Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Our hard won freedoms, or why I think Americans shouldn’t lie for Al-Qaeda

with 10 comments

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.)


Written by unitedcats

January 28, 2007 at 5:55 pm

10 Responses

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  1. I think you may enjoy my recent post which tries to illustrate the dangers of oppression as it relates to the history of the Nazi rise to power…you probably know all this stuff already, but if you want to check it out feel free to visit my blog.

    There is indeed a fine line that must be drawn when it comes to speech…but I’m more of a proponent of pushing the boundaries than backing away from them…if we back away…we lose…if we cross the line…we lose. It’s a conundrum, for sure.


    January 28, 2007 at 7:43 pm

  2. Oh come on, Doug. Jane Fonda might have been tasteless but “enemy combatant” would require her to have actually been a combatant — not just posed for a photo but actively alleged to have operated the equipment or otherwise engaged in hostile action.

    No one should be tried for imaginary offenses.


    January 31, 2007 at 7:44 pm

  3. Point taken. How about providing aid and comfort to the enemy? I’m not sure if she crossed the line, but I do understand why veterans are upset with her. The AA gun thing was not the only issue. And for the record, there’s other people who damn well should have been tried on far more serious charges, Nixon comes to mind. JMO —Doug


    January 31, 2007 at 9:38 pm

  4. Doug, you’re using the language of treason, and that would be a high hurdle. We don’t do treason prosecutions much and for good reason, they are strictly limited in the constitution because they were abused by regimes past.

    Stop trying to criminalize dissent, however uncomfortable it makes you or anyone else.


    February 1, 2007 at 1:23 am

  5. Call it what you will, but Jane Fonda travelled to a land we were at war with and willingly took actions that not only gave our enemies propaganda galore, American POWs were tortured to get them to participate in smiling photo ops with her. Maybe this still falls within the realm of constitutionally protected dissent, but I wish the issue had been decided by the courts, not politics. JMO —Doug


    February 2, 2007 at 9:59 am

  6. I’m not defending what she did, Doug. We don’t prosecute people unless we expect to convict. What would you expect to convict Jane Fonda of and how would you sentence her if proven guilty?

    The penalty for treason is capital punishment, by the way.


    February 2, 2007 at 10:24 am

  7. Treason. I’m not a legal expert, but at least one legal expert thinks she was guilty of treason:

    Yes, it’s a very serious charge. Travelling to a country we were at war with and talking to their government officials was a very serious business, this wasn’t just someone practising dissent.

    I can think of a number of people who I think should have been charged with treason, Jane is fairly far down the list and one of the few liberals on the list. As I’ve said all along, I don’t know if she should have been charged, nor do I know if she was guilty, I’m not a legal expert. I’ve read a lot more about the case now, and my opinion hasn’t changed: I wish it had been resolved in a courtroom.

    Yeah, treason is one of the few cases where I think the death penalty is sometimes appropriate. In this case, naw. JMO –Doug


    February 3, 2007 at 5:50 pm

  8. My context is one of someone born in 1971, so the events of Vietnam are something that I was certainly unaware of while it was going on.

    I don’t doubt that Jane Fonda made some people very angry, and that anger may be very well deserved. But I wouldn’t consider it treason unless someone openly took up arms against Americans, and even then it would be important to understand the mitigating reasons. It’s just not a good thing to chill dissent, and even if you wouldn’t have her executed, there is a very real possibility that she would be if she were convicted of the charge.

    I think she has apologized at least in part, and has declared herself a Christian now. Whether that has any relevance to you, I wouldn’t know.

    I don’t believe it is ever right to kill other than in necessary defense.


    February 4, 2007 at 10:30 am

  9. Upon reflection (and research) treason requires that intent to commit treason be proved. Hard to prove in any case, and in this case I do not believe she intended to betray her country. So however misguided her actions may have been, they did not constitute treason. :) Doug


    February 10, 2007 at 7:12 pm

  10. Thanks, Doug. It’s good to know you aren’t unjust.


    February 10, 2007 at 11:28 pm

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