Above, Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security speaking on September 16
A couple of days after I began this most recent hiatus, Secretary Johnson spoke at Westminster College in Missouri. An old friend happened to be in the audience. I have not seen any media coverage. I’ve since found a transcript.
In his speech the Secretary tells a personal story that I had not previously heard. For me it is compelling because the story is–at least as the Secretary renders it–a parable of a compromised hero, principles long-defended but ultimately forsaken, and an early death. This is an interesting parable for a Secretary of Homeland Security to choose to tell. I hope you will read his story and the entire speech.
Here are a few lines from toward the end, well after the personal story was concluded.
I can build you a perfectly safe city, but it will amount to a prison.
I can guarantee you a commercial air flight perfectly free from the risk of terrorist attack, but all the passengers will be forced to wear nothing but hospital-like paper smocks, and not be allowed any luggage, food, or the ability to get up from their seats.
I can do the same thing on buses and subways, but a 20 minute commute to work would turn into a daily, invasive two-hour ordeal. You’d rather quit your job and stay home.
I can guarantee you an email system perfectly free from the risk of cyber attack, but it will be an isolated, walled-off system of about 10 people, with no link to the larger, interconnected world of the Internet.
I can profile people in this country based on their religion, but that would be unlawful and un-American.
We can erect more walls, install more screening devices, and make everybody suspicious of each other, but we should not do so at the cost of who we are as a Nation of people who cherish our privacy, our religions, our freedom to speak, travel and associate, and who celebrate our diversity and our immigrant heritage.
In the final analysis, these are the things that constitute our greatest strengths as a Nation.
More and more I perceive that true security — like happiness? — is most likely to be achieved as the result of effort primarily focused elsewhere. Viktor Frankl wrote, “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”
There are interesting lacunae in the Secretary’s speech, especially interesting for a lawyer with a reputation for detail. It goes beyond what the Secretary actually says, but in those pregnant spaces I hear something similar to, “Security cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it does so mostly as the side effect of a peoples’ dedication to a cause greater than their own safety.”