Goodnight Moon. Goodnight NSA.
What can jolt Americans into seeing that security comes only through transparent civic institutions?
- While the nation gently slumbers away, the US's overgrown national security apparatus stands watch.
- The NSA systematically undermines transparency and responsible civic dialogue among adults.
- The NSA and its many Congressional acolytes are only too happy to treat Americans as “Goodnight Moon” children.
The NSA disclosures have shown that Americans (and others) are watched, recorded and analyzed from A to Z. Unfortunately, it seems that most Americans are willing to accept an overreaching Big Brother state — in exchange for what they perceive as “security” against terrorism.
Parents in the United States have read this story, published in 1947, to their children for generations (quite a few parents inadvertently memorize it from repeated readings). Indications are that parents in at least 13 other countries — including China, Japan, Korea, Brazil and several European countries — have had the same experience, in translation.
Reading “Goodnight Moon” is a beautiful ritual. It works its magic in putting a child to sleep with endless repetition in the soothing voice of a parent or other caregiver.
But some day, don’t those children need to grow up?
Just imagine: Sitting in bed this time is the scared American nation. In a child-like fashion, it craves the repetitions of assurances that it will be safe. And while the childlike nation gently slumbers away, the U.S.’s overgrown national security apparatus stands watch. Its ever-metastasizing machinations do not deliver a lasting security.
Instead, it systemically undermines transparency and responsible civic dialogue among adults. Of course, many politicians – including at the highest level – preach those virtues, yet precious few really practice them.
There is no denying that the NSA and its many Congressional acolytes are only too happy to treat Americans as “Goodnight Moon” children: “Just listen to us babble and then fall asleep. In a dangerous world, that’s the best you can do.”
A more adult stance would be informed by the English poet Mathew Arnold. He concluded wisely that the world “hath really neither… certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.” His 1867 poem “Dover Beach” prescribes tougher medicine and far more realism than the lull of “Goodnight Moon.” He suggests only one thing – that people be true to one another. In our context, the only answer is for the United States to be true to its guiding civic principle of government of, by and for the people.
The great 21st century American question remains unanswered: What is enough to jolt Americans into seeing that true security comes only through strong and transparent civic institutions? Or are the American people collectively willing to bury the powerful idea of civil liberties for fear of – what precisely?
More sense of global reality and civic pride is needed, and quickly.