving education, health care and domestic infrastructure, the federal government opts for increasing defense budgets and implementing military innovations even at the expense of decreasing the number of military personnel. However, military innovations and new equipment often fail to make the US military more efficient and productive, which is also worsened by an increasing death toll among soldiers. Such unequal distribution of funds has given a rise to numerous problems in the country, including high unemployment rate, crime rate, failing education system, inadequate health care, etc. “Instead, the costs of the war has forced America into political deadlock, where popular and essential public programs alike are being discarded in favor of retaining decaying institutions” (Davis, 2012). Therefore, a wide-spread idea that the USA should start caring about its domestic infrastructure and problems instead of playing a role of an international policeman and toppling regimes in troubled states like Libya or Syria.
Nevertheless, the most profound impact of the war on terrorism has been seen in the domain of freedoms and rights or, if to be more accurate, in terms of their restriction. The Patriot Act has been among the most controversial legislations passed by the Federal Government in the USA. Numerous legal scholars and social activists that the Act infringes upon the Constitution of the USA and violates basic legal rights and freedoms of American citizens, especially with respect to the First, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments (Chemerinsky, 2004). One of the major violations of basic principles of the US legal system is “the unprecedented claim of authority to detain individuals without access to courts” (Chemerinsky, 2004). The issue of the Guantanamo Bay prison has been debated and discussed for many years, but there is solution of the problem in sight. Another closely related issue concerns secret trials conducted in the US courts that are not recorded in the system and that cannot be appealed or reviewed (Chemerinsky, 2004). Such trials give the authorities tremendous power to convict whomever and however it wants without being held accountable. Information about such secret proceedings is classified and all participants have been ordered to maintain secrecy despite efforts of activists to disclose the truth.
Racial profiling is another limitation of freedoms and rights. It seems unjust and illegal to detain people and deprive them of a right to a due trial only due to their race. Today, the authorities can detain persons they deem suspicious for seven days (Chemerinsky, 2004). Moreover, suspected terrorists and their allies of different races are treated differently in terms of their rights. Thus, John Walker Lindh was given a trial as he was a white American citizen, while Yassir Hamdi was acknowledged as an enemy combatant and was detained without a right to a trial just as a result of his Arab origin though he was a US citizen, as well (Chemerinsky, 2004). Such practices are disturbing and alarming.
The Patriot Act has also had a significant impact on ordinary Americans as it has essentially limited their freedoms and rights. Thus, roving wiretapping, enhanced surveillance, tracing and tracking of e-mails, monitoring of the Internet, ability of the authorities to receive subpoenas for library and other public records without informing the targeted, lowering of standards from reasonable cause to merely relevance, transfer of wiretap order decisions to courts dealing with foreign affairs, powers of the authorities to detain and interrogate people deemed relevant to the investigation and racial profiling are only a few outcomes of the war on terror experienced by common Americans. No one doubts that security measures have to be enhanced and improved, but the majority of actions endorsed by the government as a part of the fight against terrorism are an invasion of people’s privacy and breach of their basic rights and freedoms that in fact constitute democracy. The system of checks and balances has been partially destroyed as the government has received unprecedented powers that may have a detrimental impact on the underlying foundations of the American society. As former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “The greatest threat to liberty will come from people who claim to be acting for beneficial purposes” and “The insidious threat to liberty will come from well-meaning people with zeal, with little understanding of what the Constitution is about” (Chemerinsky, 2004).
Personally, I have experienced the effect of the war on terror just like other Americans with respect to enhanced security at all public spaces, for instance, in airports. I have not suffered much from the invasion of privacy or breach of rights. However, I am worried about potential breach of rights and invasion of privacy. I do not feel comfortable knowing that the authorities can access my personal information and communication at any time without observing the standard of the probable cause. Therefore, I support an idea that the above-mentioned practices and policies should be carefully assessed and reviewed with a view to finding a balance between prerequisites of the fight on terror and a necessity to grant people basic rights and freedoms stipulated by democracy. Overall, terrorism is an international phenomenon that impacts the society in all respects and domains of life. However, such phenomenon also seems to be eternal due to its employment of undercover and covert tactics, which is why measures adopted to combat it should not have an adverse impact on the well-being of common people.