Tuesday, December 27, 2005

I found in traveling around the world that a great many people believed the most arrant nonsense about the United States. In particular, a great many people, apparently well educated and sophisticated, were convinced that the people of the United States were in the grip of terror and that free speech and free press no longer existed here. They believed that the United States was fomenting a third world war and would presently start it, with Armageddon consequences for everyone else, and that the government of the United States smashed without mercy anyone who dared to oppose even by oral protest this headlong rush toward disaster.

These people could "prove" their opinions by quoting any number of Americans and American newspapers and magazines. That they were able to quote such American sources proved just the opposite, namely that we do continue to enjoy free speech even to express arrant nonsense and unpopular opinions, escaped them completely.

The extremely wide scope of free speech and free press in the United States, much wider than that enjoyed anywhere else in the world including all of the British Commonwealth, is not understood elsewhere.

(More free speech and press than in the British Commonwealth? Surely not! Ah, but we do have: our radio is not government owned, we do not place severe restrictions on the importation of printed matter from outside our borders, our libel laws and our limitations on reporting of court procedures are as nothing compared with theirs, our news reporting is the most aggressive in the world.)

The real restrictions against what we can say or print are very nearly limited to only the most blatant of pornography and to classified military secrets. But citizens of other countries neither understand nor believe this; it is too foreign to their own experience. I said to a man in South Africa: "You insist that anyone in the United States who expresses an opinion favorable to Russia or to communism is immediately thrown in jail. How do you reconcile that with the fact that the communist Daily Worker is still published in New York?"

He simply called me a liar.
Robert Anson Heinlein (circa 1953/54), Tramp Royale, p. 61-62

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