Archive for Monday, June 17, 2013

Of spying and civil liberties

June 17, 2013

There has been a tremendous national uproar over the government’s admission that it has monitored e-mail and other computer functions as well as phone calls. Generally following party lines, this is viewed as necessary for national defense or another attempt by “big brother” to run our lives.

Personally, I don’t care if someone monitors my e-mail or phone calls. In fact, I feel sorry for them because that would be the most boring job you could have. Mostly my e-mail and a majority of my phone calls are unnecessary. I don’t do social media like Facebook or Twitter because I have more important things to do than chronicle my hourly activities. I’m not putting down those who love social media, but it is not for me.

I looked at my e-mail for a couple of days and of the 60 or more epistles, only five were important. They were reminders of meetings and I responded to each, either saying I would attend or giving my regrets. Five of the e-mails dealt with the Kansas City Royals. I count these as important because I’m a fan. Each week I receive the Kansas Press Association electronic newsletter and the Unified Government newsletter. Both are fascinating reading.

The remainder is pure junk. Each day I receive a couple of messages trying to sell me an electric wheelchair-type unit. I am bombarded with advertisements of diabetic supplies. By the way, I am not diabetic and I have no idea where they got my name. Each day, I can easily have a credit card with no background check. There are usually several that want to help me with my future including scholarships and job offers. I have a college degree and at age 76, I’m not looking for work.

The same is true for my phone calls, which mostly involve talking with grandchildren about sports and visiting with our daughters and other friends. There are few calls about community projects I’m involved with, however most of my phone calls are unwanted solicitations. Incidentally, these pests like to call at dinnertime, and they seem to magically know to call at an exciting point in a ball game or TV show. I have learned to hang up quickly. Basically, anyone checking my messages would need to drink a lot of coffee to stay awake.

If you think the alleged government scrutiny is new, you are wrong. President Lincoln suspended several civil liberties during the Civil War. But what he did is mild to what was done during World War I and afterwards. When the USA entered the war in April 1917, there were attempts to build anti-German sentiment. Anyone with a German last name was suspected as a spy and speaking German was forbidden. In central Kansas, German-Lutheran schools were closed down. Residents couldn’t eat sauerkraut. There were “patriotic” groups that spied on their neighbors and were urged to report suspicious “German” activities. A number of actors and athletes changed their names so they weren’t suspected of being German. In short, anything that had a German sounding name was forbidden under penalty of law. There were even lynchings of German citizens. It was a time of overheated patriotic fervor.

After the war, anti-German feeling subsided, however there was prejudice against any “non-native born” American. Throughout the years, the United States has dealt with personal freedom issues including “Communist witch hunts” in the 1950s. Of course we can’t leave out the treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

One of the great principles of this county is that it can face controversy and deal with it. Most cases of spying on citizens’ activities in our history are now just a paragraph in a history book. There is no doubt that we will survive this crisis, too.

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