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The loss of freedom of speech

By
August 22, 2007

Professors John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard University are two very senior scholars who are currently taking very intense heat.

Next month, their book “The Israel Lobby” will be published. They argue that the United States is too closely allied with and too accommodating of Israel. Predictably, their viewpoint has generated very hostile criticism. Several organizations that had scheduled appearances by the authors have canceled under pressure, including at least one East Coast academic institution. That is regrettable.

Some years ago, the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, where I worked, received extremely intense organized pressure to cancel an event with a PLO official. We did not do so. Our chairman, John D. Gray, chairman of Hart, Schaffner & Marx, demonstrated courage. The Council Board of Directors at that time also was strongly supportive.

Over the years, there was diverse pressure to cancel speakers or alter formats. Those unhappy with the Council’s program included local representatives of foreign governments, among them Canada and Japan, opponents of reconciliation between Northern Ireland Catholics and Protestants, and others.

When a telephoned bomb threat disrupted a lecture by then-U.S. Rep. Paul Findley, R-Ill., a critic of Israel’s policies, we went on with the meeting in an adjacent stairwell. When troubled young followers of radical Lyndon LaRouche tried to break up a meeting on international banking, they were effectively escorted from the premises. We never gave in to bullying.

These examples relate to a much more profound lesson, essential to the survival as well as success of our society. Winston Churchill evolved over the years into a genius at collecting all sorts of information, and also people. One of the most pivotal of the latter proved to be Frederick Lindemann, a brilliant Jewish East European emigre who held a chair in physics and philosophy at Oxford. Despite Lindemann’s impressive professional success, especially in a foreign country, he remained a social outcast. No doubt anti-Semitism was one factor in 1930s Britain.

Lindemann’s primary problem, however, was Lindemann, who was a relentless know-it-all and generally obnoxious. Churchill’s granddaughter, Celia Sandys, politely described him as “anti-social.” Even Churchill’s endlessly patient, tolerant wife, Clementine, resisted having the Oxford don as a weekend houseguest, but Churchill insisted.

When Churchill returned to government as head of the admiralty at the start of World War II in Europe, he immediately recruited Lindemann, who was given freedom in selecting his staff and generally in choosing his work projects. The scholar, who was particularly talented at statistical analysis, had one mission: to undermine the conventional wisdom and established naval plans of the government.

After Churchill became prime minister with the fall of France, Lindemann’s role expanded to general strategic oversight and review, but his basic task in the midst of the enormously complex war remained continuous. He was to undercut whatever was proposed by the admirals and generals, the civil servants and politicians, and the members of government — including the prime minister. Churchill assumed that Lindemann would enjoy his role but also expected him to excel, as indeed proved to be the case.

World War II could easily have turned out differently. Imagination, resulting in the ability to do the unexpected, was a crucial ingredient of Allied success. Reliability of information was another. Lindemann drove these dimensions.

Defend open forums and free speech. The legacy of Churchill, Lindemann and others who saved our freedom demands no less.

(Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War” (Palgrave/Macmillan and NYU Press). He can be reached at acyr(at)carthage.edu.)

2 Responses to The loss of freedom of speech

  1. allan hirsh

    August 22, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    mr. hirsh
    Some of my best friends are Jewish also.

  2. bryan mcclellan

    August 22, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    Habeas corpus is the trunk of the tree from which the branches of our freedoms grow,freedom of speech and the right to face and question an accuser without fear of repercussion being the basis of these protections.Last week some cat called abdul the ky insulted every sensibility I hold dear with scripted o’rielly and limbaughesque spin.I resisted advising him to shut up and go away and I’m glad his ignorance was allowed to flow here at CHB as it opened a window into the minds of those we are battling with to secure our constitution and bill of rights.To cite an example and I can’t validate this as yet but it’s proof of why the free flow of information is so vital.The government is now recruiting evangelicals under threat of losing tax exempt status to tell their followers to surrender peacefully to weapons confiscation when martial law is declared, and to not resist any order given by government officials,to include, FEMA directives to turn in your neighbor for dissident speech .Scary isn’t it,especially if it’s true..Mr. Cyr has sounded a clarion call for us to stand up and be counted on to fight the misinformation machine and secure all individuals right of open discourse in the public forum.Having them out in the open won’t help us to sleep any better but it gives us the upper hand when the time to challenge them is necessary . Infowars.com is where I heard the evangelical story I mentioned.Granted Mr Jones is a little strident, but he does claim government documents back up his assertions.Better to sift through it all before reaching any conclusion as to fact,even when it is something we don’t like hearing.