The news coming out of Fort Hood is shocking. Soldiers killed and wounded by one of their own. My heart goes out to the families and friends of those killed and wounded. No words can console them; they are bereft.
Tomorrow the pundits and analysts will start in. We will hear again about the need for gun control legislation and about our Constitutional rights. Major Hasan’s motives will be examined, and some will wonder why no one saw him as a threat. There will be proposals to beef up security at our military bases. Some of the proposals might even do some good. Some will seize on Maj. Hasan’s evident Muslim faith as a probable factor. Others will point to the majority of Muslims throughout the world who just want to live and let live.
No matter what comes out, however, about Maj Hasan’s motives, we should keep two facts in mind: We cannot guarantee anyone’s safety, and we don’t want a society that values safety above freedom.
We certainly ought to take all reasonable precautions to protect our service members. If we can prevent a recurrence of what happened at Fort Hood, let’s do it. We need to realize, however, that an open society will always also be dangerous. We could (theoretically) have a benevolent totalitarian society where the government provides protection for everyone. No one has guns except the government. No one can move from place to place without official permission. We give up every privacy and all our self-determination in exchange for safety and control. As individuals, we face these same choices all the time. We can accept responsibility for our actions and remain a danger to ourselves and others, or we can cede control to others who declare that they have our best interests at heart and let them tell us what to do.
One of the reasons why we still like hero stories—movies about tough good guys and rule-breaking bad-asses with hearts of gold—is that we value freedom above safety. I think all humans are like this, though there are differences in degree from culture to culture. What we seldom realize is that in opting for freedom over safety, we are also choosing hardship and suffering over comfort and ease. Even those of us who lead lives of relative ease, do so by offering our sons and daughters, our friends and companions, those among us who are willing to fight and risk death in order to preserve our freedoms. They buy our right to safety and comfort. Usually the price is low: a few years of service with good pay and benefits and moderate risk. Sometimes it is high: traumatic injury, mental disorder, physical and emotional scars. Occasionally it is exorbitant: death.
Freedom isn’t free. It’s not free in the political world, and it’s not free in the spiritual world. Some of us must suffer and even die to maintain our freedoms. We don’t get to choose who among us will be the ones to pay. So everyone must be ready.