L.A. Mentary, February 2006
To the Editor:
When I first wrote New Jersey Prof Urges Fragging of U.S. Officers, my intent was to inform the readers of this event, and to insert my personal reaction to this professor’s behavior. While I always welcome a rousing debate, I did not write this article with a debate in mind. So, when I discovered that the Editor had written a detailed response to my article, I protested that I had been “sandbagged,” in that I had written to inform, not as an opening salvo in a debate, and so was placed at a disadvantage by the editor.
Arvin and I communicated amicably about my objection to his response, and decided on this method for resolving the situation.
Arvin approached his response as a legal exercise in Constitutional Law – which is not surprising, since he is in law school, and this is where his head is every day (and night, probably).
Actually I don’t have any serious disagreements with what Arvin has written in response to my article – from an intellectual point of view. His pullout states it elegantly: “We give ground on this principle when we believe the harms of free speech outweigh the benefits, but we should give grudgingly.”
I spent a career defending the right of people like Professor Daly to speak their individual and collective minds, even when I disagree with their point of view. I have often risen up in defense of an unpopular speaker, precisely because in our nation we each have the right to be heard, or – more accurately – to speak our minds.
When I was an undergraduate at University of Washington in the 1960s, student speakers would regale other students from a raised platform in front of the Student Union Building. I quickly discovered that my point of view was significantly less popular than that of members of the politically-left “Students for a Democratic Society.” In fact, when one of their members spoke, his words were received with hushed anticipation. On the other hand, when I attempted to have my say, I was regularly shouted down – effectively denied my right to speak – by those whose very theme purported to be a “Democratic Society.”
That action by the other students was a genuine violation of my right to free speech. I was attempting to present a point of view, however unpopular, but was prevented from doing so by other people who had the option of simply walking away instead of shouting me down.
What Daly was doing is quite another thing, however. Our country is at war, both in Iraq (and to some extent, still in Afghanistan), and we are also fighting a world-wide conflict against al-Qaeda and other elements of fanatical Islam. War-time brings with it unusual circumstances, and sometimes even temporary restrictions on individual freedoms. The unfortunate nature of our terrorist enemy is that we really don’t have a good handle on where he is, how he is organized, and who actually belongs to his world-wide terrorist effort.
In this conflict, if we wait for something to happen before we react, we will be victims of a long string of “9/11-like” events, with probable U.S. citizen casualties amounting to the millions. Our only option – if we choose to survive without these horrendous casualties – is to catch the terrorists before they can accomplish any of their nefarious deeds.
The process of finding and catching these guys is what temporarily restricts some of our individual freedoms. In this venue, it is less than bright for any person in a position of responsibility or authority to look or sound like a terrorist. Such a person will inevitably get swept up in the process of protecting all of us. Hopefully, if such a person is just stupid and not really a terrorist, things will eventually get sorted out, and he or she will be released from custody.
But then again, maybe not, and I – for one – am not willing to give such fools any privileges based on a theoretical right to say anything, if one hair of those dear to me is at risk because of such person’s behavior.
Daly acted from a position of authority, using his academic “bully pulpit” to advocate the killing of American military officers by their own troops; furthermore, he did so while being paid from public monies. I simply don’t care whether or not this communication happened in a “private” email or was spoken from his podium in front of his students. Furthermore, I am equally ambivalent as to whether or not there is a theoretical basis for “extended freedom of speech” privileges within the academic community. This guy aids and abets terrorism on “my” dollar, even though he himself probably is not a terrorist, and he belongs in a position where “I” am not paying his salary, and where his speech cannot have any national security repercussions. By any measure, this simply is not as a teacher of anybody, anywhere.
This entire situation is not a free-speech issue at all, but rather a national security issue. Any argument trying to assess this issue in a free speech venue is disingenuous at best, and may actually border on becoming itself a national security threat if the consequence of the argument is increased risk to individual Americans.
I will continue fighting to protect our freedoms, including free speech. That notwithstanding, I will personally do everything possible to terminate anyone whose actions directly threaten those I love.