Closing ranks

A bereaved mother of a murdered son has a right to her grief and anger and may even be excused for a certain degree of confusion. The only thing wrong with Cindy Sheehan's vigil is that it's in the wrong place.

Saddam Hussein's regime was notorious for harboring Islamic terrorists such as Abu Nidal. President Bush was right to respond by overthrowing that regime and managed to do so with surprisingly little loss of life. Then the deposed Baathists resorted to terrorism against the US troops and the people of Iraq. They were then joined by non—Iraqi terrorists who slipped across the porous borders and among other things, probably killed Mrs. Sheehan's son. The source of these terrorists, and their sponsorship by the Iranian government, was confirmed again last week by the British army unit that intercepted a shipment of weapons across the Iran—Iraq border.

Someone should give Mrs. Sheehan a plane ticket so that she can go to Washington DC to resume her angry vigil in front of the Iranian embassy. And I for one would be happy to join her there.

But Ms. Sheehan's mislocation is, or should have been, a minor incident. Unfortunately, neither she nor those who chose to join her seem to have thought out the inevitable consequences of their protest.

Free speech is, thank God, a guaranteed right in this country. But it does have limits, such as Justice Holmes' example of shouting "fire!" in a crowded theater. In domestic issues, this limit is difficult to reach. We can contact our President or congressmen, write op—eds or letters to newspapers, and even (as I once did) send voting recommendations to everyone on our Christmas card list. If we are against capital punishment or abortion or certain political candidates, we can march in public demonstrations, contribute to ads on TV, and put big signs on our front lawns.

But matters of foreign policy are different. For one thing, the public does not have access to all the facts. The White House and Pentagon often have critical information that must not be revealed to hostile foreign powers or terrorists and therefore cannot be disclosed to the press or the U.S. public. Therefore, it is unlikely that private citizens have the knowledge and competence to justify public protest. Admittedly, if President Bush were to continue to talk of war while Mr. Cheney and the Cabinet and the White House staff all resigned, one might conclude that things had gotten out of hand and take to the streets. But as long as the government seems to be reasonably unified and functional, we should avoid public protest about foreign policy.

Private protests are legitimate: the senator who receives our letter will weigh the possible loss of our vote against our ignorance of the true facts of the issue. Even the President, although free from worries about reelection, may be swayed by a deluge of dissenting letters. But when we go public in our disagreement, we are undermining the power of our Government to negotiate abroad. When we march in protest against our foreign policy, we encourage enemy nations and terrorists to defy us, as was painfully evident in Iraq's much—publicized glee over U.S. anti—war demonstrations.

And to make things worse, the media, both American and foreign, act as irresponsible amplifiers for any public protest. As Poe (a newsman himself) pointed out, the purpose of newspapers is not to inform but to create a sensation. And in order to do so, they will not for a moment hesitate to compromise U.S. interests or policy. Newsweek proved that conclusively with their recent "Qur'an in the Toilet" story. Because of the irresponsibility of the media, a public protest against our foreign policy is as reckless as lighting a cigarette in a gunpowder factory.

To make matters worse, the press is abetted by other irresponsible factions.

The political party that happens to be out of power has often shown its willingness to embarrass our image abroad in the hope that it will be of advantage to them in the next election. Among the worst offenders are entertainers, who are notorious for their avidity for publicity.  For example, one actor, although a well—meaning and sincere gentleman, has played the President on TV for so long that he thinks he really is the President—or at least is competent to make presidential decisions.  And what is worse, some devoted viewers may share his delusion.

But whether the offenders are publicity—hungry entertainers, reputation—hungry reporters, opportunistic politicians, or just poor saps who get a kick out of demonstrating in front of TV cameras, the damage is nonetheless real. All have chosen to undermine their nation's bargaining power in international conference tables and embolden our avowed enemies. Perhaps, in the months to come, more American soldiers may have to die than would have been necessary if these dissenters had kept their mouths shut. Regrettably, Ms. Sheehan may have achieved exactly the opposite of the effect she naively intended.

In saying this, I do not propose that we enact laws to restrict public expression of freedom of speech; we know all too well where that leads. But I do propose that, as a matter of conscience, we should all pause and reflect carefully before engaging in public demonstrations that undermine our nation's image and hinder its ability to act in international affairs.

Paul Shlichta is a research scientist who is currently writing a Manual of Methods for dealing with business and everyday life.

