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What I've Learned
You would do well not to read this. Any second now this column may cause the paper to spontaneously combust.
When I was in the Army, we had a saying that went like this: John Wayne is dead. Jane Fonda lives. There is no God.
I believe in God, but I would, like other soldiers, repeat the above with fervor. That's because it wasn't really a comment about the existence of God. It was a comment about Jane Fonda and her traitorous behavior during the Vietnam War.
"But Jane Fonda was simply exercising her right to free speech," arguments in her favor go.
Here's where I begin to heat up. Perhaps you should set the paper on the table and stand back.
A 34-year-old U.S. citizen travels to a war zone, meets with the enemy, smiles as she is photographed aiming an enemy's anti-aircraft weapon, and then, while there, makes 10 radio broadcasts in which she praises the enemy and denounces the United States and its fighting men and women. And this is not treason, this is exercising the right to free speech?
I believe in freedom of speech. But I believe there is a danger in elevating it above all other freedoms and responsibilities. I believe that to do so throws our freedoms out of balance and threatens to topple them over.
Treason is the only crime specifically defined in the U.S. Constitution. Article III Section 3 says:
"Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court."
It goes on to say that "Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason ..."
The Federal Code, Title 18, does this. It says:
"Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States."
"But why bring this up now? All that Jane Fonda stuff happened 39 years ago," you may be saying.
I bring it up because the willingness to excuse treason in the name of free speech is more prevalent now then it was in 1972.
Not only should Jane Fonda have been tried for treason, but more recently, Dan Rather should have been tried for treason, and even more recently, the New York Times should have been tried, if not for treason, then for violating the Espionage Act. In time of war, you do not give aid and comfort to the enemy and you do not publish secret military plans and communications. Period.
Those who think that Private First Class Bradley Manning shouldn't be tried for both espionage and treason for breaking his vow of allegiance and turning over thousands of secret documents to WikiLeaks are willing, apparently, to sacrifice our country and all our freedoms on the altar of free speech. Those who believe that WikiLeaks did a commendable thing in publishing the documents and communiques that PFC Manning turned over are likewise willing to sacrifice our country and all our freedoms on the altar of free speech.
In 1919, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Schenck v. United States that the Espionage Act does not violate the freedom of speech of those convicted under its provisions. Likewise, treason does not violate the freedom of speech of those convicted, either, because free speech has limits, like all our freedoms do.
No way am I proud of everything the United States has done. We have made some terrible blunders. But I don't think the public good is served, nor is our security, nor are our freedoms, by the wholesale revelation of secret governmental and military documents ala Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks— particularly when the lives of our military men and women are put at risk as part of the process.
Most of the time, politics has no place in this column. Most of the time, this is a pleasant oasis, a place for things positive and interesting. But every so often, despite efforts to control it, fiery waves of dismay shoot from my fingers.
John Wayne is dead. Jane Fonda lives. People are calling Bradley Manning a hero. WikiLeaks has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Treason is not treason, but free speech. And I am Johnny Storm, the Human Torch.