I Dare Say – Boomerang (8-11-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (August 11, 1944)




By Florence Fisher Parry

The War Department Library Committee, established to interpret the new law which forbids the circulation, at government expense, of any reading or picture material which contains political propaganda, is certainly going literal in a big way!

The sale of British newspapers has now been forbidden our American Army camps, and the motion picture Wilson has been banned from them. All of which is providing a genuine surprise to the man responsible for the rider to the Soldiers’ Vote Law, Senator Taft of Ohio, who protests that the Army is going to extremes in its interpretation of his law.

Now it looks as though the Senator’s provision, intended to prevent patent political rackets, is going to prove a boomerang. The United States Army, in scrupulously observing the new law, is demonstrating with stunning success how dangerous to our liberties is ANY attempt, however well intentioned, to legislate free speech and a free press.

The Army’s position is strictly correct, in prohibiting ANY AND ALL politically-biased literature or other such material from Army circulation at government expense. However intense its disapproval of the new law, its observance must be scrupulous.

Lesser of two evils

On the other hand, it is quite understandable why Senator Taft pressed legislation against the opposing party’s prevailing habit, so patently indulged, of using government money to pay for its own political propaganda. This practice has begun to assume sinister proportions, extending not only to printed matter, but to the screen as well. Documentary films glorifying the pet projects of the administration, even full-length movies like Government Girl, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and such hysterical propaganda as Gabriel Over the White House, had been enjoying an unchallenged field day. But Senator Taft’s ambiguous rider to the Soldier Vote Act permits too broad an interpretation.

Any law becomes a menace when it deprives our fighting men a FREE PRESS. And when we say a free press, we mean free, in the sense that opinion, assertive, aggressive and unafraid, must be expressed, however much downright PROPAGANDA it may contain.

Every newspaper in America is a propaganda organ. The majority are sharply partisan, politically belligerent and humanly prejudiced. Private ownership and a free press make this inevitable; and we would not have it otherwise. The evils of its alternative, a subsidized and government-instrumented press, are known to all.

Then how can newspapers fall under the ax of the U.S. Army in its effort to observe the strict letter of the new Soldier Vote Act? OF COURSE, the British press is pro-Roosevelt! Why should it not be? President Roosevelt, to the British people, is a name synonymous with largesse and a perpetual Lend-Lease.

That fact, however, should not present to the U.S. Army any more insoluble problem than that which it can find in the soldiers’ (at present) incontestable right to read their hometown newspapers, which are just as biased.

What next?

The banning of the motion picture Wilson shows, too, the inherent evil of suppression of suspected “propaganda.” I’m afraid I would have been all too quick to pounce upon this picture had I discerned in it the slightest Democratic propaganda.

But I saw no such evidence. It is a faithful historical motion picture and can be invidious only as history itself can be invidious. Nor does its hero Wilson propound any foreign policy which BOTH our presidential candidates do not acknowledge and endorse.

What a kettle of fish! No British newspapers to our U.S. Armed Forces. No Wilson. No Charles and Mary Beard’s Republic. What next? No home paper? No magazine? Because its owner or “editorial policy” is either Democratic or Republican?

Manifestly, the cure is far more killing than the malady! The unfortunate thing is that such a rider to the Soldier Vote Act should have been considered necessary in the first place. For it did rise out of a patent abuse which for 12 long years has been functioning unrestrained.

That the needed remedy should have turned into a boomerang is unfortunate; but if it only serves to illustrate TO BOTH PARTIES the folly of meddling with the machinations of a free press, it may succeed in effecting some good.