Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Helping The Enemy

Eugene Volokh has a post about those who Inadvertently Help The Enemy.
“To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty,” Attorney General Ashcroft famously said not long after September 11, “my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies ....” That’s McCarthyism, some replied.

Here’s another quote, this one from the president: “Our nation has felt the lash of terrorism.... We can’t let [a certain group] turn America into a safehouse for terrorists. Congress should get back on track and send me tough legislation that cracks down on terrorism. It should listen to the cries of the victims and the hopes of our children, not the back-alley whispers of the [group].” The president was Bill Clinton, and the group that he was condemning was the “gun lobby,” which opposed some gun-control proposals that Clinton favored.

There was a good deal of noise during the first few years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that Americans not showing a united front was an encouragement to the enemy to continue, believing we would grow weary - and a discouragement to possible allies in those countries, who might be less willing to take risks for freedom if they thought we would leave soon.

Two points: There was never any move to "silence" any critics. No one was denied the airways or the right to publish, nor was there even any hints from the WH to media that they should deny anyone access. Certainly there were no prosecutions or legislation introduced. Nor were any of the war's supporters - even the nutcases - ever found to be advocating any such suppression. The fevered claims of the critics that the administration was trying to silence opposition and was engaging in some fascist censorship turns out to have been absolutely untrue. As was noted repeatedly on non-leftist sites at the time. The comments were purely advisory, that people should think about the impact and consequences of their words. Which we all should do anyway. Interpreting the verbal caution as a harbinger of stalinist censorship that was just about to ramp up is now clearly revealed to have been entirely in the critics' imagination.

Next, sometimes the right thing to do does turn out badly, and people die from it. Stopping the townsmen from raiding the jail and stringing up the James Gang without a trial is the right thing to do. However, when the sheriff or the judge turn out to be crooked and the gang gets away to kill again, the person who did the right thing might feel some guilt anyway. Any of us might wonder if the right thing was really the wrong thing. But pointing out that actions have consequences and asking everyone to act accordingly is not censorship.

1 comment:

karrde said...

I do wonder if those people who insisted that there were ongoing efforts to Silence the Opposition during Bush's Presidency had ever heard of the Sedition Act promoted and enforced by Wilson.

That was a dark time for the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.