Thursday, August 25, 2005

American Legion Wants to Ban Public Protest Against War

Irony fairly drips from this item in Editor & Publisher:

The American Legion, which has 2.7 million members, has declared war on antiwar protestors, and the media could be next. Speaking at its national convention in Honolulu, the group's national commander called for an end to all “public protests” and “media events” against the war.

"The American Legion will stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples," Thomas Cadmus, national commander, told delegates at the group's national convention in Honolulu.

The delegates voted to use whatever means necessary to "ensure the united backing of the American people to support our troops and the global war on terrorism."

In his speech, Cadmus declared: "It would be tragic if the freedoms our veterans fought so valiantly to protect would be used against their successors today as they battle terrorists bent on our destruction.”

He explained, "No one respects the right to protest more than one who has fought for it, but we hope that Americans will present their views in correspondence to their elected officials rather than by public media events guaranteed to be picked up and used as tools of encouragement by our enemies." This might suggest to some, however, that American freedoms are worth dying for but not exercising.

Without mentioning any current protestor, such as Cindy Sheehan, by name, Cadmus recalled: "For many of us, the visions of Jane Fonda glibly spouting anti-American messages with the North Vietnamese and protestors denouncing our own forces four decades ago is forever etched in our memories. We must never let that happen again….

"We had hoped that the lessons learned from the Vietnam War would be clear to our fellow citizens. Public protests against the war here at home while our young men and women are in harm's way on the other side of the globe only provide aid and comfort to our enemies."

Resolution 3, which was passed unanimously by 4,000 delegates to the annual event, states: "The American Legion fully supports the president of the United States, the United States Congress and the men, women and leadership of our armed forces as they are engaged in the global war on terrorism and the troops who are engaged in protecting our values and way of life."

Cadmus advised: "Let's not repeat the mistakes of our past. I urge all Americans to rally around our armed forces and remember our fellow Americans who were viciously murdered on Sept. 11, 2001."

Let's see. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to peaceful assembly, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Cadmus and the American Legion apparently believe those freedoms encompass only writing letters to elected officials.

Cadmus would permit Americans to correspond with their elected officials presumably because he believes that fulfills the requirements of the First Amendment without endangering U.S. troops; i.e., no one but the writer and the recipient will ever know about the letter's contents. But if Cadmus thinks that public antiwar protest and coverage of such by the media harm American soldiers because "our enemies" find out about the protest and gain strength from it, then one has to ask: If Americans sent antiwar correspondence to their elected officials in large numbers, wouldn't the news of that get out eventually? What if an elected official gets lots of antiwar letters and decides to respond to his or her constituents' concerns by calling for a withdrawal of troops? Isn't that precisely why we write to our elected officials? Because we hope they will take public action on the issues we write them about?

Would online petitions be permitted? Anyone can view the signatures on an online petition, you know. Would public polling be permitted? Would journalists be allowed to ask congressional aides how their mail is running on the war, and would the aides be permitted to answer? The point is, any expression of opposition to a war, no matter how private and individual it seems, will become public knowledge at some point and news about it will leak out to the rest of the world, unless the government assumes control of all information about the war and imposes total censorship on any discussion of the war that is not government-sanctioned. And when that happens, you are not living in a free society anymore.

It also needs to be pointed out that when Cadmus says, "Public protests against the war here at home while our young men and women are in harm's way on the other side of the globe only provide aid and comfort to our enemies," he is expressing an opinion, not a fact. This is Thomas Cadmus exercising his First Amendment-guaranteed right as a freedom-loving American to engage in public acts of support for the Bush administration's war against Iraq. How does this man who believes that he fought to protect the freedom of all Americans justify denying the same freedom to me that he allows himself?

It would be tragic if the freedoms that the founders of our country fought and struggled and worked so hard to establish were to be used against those founders' descendants today as they protest and resist attempts by the supporters of war to deny all of us essential freedoms in exchange for an illusory security.

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