Our hard won freedoms, or why I think Americans shouldn’t lie for Al-Qaeda
North Vietnam, 1972.
Jane Fonda seated in the operator’s chair of a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. While I am an adamant supporter of freedom of speech, this was beyond the pale. This was aiding and abetting the enemy. While I believe every American citizen should be free to travel where they want and say what they want, if they actually join our enemies and become an enemy combatant, there should be consequences. And having your picture taken seated in the operator’s chair of an enemy’s weapon during a war certainly seems like a definition of “enemy combatant” to me. It was of great propaganda value to the North Vietnamese.
I think she should have been arrested and tried when she returned to the United States. Would she have been found guilty? I don’t know. Should she have been found guilty? Again, I don’t know. The point is that she should have been tried and judged by a jury of her peers. However, Nixon was months from an election and trying to withdraw from the war, so he chose not to have her arrested and tried for political reasons. For more information on Jane’s actions in this regard, then and since, snopes has a good write up on Hanoi-ed with Jane. For more pictures and a less flattering take, check out Hanoi Jane.
Jane’s dismal story does illustrate the limits of freedom of speech. Should there be limits to what people can say? Of course there should, almost everyone would agree that it’s not OK to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre and claim it as an exercise in free speech. Slander is rightfully outlawed, as is incitement to riot. In fact the basic tenet of freedom of speech is that it should be OK to state your opinion publicly without fear of censorship or reprisal. Freedom of speech is a basic human right that is clearly stated in the United States Constitution, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the laws of most countries on Earth.
So where the hell does the Nazi idea that criticism of the president or his policies is a crime fit into all of this? Well, the Nazis were strong proponents of it, though they did not originate it. As the war went badly for Germany, any criticism or doubt about Hitler and the war could be and was punished by death. War heroes, professors, college students, and many other fine Germans were publicly beheaded for expressing their opinion about Hitler and his war. While few in America are calling for the death penalty for expressing one’s opinion yet, this is a slippery slope I’d rather not head down.
More to the point, rather than say what is wrong with limiting our freedom of speech, it’s more important to understand what is right with having and exercising our freedom. Freedom is what makes us great and strong, freedom is what makes us the good guys. If we start acting like our enemies…we are no better than they are. If we are fighting for our freedom, …how can we fight for freedom with one hand while curtailing our freedom with the other?
Anyone who cannot stand to hear dissenting opinion, must not be very firm in their own beliefs. If a war is a great idea, why are people afraid to debate it? The decisions about war are possibly the most important decisions the Republic will ever make, the future of our nation depends on doing the right thing. War is not a cheering contest, winning requires sound strategy and foreign policy above all. How can we not discuss this openly and honestly? Are we not a free people?
If an American says that expressing our opinions benefits our enemies, they are saying that we should let our enemies govern what we say. When we let our enemies dictate our public discourse, we’ve already lost. I will not lie for Al-Qaeda. People who suggest we muzzle our opinions are the ones advocating surrender to extremists, not the people who are proud to act like free citizens of a free country. I am not afraid of Al-Qaeda, and I am not afraid of my neighbour’s opinion, no matter how much I might disagree with him or her. As long as we are free, we stand with our nation’s founders and all who have followed in ther footsteps, we cannot lose.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit and it is an historically important image.)