Freedom of Speech and Swans

by Gilles d'Aymery

October 1, 2001

Share this story by E-mail


"My freedom does not depend on your loss of freedom – my freedom inherently affirms your freedom."
   –From an anonymous post on craiglist.org, by a person using the nickname <steel>

I've received an unusually high amount of e-mails following the publication of our September 17 issue of Swans. Beside the customary basket of hate mail that leaves me unfazed and that I ignore and delete from my computer's hard drive (haters, you are wasting your time and your bandwidth), a substantial number of readers felt offended by, or criticized the content of the articles. In a nutshell, the sentiments expressed by these critics can be characterized thus: This is a time to unite, not to dissent; time to march to the same drum, "to band together to accomplish one goal" (presumably waging the War on Terrorism); and the sempiternal call, in the times of crisis and high emotions, to patriotism associated with raising and waving the flag.

Any dissent, any disagreeing opinion – or any other, different opinion or endeavor to place these horrendous attacks in a wider context – is immediately construed as inappropriate, unpatriotic, dangerous, apologetic, and the like. Those who can remember (or who read history books) William Randolph Hearst and the Yellow Press in the late 1800s, the muzzlement of the anti war movement following Pearl Harbor (and the incarceration of Japanese-Americans), or McCarthyism, will not be excessively surprised by those reactions.

Any effort to understand and analyze events as shocking, gruesome and repugnant as the civilian carnages that took place on September 11, 2001, any suggestion that its immediate official response, a call to war, is a mistaken path to enter, is placated as ill-founded at best and treasonous at worse.

The results are almost instantaneous, concrete and visible. For cause:

The publisher of The Texas City Sun fired columnist Tom Gutting for having written that the president was "flying around the country like a scared child, seeking refuge in his mother's bed after having a nightmare," and after having received scores of letters and phone calls. (Source: The New York Times, September 28, 2001.)

Dan Guthrie received the same treatment from the publisher of The Daily Courier, in Oregon. Mr. Guthrie's sin? He criticized "the president, saying he 'skedaddled' after the attacks." (Source: idem.)

Bill Maher, the host of the late-night talk show, "Politically Incorrect," was forced to apologize for the comment he made that the hijackers were not cowards, "but that it was cowardly for the United States to launch cruise missiles on targets thousands of miles away." He even attracted the following rebuke from Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary: [in times like these,] "people have to watch what they say and watch what they do."

Radio of America was strongly criticized by Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesperson, for having aired a report based on an interview with the head of the Taliban regime, Mullah Mohammad Omar.

There are examples galore.

I for one keep handy a short quote by Spinoza: "...Car la perfection des choses se doit mesurer d'après leur seule nature, et les choses ne sont pas plus ou moins parfaites parce qu'elles flattent nos sens ou qu'elles les blessent." What Spinoza says can be translated approximately, "...For the perfection of things must be measured by their inner nature, and things are not more or less perfect because they please our senses or they offend them."

Watch what they say... Watch what they do...

It is often remarked that in time of war the first casualty is truth. I am not certain it indeed is (as truth is another of those words with multiple constructs) but in any case, next in line is and has always been liberty, civil liberties – and more specifically, free speech.

This issue rises far beyond the limited grasp of knowledge of this humble, gadfly editor, and Swans is no more than a droplet in the universe, navigating far under the radar screen, to be much concerned by the present hysteria – albeit, being a legal-alien, I must confess to a rather uncomfortable sense of uneasiness when I see the new laws being concocted in the corridors of powers (and I am also well-aware of citizenships having been stripped from dissidents during the McCarthy era... The notion of safety can entail various meanings, can't it?).

Still, there are legitimate questions to be asked from those "patriotic" voices who would like everybody to see, hear, and talk alike.

