It’s a Free Country

It’s a Free Country

Edited by Danny Goldberg, Victor Goldberg, and Robert Greenwald

Akashic Books

Just because we’re fighting a war doesn’t mean you lose your basic rights as an American. Not that the system encourages you to exercise them much anyway, mind you, but you still have the right to petition the government, speak freely about political issues, call your favorite screaming mimi DJ, and debate what U.S. foreign policy is or might be. Heck, that’s what my daddy fixed airplanes for in WW2. Now, one might also question if we are actually fighting a real war, a police action in Afghanistan, or a war on spooky shadows that might or might not bring down another iconic building in one of our bigger cities. That itself is an important part of the debate.

Those debates from the core of the new Akashic book, It’s a Free Country. Composed of 50 or so short essays by various writers, it’s an elegant harmony of discourse on the present state of liberty, and what the possible impact of the recent Patriot Act might have going forward. The viewpoints aren’t wildly disparate — after all, few people read political books to change their ideas on a topic. Self-reinforcement is much more popular, but here the overall tone is balanced and center leaning. Only a few writers charge off into the woods, such as Tom Hayden, who manages to tack every pet cause of his on the debate. Most are more even, such as Michael Tomasy and his discussion on how the multichannel media serves to squelch debate, even while saturating us with non-stop rhetoric. Michael Moore enters with his particularly annoying form of sophomoric satire, but that is offset by the touching are the accounts of immigrants and even citizens caught up in the “Ashcroft” raids. Multiple authors argue effectively that this sort of round up has a deeply satisfying effect on the media and general populace, but has rarely if ever caught a real terrorist or saboteur. It’s the classic political response to any complex problem — do SOMETHING, anything, just so it looks like the problem is being solved. That’s why we pull elderly women out of the check in line for special airport screening. That’s why we still have a Department Of Energy.

And that multitude of identical arguments is the big problem with this book. Thrown together from available material, the authors largely refer to the same four past events in American history to argue essentially the same results. I’ll summarize: The Alien and Sedition acts, Suspension of Habeas Corpus, the Palmer raids, and the Japanese Internment never did a thing to catch a bad guy, but did put innocent people through intense misery. Widely accepted at the time, each represented an erosion of the rights we claim to hold self-evident. The path each author takes differs a bit, some interject personal stories, and there are a few exceptions, but reading this book is like eating one of those granola health power energy bars — you chew and chew, and it never seems to end.

Rather than read this book from cover to cover, it’s best tackled by opening to a random section and reading just a bit. It’s not a left wing screed, although most of the authors spring from that end of the spectrum, but a generally thoughtful analysis of a problem that ought to concern us all. It may not open your eyes, but It’s a Free Country might at least change their focal point. You live here, you may have to die here, and while your hanging out, you are allowed to voice your opinion on how the place is run. Don’t let the screamers on AM radio do it for you.

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