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December 30, 2006

On Questioning the War

Here's a description and partial excerpt of a great Senate speech (with narrative) on First Amendment rights during wartime:

[He], for example, took the floor of the Senate to challenge the "campaign of libel and character assassination" that had been directed against those who opposed the war. He charged that citizens and senators alike had been subjected to intimidation and vituperation by "the war party in this country". The goal, he maintained, was "to throw the country into a state of terror, to coerce public opinion, to stifle criticism, and suppress discussion of the great issues involved in this war."

He conceded that "in time of war the citizen must surrender some rights for the common good" but he argued that this did not  include the "right of free speech." To the contrary, even "more than in times of peace it is necessary that the channels for free public discussion... shall be open and unclogged" so that citizens may freely discuss "every important phase of the war," including its causes, the manner in which it is being conducted, and the "terms upon which peace should be made". [He] concluded that "it is no answer to say that when the war is over the citizen may once more resume his rights," for "now is precisely the time when the country needs the counsel of all its citizens."

Those aren't the sentiments of Robert Byrd, one of the Senate's great orators, but of Robert La Follette, Senator from Wisconsin. The year was 1917, and the debate was on account of the "Espionage Act", passed by a congress responding to the fear- mongering of President Wilson during WWI. The excerpt comes from the superb recent book by law professor Geoffrey Stone titled Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime, From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism.

Wilson had not only promoted the idea that "German spies and sabatuers" [Stone] were everywhere among us, he hired George Creel, a master of public relations, to create a full-scale propaganda campaign called the Committee on Public Information (CPI) to whip the public into a war fervor. The CPI project also had the consequence of sewing hatred and fear of all things German, and branding any American citizens who questioned the propaganda as complicitors and traitors. Stone describes it this way:

In World War I, Creel's efforts concentrated on two main themes: feeding hatred of the enemy and promoting loyalty to the nation. The CPI produced war movies, such as The Kaiser: The Beast of Berlin, that depicted unspeakable German atrocities. Its pamphlets, speeches and editorials included vitriolic attacks on German culture, false charges that Germans and German Americans were orchestrating criticism of the Wilson administration, and incendiary attacks on the loyalty of those who questioned the war.

If you replace the words "Germans" and "German Americans" with "Muslims" and "Muslim Americans", the whole enterprise sounds and feels awfully familiar.

Now that our great Pretender-in-Chief has successfully orchestrated the deathly act of revenge over which he has obsessed since 1991 (the killing of Saddam Hussein), I have to wonder how much more hostility he and his neocon propagandizers will visit upon American citizens. And now that a newly elected Democratic Congress has promised to investigate some of the most outrageous crimes wrought by this administration - from unparalled levels of war profiteering and hightly questionable usurpation of executive power to unconstitutional attacks on our civil liberties (the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th amendments all come to mind) - we should wonder just how far this administration and the authoritarians who sit at its helm are willing to go in defending the indefensible act of attacking, invading and occupying a sovereign nation that posed us no immediate harm. As the saying goes, "desperate men do desperate things". George W. Bush, now the embarrassing embodiment of the phrase "lame duck", is nothing if not desperate.


Posted by shoephone on December 30, 2006 at 04:36 PM in National and International Politics | Permalink


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