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A groundbreaking collection of new pieces examining the effects of George W. Bush’s legislative assault on civil liberties following the terrorist bombing of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Foreword by Cornel West, author of Race Matters, with original essays by Michael Moore (Stupid White Men, Downsize This!), Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Tom Hayden (former California senator, author of Irish on the Inside), Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Robert Scheer (L.A. Times columnist), Ira Glasser (former head of the ...
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A groundbreaking collection of new pieces examining the effects of George W. Bush’s legislative assault on civil liberties following the terrorist bombing of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Foreword by Cornel West, author of Race Matters, with original essays by Michael Moore (Stupid White Men, Downsize This!), Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Tom Hayden (former California senator, author of Irish on the Inside), Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Robert Scheer (L.A. Times columnist), Ira Glasser (former head of the ACLU), Lillian Nakano, political cartoonist Matt Groening, Patti Smith, and many more. Also, firsthand stories from victims of civil-liberty infringement, such as the chief of police in Portland, Oregon, who resisted federal pressure, and Fathi Mustafa, a Palestinian caught in the wave of racial profiling.
This debut title from RDV Books is edited by the company’s three publishers. Danny Goldberg, president of Artemis Records and Sheridan Square Entertainment, has worked hands-on with more popular musical talent than any other recorded-music executive. He is also one of the very few who has worked with every major genre of popular music: rap, country, folk, classical, jazz, pop, rock, R&B, and jazz. Robert Greenwald is a filmmaker and has directed many feature movies, including Steal this Movie, Breaking Up, and Xanadu. Victor Goldberg (father of Danny) is formerly co-publisher of Tikkun Magazine and associate publisher at The Nation.
It is ironic that exactly when a free marketplace of ideas is necessary, when matters of life and death are the issues, when Americans may be killed in war, or may kill others, our freedom of speech disappears. Yet that is exactly what the Supreme Court decided at the time of the First World War, when the venerable Oliver Wendell Holmes, speaking for a unanimous court, said that freedom of speech cannot be allowed if it creates “a clear and present danger” to the nation. In fact, the case before the Supreme Court at that time was that of a man named Schenck, who had been imprisoned under the Espionage Act of 1917, which made it a crime to say or write things that would “discourage recruitment in the armed forces of the United States.” That was interpreted by the courts to mean that any statement made in criticism of the United States’ entry into World War I would constitute such discouragement, and was therefore punishable by up to ten years in prison.
But long before that “clear and present danger” criterion was enunciated by Holmes, it was, in effect, operating to negate the First Amendment. Indeed, barely seven years after that amendment became part of the Constitution, Congress did exactly what the amendment said it could not: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.” That was 1798, when, oddly enough, both the new revolutionary government in France and the new one in the United States were in a tense situation of “cold war.” Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts which made it a crime to say anything “false, scandalous and malicious” about government officials “with intent to bring them into disrepute.” A number of people who criticized the administration of John Adams were arrested and sent to prison under this Act.
But it was in the twentieth century, and especially during World War I, that suppression of free speech made the constitutional guarantee meaningless. Two thousand people were prosecuted, and a thousand imprisoned, for speaking against the conscription law, or against the war. An atmosphere was created in which it became very difficult to speak one’s mind, either because of fear of government prosecution, or because zealous citizens, catching the war fever, harassed and persecuted fellow citizens who opposed the war.
As an example of the absurdities that accompany wartime hysteria, the World War I period saw the prosecution of a filmmaker who made a movie about the American Revolution. Since the “enemy” in that movie was Britain, and since the U.S. was now allied with Britain, the court ruled that the film violated the Espionage Act. The title of the film was “The Spirit of ’76,” and the name of the court case was U.S. vs. Spirit of '76.
At the end of World War I came the notorious “Palmer Raids,” named after Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. Thousands of non-citizens were arrested, detained, and deported without hearings or any of the due process guarantees of the Constitution.
World War II brought more repressive legislation in the form of the Smith Act, which made it a crime to “teach and advocate” the overthrow of the government by force and violence. During World War II, eighteen members of the Socialist Workers Party in Minneapolis were given prison terms, not for specifically advocating such ideas, but for distributing literature like the Communist Manifesto. And over 100,000 Japanese-Americans were put in detention camps simply because of their national origin, a cruel act of wartime excitement.
The Cold War period that followed the Second World War created an atmosphere in which a hysterical fear of Communism led to loyalty oaths for government employees, imprisonment for Communists, and jail terms for anyone refusing to answer questions put to them by the House Committee on Un-American Activities about their political affiliations. It was a time when the FBI was compiling lists of hundreds of thousands of Americans who had in some way registered their dissent from government policies. Congress passed legislation allowing the deportation of non-citizens who were members of organizations listed by the attorney general as subversive. Although the United States was by far the most heavily armed nation in the world, there was an induced fear of the Soviet Union, and then of Communist China, which enabled the government to ignore the Bill of Rights. The fear was far out of proportion to the actual danger, to the point where children were told to hide under their schoolroom desks as protection against nuclear bombs.
Thus, there is a long history of loss of liberty in wartime which forms a precedent for what is happening in the United States since September 11: the intimidating proliferation of American flags, the harassment of people from the Middle East or indeed anyone looking like a Middle-Easterner, the mass detention of non-citizens without trial or due process. The question is whether Americans will at some point begin to understand that the “war on terrorism” has also become a war against the liberties of Americans, and will demand that these liberties be restored. Without the right to speak freely, to dissent, we cannot evaluate what the government is doing, and so we may be swept into foreign policy adventures with no oppositional voices, and later lament our silence.
Howard Zinn was a bombardier during World War II. As a professor at Atlanta's African-American universities in the 1950s, he took part in civil rights picket lines. He wrote the controversial and influential A People's History of the United States (Harper Perennial, 1980) and was one of the first academics to strongly oppose the war in Vietnam.
Posted October 11, 2002
Critical reading for an informed citizenry. Learn how 9-11 is being exploited to further the political agenda of the extreme right-wing in the USA. If we are not diligent, we may in the dawn of a new McCarthy era, wherein a simple unproven accusation is enough to ruin a person's life.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 30, 2002
Apparently windbags on the left are as eager to exploit the September 11 tragedy as are their noxiously gaseous counterparts on the right, which, as a progressive, I find distressing. Actually, this book is offensive on several fronts. First off, it is sloppily thrown together, with slipshod, clearly tossed-off contributions from many left-of-center journalists, some of whom (like Michael Moore) tend to speak before they think, thus hurting their cause, however worthy it might be. On top of that, the book is redundant, with contributors echoing each other over and over and over again. Better and much less indulgent editing would have helped here. The book¿s design, too, leaves a lot to be desired (it¿s downright ugly). The worst offense, though, has been committed by the book¿s publisher, which crassly released this volume just in time for 9/11¿s first anniversary, thus proving itself as rapacious as any fly-by-night right-wing press. But then, as I¿m sure the authors of this tome would agree, that's capitalism.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.