A bereaved mother of a murdered son has a right to her grief and anger and may even be excused for a certain degree of confusion. The only thing wrong with Cindy Sheehan's vigil is that it's in the wrong place.

Saddam Hussein's regime was notorious for harboring Islamic terrorists such as Abu Nidal. President Bush was right to respond by overthrowing that regime and managed to do so with surprisingly little loss of life. Then the deposed Baathists resorted to terrorism against the US troops and the people of Iraq. They were then joined by non—Iraqi terrorists who slipped across the porous borders and among other things, probably killed Mrs. Sheehan's son. The source of these terrorists, and their sponsorship by the Iranian government, was confirmed again last week by the British army unit that intercepted a shipment of weapons across the Iran—Iraq border.

Someone should give Mrs. Sheehan a plane ticket so that she can go to Washington DC to resume her angry vigil in front of the Iranian embassy. And I for one would be happy to join her there.

But Ms. Sheehan's mislocation is, or should have been, a minor incident. Unfortunately, neither she nor those who chose to join her seem to have thought out the inevitable consequences of their protest.

Free speech is, thank God, a guaranteed right in this country. But it does have limits, such as Justice Holmes' example of shouting "fire!" in a crowded theater. In domestic issues, this limit is difficult to reach. We can contact our President or congressmen, write op—eds or letters to newspapers, and even (as I once did) send voting recommendations to everyone on our Christmas card list. If we are against capital punishment or abortion or certain political candidates, we can march in public demonstrations, contribute to ads on TV, and put big signs on our front lawns.

But matters of foreign policy are different. For one thing, the public does not have access to all the facts. The White House and Pentagon often have critical information that must not be revealed to hostile foreign powers or terrorists and therefore cannot be disclosed to the press or the U.S. public. Therefore, it is unlikely that private citizens have the knowledge and competence to justify public protest. Admittedly, if President Bush were to continue to talk of war while Mr. Cheney and the Cabinet and the White House staff all resigned, one might conclude that things had gotten out of hand and take to the streets. But as long as the government seems to be reasonably unified and functional, we should avoid public protest about foreign policy.

Private protests are legitimate: the senator who receives our letter will weigh the possible loss of our vote against our ignorance of the true facts of the issue. Even the President, although free from worries about reelection, may be swayed by a deluge of dissenting letters. But when we go public in our disagreement, we are undermining the power of our Government to negotiate abroad. When we march in protest against our foreign policy, we encourage enemy nations and terrorists to defy us, as was painfully evident in Iraq's much—publicized glee over U.S. anti—war demonstrations.

And to make things worse, the media, both American and foreign, act as irresponsible amplifiers for any public protest. As Poe (a newsman himself) pointed out, the purpose of newspapers is not to inform but to create a sensation. And in order to do so, they will not for a moment hesitate to compromise U.S. interests or policy. Newsweek proved that conclusively with their recent "Qur'an in the Toilet" story. Because of the irresponsibility of the media, a public protest against our foreign policy is as reckless as lighting a cigarette in a gunpowder factory.

To make matters worse, the press is abetted by other irresponsible factions.

The political party that happens to be out of power has often shown its willingness to embarrass our image abroad in the hope that it will be of advantage to them in the next election. Among the worst offenders are entertainers, who are notorious for their avidity for publicity.  For example, one actor, although a well—meaning and sincere gentleman, has played the President on TV for so long that he thinks he really is the President—or at least is competent to make presidential decisions.  And what is worse, some devoted viewers may share his delusion.

But whether the offenders are publicity—hungry entertainers, reputation—hungry reporters, opportunistic politicians, or just poor saps who get a kick out of demonstrating in front of TV cameras, the damage is nonetheless real. All have chosen to undermine their nation's bargaining power in international conference tables and embolden our avowed enemies. Perhaps, in the months to come, more American soldiers may have to die than would have been necessary if these dissenters had kept their mouths shut. Regrettably, Ms. Sheehan may have achieved exactly the opposite of the effect she naively intended.

In saying this, I do not propose that we enact laws to restrict public expression of freedom of speech; we know all too well where that leads. But I do propose that, as a matter of conscience, we should all pause and reflect carefully before engaging in public demonstrations that undermine our nation's image and hinder its ability to act in international affairs.

Paul Shlichta is a research scientist who is currently writing a Manual of Methods for dealing with business and everyday life.