Senator Lindsay Graham, in response to the Koran-burning incident and subsequent riot, had this to say:
I wish we could find a way to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war. During World War II, we had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy.
“Inspire” is an interesting word in this context. If someone during WWII had gone around giving speeches asserting that a German/Japanese victory would be a good thing, yes it is possible that the FDR administration would have found a way to get him arrested and kept in prison for the duration of the war. And if someone during WWI had done the same thing,the Wilson administration would almost certainly have had him arrested.
The present-day analogy for such speech giving, though, would be something like Michael Moore’s 2004 statement:
The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’ or ‘The Enemy.’ They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow—and they will win.
Pretty inspirational, if you’re a member of Al Quaeda or the Taliban, wouldn’t you say? And there have been dozens of similar statements from academics, entertainers, “activists,” etc. But I don’t remember Lindsay Graham calling for the arrest of such individuals. (Although he has talked about wanting to ban flag-burning)
Maybe Graham was really objecting not to inspiring the enemy, but rather to inciting the enemy by offending them. And since Graham wants to talk about WWII, let’s do exactly that. Charlie Chaplin’s filmed mockery of Hitler was certainly offensive to that dictator and to the other senior Nazis, and could have been viewed as inciting them to continue the war rather than making an early peace–but I don’t think the Roosevelt administration ever considered having Chaplin arrested for incitement.
Ah, Senator Graham might say, that is not a good analogy. The Koran burning did not just offend those who are fighting against us; it offended all Muslims everywhere.
Okay, let’s improve the analogy. During WWII, many if not most Americans tended to conflate “Nazis” with “Germans”–cartoonist Bill Mauldin once observed that a front-line soldier was less likely to refer to the enemy as “those dirty Nazis” than as “those God-damned Krauts.” Suppose someone back in the States had taken this sentiment to extremes by holding a ceremonial burning of the key documents of German history and culture–Beethoven’s music, Goethe’s plays, the sermons of Martin Luther, in addition to photographs of Bismarck and both Kaisers.
And suppose that Hitler, in a fury, had ordered the retaliatory killing of 100 American prisoners of war and the destruction of a historic village and cathedral in France, together with the execution of all the villagers.
Does anyone think the American response would have been to demand the arrest of the idiot who had burned the documents? I doubt it. Much more probably, the response would have been directed toward the enemy, and would very likely have involved B-17 and B-25 bombers.
What Lindsay Graham has done is to propose, or at least to toy with, the idea of enacting “the thug’s veto” into law. He would ignore, override, or finesse the First Amendment and essentially turn the US government into a subcontractor for any faction, anywhere in the world, which demonstrates a sufficient level of violence when they are “offended” by the speech of any American. Those who are not prone to violence, of course, would not get benefit of this special treatment. Any guesses of what this policy would do to the general level of violence in the world?
See related article in today’s WSJ by Dorothy Rabinowitz, who critiques General Petraeus’s statement on the Koran-burning (which included the phrase “in this case, perhaps, understandable passions”) and notes that:
To this the only sane response is no. They are not understandable, these passions that so invariably find voice in mass murder, the butchery of imagined enemies like the people hunted down in the U.N. office Friday, and of everyone else the mobs encountered who might fit the bill. We will not prevail over terrorism and the related bloodlust of this fundamentalist fanaticism as long as our leading representatives, the military included, are inclined to pronounce its motivations as “understandable.”
It was fine and entirely appropriate for Petraeus to condemn the Koran-burning as “intolerant”, it was unwise of him to use a term like “understandable” in connection with the passions that led to the rioting and the murders, and it was entirely despicable of Lindsay Graham to suggest using this as an excuse to infringe on the freedoms of all Americans.
More comments from Lindsay Graham here. These ramblings are rather confused: he now seems to be saying that he knows we can’t limit free speech because of the Constitution, but that it would be really nice if we could.
In the late 1930s, Winston Churchill spoke of the “unendurable..sense of our country falling into the power, into the orbit and influence of Nazi Germany, and of our existence becoming dependent upon their good will or pleasure…In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands” which “may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty.” A “policy of submission” would entail “restrictions” upon freedom of speech and the press. “Indeed, I hear it said sometimes now that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians.” (Excerpt is from The Last Lion: Alone, by William Manchester.)
Churchill’s concern was not just a theoretical one. Following the German takeover of Czechoslovakia, photographs were available showing the plight of Czech Jews, dispossessed by the Nazis and wandering the roads of eastern Europe. Dawson, editor of The Times, refused to run any of them: it wouldn’t help the victims, he told his staff, and if they were published, Hitler would be offended. (Same source as above.)
Appeasement as an excuse for tyrannical behavior is never a good idea…not in Britain in the 1930s, not in the United States today.