Patriotism and Free Speech
By Lawrence Hagerty, October 9, 2001
Divide and conquer. Those are sound tactics,
and they are being used against us. According to most of the
opinion polls I have seen, over 90% of all Americans are in
favor of the continuation of U.S. bombing raids in Afghanistan.
And let us be perfectly clear about this, when we bomb Afghanistan
our intent is to inflict damage that must ultimately be born
by the long-suffering people of that ill-fated land. If there
actually is such overwhelming support in this country for
continuing the cycles of violence (although I am not convinced
such broad support truly exists), then it is even more important
that our national dialogue include voices who admittedly are
in the minority on this issue.
Perhaps I am overly naïve, but I was
shocked at how quickly some previously enlightened voices
of reason joined the “bomb ‘em back to the stone age” chorus.
Even formerly sound intellectuals like Christopher Hitchens
lost their balance. How else can one explain Hitchens’ unseemly
comparison of Noam Chomsky with Falwell and Robertson. Madness
can be the only explanation, a madness brought about by a
tragedy that is just too great for some minds to bear. And
thus, the small and fragile coalition for peace begins to
collapse as well.
If ever there has been a time for a calm
and collected discussion of all aspects of the perilous age
we have just entered, it is now. Opinions offered by persons
who hold no actual power to direct events on the world stage
are just that, opinions. They are certainly not “attacks.”
If we are to believe the words of President Bush, that freedom
will not yield to terrorism, then it is imperative that the
bedrock of all our other freedoms, free speech, be preserved
at all costs. One of those costs is to give a fair hearing
to all sides of an issue.
What do we, as a nation, gain and what
do we lose when local television stations cancel programs
like Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect” because he had the
audacity to question the cherished belief that the United
States can do no wrong? To my mind, simply asking unpopular
questions is a highly patriotic act. Hard questions like the
ones raised by Chomsky and Maher are not intended to weaken
this nation. Quite the contrary. These questions are being
asked in an attempt to engage our citizens in a discussion
of issues that a few of our leaders would just as soon we
ignored. Taking a stand against an unlimited war against an
unfocused enemy is certainly not anti-American.
Recently we heard the President’s personal
spokesman give the chilling warning that we Americans had
better be careful about what we say. And we heard the Secretary
of Defense, quoting Winston Churchill, tell us to expect outright
lies coming from the Pentagon. Even an impartial observer
would have to score this one: Terrorists 2, Free Speech 0.
I can’t speak for the men and women wearing U.S. military
uniforms today, but I can vividly recall being proud to defend
the right of anti-war protestors to demonstrate, even though
I was then on the “other side” while serving in Viet Nam.
My guess is that many of our servicemen and women feel the
same way today.
Free speech is not always easy to defend,
particularly when it flies in the face of majority opinion.
However, as we learned from our most recent presidential election,
the majority does not always carry the day. For those of us
who believe that intelligent human beings should be able to
solve their disputes without resorting to massive violence
and destruction, the right, actually the OBLIGATION, of speaking
freely is of prime importance. Eventually our leaders will
grow weary of bombing large rocks into small rocks, and then
some serious questions must be asked. For example, what is
our exit strategy for these military campaigns? How many civil
liberties are to be forever forfeited in the name of domestic
security? How is our foreign policy going to change once we
have moved the entire world to a permanent war footing? What
forms of speech are to be forbidden as “terrorist acts?” And
who is to be allowed to ask these questions? The destiny of
our nation may well depend upon the answers to these and other
difficult questions. Let us pray that we remain free to ask
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