by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
Oct. 5, 2001
DON'T LET FREE SPEECH BE A CASUALTY OF WAR
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The thought police are on the prowl, making sure that all good Americans stand united and resolute behind President Bush and his Administration in the conduct of the war against international terrorism.
No one must dare point out the inconsistencies in logic, the double standards and the other nonsense associated with launching an all-out war against a shadowy foe in a region where other superpowers have been badly mauled. Better to get on the team than to stop and think independently.
As we get ready to begin a war that will have no clear beginning and no clear end, our nation seems to be in a reprise of the Persian Gulf War, when the flags and yellow ribbons were everywhere and dissenters were told to shut up.
When Bill Maher, host of "Politically Incorrect," brought up the U.S. penchant in recent years for fighting wars with bombs and cruise missiles launched from safe distances, he was roasted in the media and sponsors such as FedEx and Sears dropped their ads. Newspapers in Texas and Oregon publicly apologized for running anti-Bush columns and in the case of the Texas paper, fired the columnist who wrote the offending piece.
And the right-wing hacks on the airwaves and in the newspapers such as Cal Thomas, David Horowitz, Don Feder, Bill O'Reilly, Charles Krauthammer and Andrew Sullivan believe anyone who opposes Bush and his policies are "appeasers," or "fifth columnists" and that anyone who dares to mention that the messy history of U.S. foreign policy in the past half-century may have played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks are guilty of "moral equivalency" at best and "treason" at worst.
White House mouthpiece Ari Flescher used the Maher controversy as an excuse to issue this pronouncement: "Americans need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is." Freedom of speech? Not when there is a war on, in the view of the Bush administration.
But it's not just lefties and dissenters who are getting the lash from the conservative super-patriots. Secretary of State Colin Powell, one of the few voices of reason in the Bush cabinet, is getting criticized by conservatives for spending too much time building international alliances instead of stepping aside to allow Bush to declare war on most of the Islamic world. A group of prominent conservatives that includes William Kristol, Jeanne Kirkpatrick and William Bennett is urging Bush to take on Iraq, Iran and Syria after finishing off Osama bin Laden's terror network.
As usual, the Democrats are meekly following along. Everything that Bush has wanted prior to Sept. 11 -- capital gains tax cuts, oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve and Star Wars -- will likely be rammed through Congress with little opposition.
Democracy, it seems, is unpatriotic in wartime.
Even more unpatriotic is pointing out that Bush lost the popular vote in the election by more than 500,000 votes and probably didn't win Florida but by the grace of judicial chicanery and political thuggery. The press consortium made up of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and CNN was supposed to release its report on the Florida recount last month. They decided to sit on the report, lest they be seen as undermining the war effort by questioning the legitimacy of Bush's election.
How ironic that the Post and the Times, both of which risked everything in 1971 to print the Pentagon Papers, decided to take a pass at upholding the First Amendment 30 years later.
Before every remaining dissenter is cowed or bullied into silence, let us remember this: without an open, thorough debate about our ultimate goals in the impending war; without this nation achieving a consensus based on truthfulness and our ideals of freedom and democracy, the war against terrorism will be a failure.
Fundamentalism is based upon the idea that only one group alone knows the truth and that those who know this truth are correct and all others are wrong. Because this truth is correct, all others must believe the truth or else. Free will, tolerance of opposing views and the democratic process do not fit into the world of the fundamentalist.
But our nation was not built on these principles and we cannot allow ourselves to become like the enemies we will soon be fighting. Few can defend the Sept. 11 attacks, but to examine the root causes of why they happened and thinking critically about an appropriate response is not treason, but patriotism of the highest order.
"The toughest thing for me is the official line that terrorismarises fro a kind of spontaneous combustion against the virtuous,"longtime peace activist Father Daniel Berrigan recently told the LosAngeles Times. "(That) excludes the thought that one appropriate response is a national examination of conscience. This is just the latest extension of an older American idea that the evil kingdom is always somewhere out there and the virtuous kingdom is always somewhere within our borders."
Thoughtful dissent is rarely honored in America. But it is necessary to a healthy democracy, especially now. Let all viewpoints have their day, and show the fundamentalists both here and abroad the principles of free speech and free thought that are the cornerstones of true liberty.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).