Sunday, July 26, 2009

Book Review: Perilous Times a history of free speech in wartime


A thorough examination of America's history of censorship during war-time, and the evolution of the supreme court's conception of our 1st amendment rights. Despite the density and seriousness of the topic, Stone has a somewhat light touch, and manages to mix in fascinating biographies of the many heroes of free speech and association in American history. From Matthew Lyon - a republican senator jailed by the Adams administration under the Sedition Act of 1798, to pacifists imprisoned and censored by Lincoln's administration during the Civil War, to the massive criminal repression of socialists and anarchists like Eugene V. Debs by Wilson in the first World War, McCarthyism, Vietnam era protest, up to the War on Terror.

Despite the gross violations of the Bush administration, it is telling of the forward progression of our civil liberties (as well as the degree to which these liberties have not been secured in the past) that the repressions of the earlier part of the 20th century (particularly the jailing of Debs), could never have an equivalent today (such as the imprisonment of Howard Dean for criticizing the war effort in Iraq).

A delight through and through, as well as a work of tremendous and lasting importance.

In his conclusion, Stone quotes Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, "Those who won our independence...knew that...fear breeds repression and that courage is the secret of liberty" (557).

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