At book events, it’s not unusual for someone to ask a particularly hard question and I have to think fast. I know that my immediate answer isn’t the whole story, isn't the best response, and later I chew on what I could have said. That happened Monday, when a woman asked, “Doesn’t the government have the right to protect us from terrorists like ISIS? Even if they make mistakes every once in a while?”
What I said: Yes, the government’s job is to protect its people. But if we acknowledge that terrorist attacks are criminal acts by individuals and groups, not acts of war by nations, then we should use our criminal justice system to charge and try them. We should not respond by shredding the constitution and ignoring the rule of law. I also said that if we stopped invading and bombing other countries and killing their people with drones, there would be fewer terrorist attacks against us.
What I wanted to say: “The U.S. government made one of those “every once in a while mistakes” when it executed my mother-in-law. Ethel Rosenberg was held hostage to try to pressure her husband into confessing. That was NOT okay.
What I could have asked her: “Do you have grandchildren? If the government by mistake detained and interrogated one of your grandchildren, like they treated Gandalf in my novel, would that be okay with you?”
What I could have said: The logical conclusion of what you are saying is that it’s okay to do anything necessary to protect our country, as long as that anything is being done to someone else, someone you don’t know and love.
Or I could have quoted Benjamin Franklin: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Of course, whole books could be written on this topic and I keep thinking about other responses. Do you have suggestions of other things I could have, should have, said?