What would these voices do or how would they treat Mrs. Amber Amundson, the wife of the late Craig Scott Amundson, an enlisted specialist in the Army who perished in the attack against the Pentagon? Mrs. Amundson writes in an open letter published on September 25, in The Chicago Tribune, "I call on our national leaders to find the courage to respond to this incomprehensible tragedy by breaking the cycle of violence. I call on them to marshal this great nation's skills and resources to lead a worldwide dialogue on freedom from terror and hate." Indeed, how would they treat her? Like a traitor? Like a divider? A fool, an idealist? Or simply, justly, like a grieving and loving wife who in the midst of her personal tragedy reaches to higher understandings and compassion?

Let's read the last paragraph of her open-letter: "I do not know how to begin making a better world: I do believe it must be done, and I believe it is our leaders' responsibility to find a way. I urge them to take up this challenge and respond to our nation's and my personal tragedy with a new beginning that gives us hope for a peaceful global community." (Source: http://chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/oped/chi-0109250299sep25.story.)

"...Hope for a peaceful community....dialogue on freedom from terror and hate....breaking the cycle of violence..." Undoubtedly the words of a traitor or a deranged mind, right?


Closer to Swans, what about Helen Mader and her letter to the president and her representatives in Congress. She writes, "Please do not bomb Afghanistan or other countries. It is imperative that we use U.S. intelligence and other resources to locate the terrorists who attacked us last week.

Any attack on the Afghanistan people at large will only create more suffering and violence in the world.

[...] Please do not start bombing people!"

Another deranged individual? Another traitor? Certainly, if one follows the logic of the critics, Helen Mader must be quite an unpatriotic American... Right?

If so, then could these critics attempt to explain the fact that Helen Mader and her husband, Steve, are flying the flag in front of their house, with dignity, quietness, and sadness?

Spinoza again... Dissenting voices are no more and no less patriotic than flag waivers, and the latter are no more and no less patriotic than dissenters.

In other words, in a less extreme geography of the mind and its emotions, it represents the genuine meaning of Free Speech. The same freedom that allows anonymous posters on Military.com to advocate the use of nuclear or neutron bombs – or delight in the burning capabilities of napalm; the same freedom that gives <Steel> the possibility to affirm that very freedom.

Are these critics better at ease, more comfortable with the like of those people spilling hate and destruction in the safety of their anonymity, or with Swans' contributors who sign their pieces with their real names and write without hate?

We do have internal debates, agreements and disagreements among us. I often would rather see the use of different words and language on Swans. And some contributors, members of the flock, certainly would at times like me to be more or less forceful. But, at the end of the day, I'd rather err on the side of more rather than less free speech, even though it may offend a few sensitivities here and there.

Finally, let no one forget what Swans is about: To bring ideas, opinions and thoughts that are not represented in the main media, so that you the readers, the visitors, may form your own opinion.

With this, I'll leave you with a few famous and enduring words:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
   –First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

Freedom of speech...

Freedom of the press...



Thank you for reading Swans.


Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted. All rights reserved.

                                 E-mail this article to someone
       Enter her/his E-mail address: 



This Week's Internal Links

Memorial - by Alma A. Hromic

For Washington, A Lining Of Black Gold In This Dark Cloud? - by Stephen Gowans

Anarchy Is Loosed Upon The World - by Alma A. Hromic

The Enduring Reign of the Shruggers - by Antony C. Black

Soldier, Can You Hear? - by Andreas Toupadakis

Can We Change? - by Michael W. Stowell

Remember What Makes Us Great - by Eli Beckerman

My Letter To Government Officials - by Helen L. H. Mader

Questions and Answers on Achieving Peace - by Andreas Toupadakis

Media Pundits Advocate Civilian Targets - by FAIR

Bring Back Napalm - by Anonymous posters on a military forum

Arguments for using Strategic Weapons (Nuclear)... - by Anonymous posters on a military forum

The Armagheddon Game - by Anonymous posters on a community forum

If Dr. Seuss Was On This Plane... - by Aleksandra Priestfield

The War Prayer - by Mark Twain


Published October 1, 2001
[Copyright]-[Archives]-[Resources]-[Main Page]