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By Tom Fink - Claremore (OK) Progress
Claremore, Okla. - Those present for a U.S. judge's award presentation this week got more than a pat “thank you” speech — they got a cautionary discourse about the loss of freedom.
Lee R. West, U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma, was this year’s recipient of the Rogers State University 2006 Constitution Award, presented annually to an Oklahoman who has demonstrated a strong commitment to the principles of the Constitution.
During his speech, West provoked thought from the crowd of local dignitaries and visiting high school students when he began to address his concerns over Americans gradual surrendering of their freedoms.
“Over the last few years, I’ve had to downgrade myself from optimistic to cautiously hopeful,” he said. “It seems that ‘City on the Hill’ we strove to build has been contracted out to Halliburton and Wal-Mart is bidding for the naming rights.
“Since September 11, we’ve squandered our unprecedented stockpile of hard-won goodwill with our pre-emptive war in Iraq, mistreatment of prisoners, and refusal to recognize long-established international laws as the Geneva Conventions,” he said. “Internationally, America is now viewed by many as a bigger threat to world peace than Iraq or North Korea.”
West then asked the crowd to be quiet and listen to the apparent silence. “Can you hear it?,” he asked. “Listen close — it’s very subtle — no sirens, no wail from the Emergency Broadcast System, just a soft, steady chipping noise.
“I’m nearly 77 years old and hard of hearing, but I hear that chipping noise get a bit louder every day,” he said. “Maybe it helps if you’ve heard it before — the sound of freedom being whittled and carved away. A lot of Americans don’t hear what’s happening, or if they do, they don’t care or know how to stop it.”
West’s concerns originated in what he saw as the incremental loss of individual freedoms through acclimation.
“There’s an old saw that says you can’t cook a frog by dumping it live into a pot of boiling water — it feels the heat and instantly springs out of the pan,” he said. “If you want to cook a frog, pop it into a pot of cool water and set it on a low flame. The water gets hotter and eventually boils, but the frog, growing used to the gradual heat, sits happily in his bath until he boils to death.
West expressed his concerns over American’s surrendering their freedoms in a “mis- identified” war.
“When I heard we were locked in a war on terror, I thought, ‘Oh, good, maybe when we’ve conquered terror, we can take on disappointment, or perhaps lethargy’,” he said. “You can’t wage a war on human emotion.”
One alarming trend West noted since 9/11 was the increased labeling of those who question people in power as being “Anti-American.”
“I don’t know where the idea came from to not criticize the government in times of war,” he said. “Teddy Roosevelt said ‘To announce there must be no criticism of the president or we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but morally treasonable to the American public.”
“I’m guessing Teddy Roosevelt would not have been threatened by the Dixie Chicks,” he added.
West also entetained the crowd, dismissing being called the most popular U.S. District judge in Oklahoma as akin to being “the tallest building in Antlers, Oklahoma.” He recounted his humble beginnings and career path, noting one particular period where he was somewhat less than popular.
“I can see some of you wondering where you’ve seen me before, well, my picture kind of made the rounds a while back when I issued a ruling that the national Do-Not-Call Registry for telemarketers was invalid,” he admitted. “It’s a little unsettling to find oneself almost universally condemned by 51 million complete strangers from New York to Los Angeles.”
Although the House of Representatives, Senate, and President amended legislation in just over 24 hours, West said it seemed like “all 51 million angry Americans” seized the opportunity to call his home or office to express their outrage.
“Jay Leno gave my home phone number out on national television, and (wife) Mary Ann took the brunt of the calls at home,” he said. “She whole-heartedly agreed with the most abusive callers, so she made many new friends out of the deal.”
West concluded his oration with a boon to the high school students in the audience, encouraging them to stay alert and not blindly surrender their freedoms out of fear.
“ “Despite the challenges of the future, I still have hope because I see a younger generation with energy and determination that America can live up to its promise,” he said. “I have hope because I can see you listening, and I know your ears are sharp. Once attuned, those ears will always be sensitive to that soft, chipping noise — to the haunting sound of dying liberty.”
Tom Fink writes for the Claremore (Okla.) Progress
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