1999 letters to the editor
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GENERAL BRADY (11/10/1999)
Since the end of WWII there have been fewer than 400
Medals of Honor awarded, so General Patrick Brady certainly
distinguished himself by earning our country’s
highest military award for bravery. I admire and respect
his gallantry and service to our country, so it is only
after due consideration that I feel obliged to respond
to his rant (“It’s not the flag stupid …
it’s the Constitution,” in the 11/3/1999
North Georgia News) against the Supreme Court
and others who would defend the right of an individual
to burn the flag. But the Medal of Honor is evidence
of intrepidity, not Constitutional scholarship, and
it is the latter where I challenge the General.
are certainly plenty of examples of government agents,
including the “Supremes,” violating the
letter and spirit of the Constitution, but protecting
flag burners under the aegis of the First Amendment
is not one of them. On the contrary, and in direct opposition
to the General’s stance, flag desecration is precisely
the kind of political expression the Founders intended
to protect with the First Amendment. Let me be clear
that I neither engage in nor endorse flag burning, but
this is not about flag burning. It is about defending
the right to burn the flag. And there is a difference.
Defending the right to burn the flag and burning the
flag are two entirely different things. Nobody who served
in the military did so to protect flag burning. People
served to protect what Thomas Jefferson called our God
given “unalienable rights,” among which
he included “Liberty.” Nobody who served
this country did so for “the flag.” We all
served to protect principles, not symbols, and if we
dishonor the principles to protect the symbols, we dishonor
those who served to preserve them, and that includes
me, and the General. We owe it to those who served,
and especially to those who did not return, to preserve
the unalienable right of liberty, including the freedom
of expression, especially when we disagree with how
it is being expressed, Supporting freedom of expression
is easy when we agree with what is being expressed,
and how it is being expressed. The hard part is supporting
freedom of expression when we disagree with what is
being expressed, or how it is being expressed. It’s
hard, but I know I’m up to the task. I think the
General is too, so I’m sending him a copy of this
letter to solicit his support.
GENERAL BRADY, PART II (12/8/1999)
In a letter to the editor in the 12/8/99 North Georgia
News, General Brady [responding to my 11/10/99
letter] addressed a question to me, and I would like
to answer it. The General asked if he should support
“obscenity, slander, terrorist threats, racial
slurs, libel, or the defacing of national monuments
as political expression,” and he went on to ask
if I [”the writer”] support such actions
as political expression. The answer is, in a word, no.
All of those actions cause, or threaten to cause, real
damage to people or property, and as a result, there
is already a plethora of laws on the books (national,
state, local) defining all of those activities as crimes,
to one degree or another. As for flag burning, if there
is no victim (people or property), there is no crime.
If there is a victim (people or property), then there
is a crime. Defacing a government owned flag is the
same category of crime as defacing a national monument
(a property crime) and should be punished accordingly.
But burning a personally owned flag is no more a crime
than burning a personally owned cigar - which means
it’s ok for me to do it in my home, but not (without
permission) in my neighbor’s home. If I can’t
burn a personally owned flag, where does it end? May
I burn my soiled 4th of July paper table cloth? Are
my flag pattern boxer shorts my personal property, or
a protected national symbol?
General invoked the spirits of James Madison and Thomas
Jefferson, both of whom denounced flag burning. I join
those revered Founders in denouncing flag burning. But
both Madison and Jefferson were wise enough to realize
that their distaste for the activity was not reason
enough to support a flag-protection amendment to the
Constitution . So am I.
COMMENTS ON FOREST SERVICE ISSUE (12/8/1999)
As with all ostensibly beneficial government programs,
we must ask the question about unintended consequences.
Presumably wilderness areas are to protect the wilderness,
but as we have seen recently in our own back yard, the
best of intentions can have the opposite effect by inhibiting
efforts to fight forest fires. With so much public land
at high risk of catastrophic forest fires (according
to the US Forest Service, approximately 40 million acres)
it is irresponsible to expand the area in which we deny
firefighters the ability to bring trucks and other equipment
into the scene of the fire.
add to our own recent experience, the situation last
year in Elko County, Nevada, when firefighters were
prevented by wilderness regulations from extinguishing
a fire in the federally-protected Cedar Ridge Wilderness
Study Area. Only two hundred yards from the blaze, officials
forbade firefighters from driving their vehicles off
the road because regulations do not permit off-road
vehicular travel, even for emergencies.
a result, many acres of federal wilderness needlessly
burned. And let us not forget the tragic human consequences
of bureaucrats letting the regulations get in the way
of their common sense. One of the most egregious examples
of this was experienced by renowned auto racer Bobby
Unser, who was punished by the government just for trying
to stay alive. While snowmobiling in an authorized area
in New Mexico, Unser and a friend became disoriented
and lost during an unexpected blizzard and in trying
to escape the snow storm they may have strayed into
a wilderness area.
one snowmobile got stuck and the other broke down they
were forced to spend the night in a makeshift snow cave.
The next day they trudged through the backcountry for
18 hours before finding help. Unser and his friend had
to be hospitalized for exposure, a but their trouble
was just beginning.
after Unser left the hospital, the United States Forest
Service charged him with illegally taking his snowmobile
into a federal wilderness area, they threatened him
with a fine and/or six-month jail sentence, and they
spent $600,000 of your and my tax dollars in prosecuting
their case against him and his friend.
need to be reducing the opportunities for such abuses,
not increasing them, which means, thumbs down to more
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