It's a Free Country: Personal Freedom in America After September 11by Danny Goldberg
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/i>/i>
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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 is Chairman of Artemis Records, an independent company with an artist roster that includes Steve Earle, Rickie Lee Jones, Warren Zevon, Boston, Kittie, and Khia. A longtime political activist, Goldberg is on the Board and Executive Committee of the NYCLU, and is President of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. He has written for The Nation, The American Prospect, Los Angeles Times, and Tikkun, for which he served as co-Publisher along with his father Victor.
Victor Goldberg is a longtime activist for civil liberties. He was an executive of the Collins & Aikman Corp. and was President of the Hudson Valley Broadcasting Corporation and is the President of Victor Goldberg Associates. He was co-Publisher of Tikkun and Associate Publisher of The Nation.
Robert Greenwald has produced and/or directed more than forty-five television, cable, and theatrical films, including the award-winning NBC-TV movie The Burning Bed, and the recent theatrical film, Steal This Movie, about Abbie Hoffman. Through his newly formed "Public Interest Productions," Greenwald is executive producing Unprecedenteda documentary about the 2000 election. Greenwald is on the Board of Directors of "A Place Called Home," a gang-prevention program in South Central Los Angeles, and of the Venice Community Housing Corporation, which provides low-income housing in Los Angeles. He also works with "Homies Unidos," a gang-violence prevention and intervention program with projects in El Salvador and Los Angeles.
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A Primer: Wartime Erosion of Civil Liberties" by Howard Zinn
Americans are proud of the Bill of Rights, and especially of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which declares that Congress may make no new law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Not many of them know that the First Amendment, while it looks good in print, becomes inoperable when the nation is at war, or when there is some tense international situation short of war (a “cold war”).
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.
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Danny Goldberg is a longtime music executive and political activist. He coproduced and codirected the rock documentary No Nukes and has written for the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, AlterNet, and others. He lives in New York City and is an ACLU officer and board member. This is his first book. ROBERT GREENWALD has produced and/or directed more than forty-five television, cable, and theatrical films, including the award-winning NBC-TV movie The Burning Bed, and the recent theatrical film, Steal This Movie, about Abbie Hoffman. Through his newly formed "Public Interest Productions," Greenwald is executive producing Unprecedenteda documentary about the 2000 election. Greenwald is on the Board of Directors of "A Place Called Home," a gang-prevention program in South Central Los Angeles, and of the Venice Community Housing Corporation, which provides low income housing in Los Angeles.
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