Columnist Pitts at Wake Forest convocation: freedom requires "guts"
October 12, 2006
Americans need to have the guts to act like Americans and not be so afraid of terrorism that they’re willing to give up the very ideals the country was founded on, Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist and author Leonard Pitts Jr. said at Wake Forest University’s Fall Convocation Oct. 12.
Pitts quoted Colin Powell’s admonishment the day after the 9-11 terrorist attacks for people to resume their normal lives because “We are Americans, we don’t walk around terrified.”
"Yes, we do,” Pitts told the audience of faculty and students in Wait Chapel. “And because we do, the people in our government for whom civil liberties are an inconvenience get away with murder.”
Pitts, a nationally syndicated columnist who lives outside Washington, D.C., won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2004. His column in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, “We’ll Go Forward From this Moment,” a defiant open letter to the terrorists, has been widely quoted.
Pitts’ appearance was funded by the Smith Richardson Foundation and is part of the university’s new “Voices of Our Time” guest speaker series, which brings renowned experts to campus to discuss timely issues. His speech will be broadcast in its entirety at 1:30 p.m. Saturday on public radio station WFDD (88.5 FM).
While spending much of his 30-minute speech criticizing the government for eroding civil liberties, Pitts also criticized the news media, which, he said, have shown less guts than the Dixie Chicks in questioning those actions.
Free speech, the right to a fair trial and protection from unreasonable searches “are not incidental to who we are,” he said. “They are not minor elements of the reason this country is the envy and the dream and the goal of people around the world. They are the core of us.”
But he noted with alarm that 51 percent of Americans in a recent survey said they would give up basic rights to be protected from terrorism. Too many of us are “willing to voluntarily jettison our unalienable rights,” he said, as soon as the government “whispers the right scare words in our ears: terrorism, terrorism. ‘Take away my rights, Mr. government man, just keep me safe.’ ”
The government’s efforts to curtail individual freedoms extend far beyond its efforts to stop terrorism, he added, citing examples from the Terri Schiavo case to the controversial Patriot Act. “The people for whom civil liberties are an inconvenience see their moment, they are emboldened and they are on the move.”
Noting that the title of his speech, “Home of the Brave,” came from “The Star- Spangled Banner,” he audibly contemplated the first part of that line: the land of the free. “That struck me as a telling conjunction of words: ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave,’” Pitts said. “I don’t think we have distinguished ourselves by our bravery in this era. Fifty-one percent of the electorate (is) willing to suspend its own civil rights, willing to suspend the things that make America, America because they are scared of terrorists… It is time all of us grew a spine. Because, there is one undeniable truth about being the land of the free and the home of the brave; if you do not have the guts to be the one, you will soon cease to be the other.”