This is the third of three excerpts from Tony Blankley’s new book “American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win the 21st Century” (Regnery, 2009)
During wartime, there is a natural tension between civil liberties and national security. Security must take precedence. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration rolled back very few civil liberties. Aside from establishing a regime for handling captured foreign terrorists, the curtailments largely consisted of common-sense enhancements in the power of intelligence agencies to monitor terrorism suspects and access their personal records. And the administration did so, in a limited way, because it rightly deemed these restrictions in America’s national security interests. Bush’s steps were modest, yet liberal journalists reacted as if he were the reincarnation of Stalin, or, more to their taste, Hitler.
Some observers reject outright the necessity of enhanced government powers. Denying that we are currently in a time of national peril, some argue that Islamist fascism does not present an existential threat to America. In a December 2008 draft report, a bipartisan, congressionally mandated commission found there was a better-than-even chance that terrorists would attack a major international city with weapons of mass destruction in the next few years. The threat of some kind of nuclear device being detonated in America is greater now than it was during the Cold War, when the doctrine of mutually assured destruction ensured that no nuclear weapons were used in what we used to call the balance of terror.
Faced with this imminent threat, to insist on the continuation of all the civil liberties we enjoyed during the 1990s is to handcuff the government in its war fighting efforts, making another terror attack more likely. My argument is simply this: a temporary reduction of personal and media freedoms is an acceptable price to pay in order to lessen the chance that Islamic fanatics will commit further atrocities against the American people.
During World War II, a federal Office of Censorship was created to review and if necessary censor any criticism of the morale of U.S. forces, or any communication that might bring aid or comfort to the enemy. Censorship applied not only to news and commentary, but also popular entertainment. Anti-war films were all but unheard of, since the government simply would not allow them.
At the beginning of World War II, around twenty-six news stories were censored in the American press every day; by the end of 1942, the Post Office had completely outlawed seventy newspapers. Compare that restrictive environment to the laxity that prevails today, when the , absolutely unhindered by the government, prints op-ed submissions by the likes of Mahmoud al-Zahar, a founder and top official of Hamas, which is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. Mousa Abu Marzook, a Hamas terrorist who is listed as a specially designated terrorist by the U.S. Treasury Department. Similarly, a website run by the and saw fit to run a piece on the meaning of jihad written by Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, a spiritual leader of Hezbollah, another U.S.-designated terrorist organization.
It is hard to imagine the population on the home front during World War II waking up one morning, opening the paper, and finding a direct appeal to the American people from a top official from Nazi Germany’s Propaganda Ministry, or an entreaty from an Imperial Japanese pilot suspected of participating in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
There is no reason why newspapers should remain free to publish direct appeals to the American public from members of designated terrorist organizations. Most important, the media should not enjoy the unfettered right to publish national security, intelligence, and military secrets. These revelations can be so damaging to national security that sanctions should be enforced not just against government officials who leak secrets, but also against the journalists and media outlets that disclose them.
Congress must clarify the law so that publishing government secrets that endanger our national security and our wartime efforts will be severely punished. American newspapers should foster a free debate on government policies, not act as agents of enemy sabotage.
Tony Blankley is the author of “American Grit: What It Will Take To Survive and Win in the 21st Century” and vice president of the Edelman public-relations firm in Washington.
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