07/05/05 — Think first: With freedom of speech comes responsibility

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Think first: With freedom of speech comes responsibility

Try as you might, it would have been hard not to feel something Monday night as the fireworks popped and the patriotic music played. Celebrating the Fourth of July is just that way. In between the bursts of color, you can’t help but think of the history of a nation and the pride that goes along with fighting for, and maintaining, the right to be free.

There were the usual speeches by our leaders and statements by regular people about what this country and the freedoms it offers mean to them.

And there was, of course, a whole lot of flag-waving.

But there were other comments that resonated through the country this holiday weekend. They had some powerful imagery, too, and perhaps might have motivated a few people who haven’t seemed to do too much thinking lately to reconsider a position or two as they listened.

On many of the talk shows and in many newspaper columns, there were comments and letters from servicemen and women and their families about the effect the recent comments by some U.S. leaders about Iraq and alleged prisoner abuse have had on the troops overseas.

Not all, but many, of the families said hearing the criticism, which many of those serving thought was unfair and misguided, did little to cheer the men and women so far from their homes and families. Most of them ended their comments with the admonition that although the comments hurt, they would not deter these servicemen and women from the mission they felt was worthy and necessary.

The soldiers, sailors and Marines’ reactions should remind us that although we have the right to express our views — that is part of the package that our ancestors fought for so long ago — we should do so responsibly.

In this digital age, it only takes a moment for a piece of tape to be cut and comments to be broadcast around the world. And sometimes, those comments are used to fire up the very people our troops are trying to contain. It can’t be easy for these heroes to hear someone run down their efforts, especially when the words “U.S. Senator” precede his name.

Let’s look hard at the war in Iraq, measure its effectiveness and proceed with caution. There is nothing wrong with asking our leaders to treat this as their top priority and to insist they continually examine what the next best move should be.

But let’s also remember that freedom comes with responsibility, and that there is so much more at stake here than a political position and the right to say whatever we think whenever we think it.

Perhaps we could use today as the first day of a new campaign — to encourage our leaders to think a little bit before they speak.

Then, we can get about the business of getting back to protecting our freedom and moving our country forward.

Published in Editorials on July 5, 2005 1:20 PM