Retired Army General William Boykin has been serially accused of wrongspeak during the War on Terror, and has therefore been dis-invited to speak at a prayer breakfast at West Point:
General Boykin, a longtime commander of Special Operations forces, first caused controversy after the Sept. 11 attacks when, as a senior Pentagon official, he described the fight against terrorism as a Christian battle against Satan. His remarks, made in numerous speeches to church groups, were publicly repudiated by President George W. Bush, who argued that America’s war was not with Islam but with violent fanatics.
(Who just happened to be Islamic. Sheer coincidence, that.)
Since his retirement in 2007 and a new career as a popular conservative Christian speaker, General Boykin has described Islam as “a totalitarian way of life” and said that Islam should not be protected under the First Amendment.
Those are arguable points, to say the least. And we can no longer tolerate the notion of arguments, people get all het up. So the usual suspects, whose intolerance of intolerance is legendary, so long at that intolerance begins and ends at home (they have nothing whatsoever to say to the foreign sort), lobbied to have his wrongthink preemptively flushed down the memory hole:
Last week, after learning that General Boykin would be speaking at the prayer breakfast, a liberal veterans’ group, VoteVets.org, demanded that the invitation be revoked. In a letter to West Point’s superintendent, the group said General Boykin’s “incendiary rhetoric regarding Islam” was “incompatible with Army values” and would “put our troops in danger.”
It logically follows that if General Boykin were not allowed to publicly express his opinions, the troops would therefore be entirely safe. Silence him, and bring the
boys body armor back home!
Lt. Col. Sherri Reed, West Point’s director of public affairs, defended the invitation on Friday, saying that “cadets are purposefully exposed to different perspectives” and that the breakfast “will be pluralistic with Christians, Jewish and Muslim cadets participating.”
“Let them stand undisturbed, as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated while reason is left free to combat it.” — Thomas Jefferson, 1st inaugural speech.
Our greatest minds used to actually think like that, at one time. We all did. So did Lt. Col. Sherri Reed, for a while there. But, you know. Not everyone is capable of combating error. So let’s shelter them, the better to do their thinking for them.
But by Monday, several other groups had condemned the invitation and concern was also reportedly being voiced by some faculty members and cadets. The Forum on the Military Chaplaincy (a liberal group of retired military chaplains), the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and the Council on American-Islamic Relations made public appeals to the Pentagon to cancel General Boykin’s appearance.
In any Venn diagram of interests appealing to both the liberal Military Chaplaincy and CAIR, I believe I’m on solid ground when I suggest that on the issues of gay and women’s rights, the bubbles do not precisely overlap. But never mind. The really important issue here is the constitutionally protected right to free speech.
No, that can’t be it. It must be something else.
A fourth-year cadet at West Point, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals for breaking military discipline, said in a telephone interview before the cancellation was announced that “people are definitely talking about it here.”
“They’re inviting someone who’s openly criticizing a religion that is practiced on campus,” he said. “I know Muslim cadets here, and they are great, outstanding citizens, and this ex-general is saying they shouldn’t enjoy the same rights.”
The cadet asked, “Are we supposed to take leadership qualities and experience from this guy, to follow in his footsteps?”
No, you were supposed to listen to what he said and form your own opinions, using the critical thinking tools that West Point was supposed to have armed you with. But apparently, they’re just not sure they trust you with that. So, good luck leading troops in the field!
Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, said the West Point invitation was a mistake. West Point, Mr. Montgomery said, would have given “a platform to someone who is publicly identified with offensive comments about Muslims and about the commander in chief.”
Muslims and the commander in chief have the absolute constitutional right to not have offensive things said about them. It says so somewhere there in the Constitution that every single West Point cadet swore an oath to support and defend. Emanating from the penumbra, if you like. Just don’t do a text-based search for it. That’s the thing about penumbrae, they’re awfully shadowy in there, and you have to be pretty keen to recognize their emanations. Best to leave that dreary work to someone else.
George Orwell, whose name may be remembered more broadly and long after Peter Montgomery’s transient flare has burnt out, felt differently: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
Just not at West Point.