Clear and present danger

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In a Department of Defense press release, President Bill Clinton announced that on December 16, 1998, he had ordered air strikes "against Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors. ... Clinton said he and his national security advisers agreed that Saddam Hussein presented a clear and present danger to the stability of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere."[1] reported that on September 24, 2001, "Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and declared that 'terrorism is a clear and present danger to Americans today."[2][3][4]

On October 1, 2002, third year Notre Dame law student David S. Maquera wrote "Striking Iraq betrays U.S. morality" in which he states: "The recently announced 'Bush doctrine' of embracing pre-emptive strikes can be acceptable only if it is narrowly restricted to eliminating a 'clear and present danger.' While Iraq is a danger to its neighbors, the facts are unclear that Iraq poses a 'clear danger' to the United States or its oil interests given alternative sources of oil in Russia, Mexico, Venezuela and elsewhere. ... Furthermore, even if Iraq was preparing to endanger the United States in the future, it is quite unclear that Iraq is currently a 'present danger.'"[5]

However, U.S. Ambassador J. Richard Blankenship, at a Joint Luncheon Meeting, American Men's & Womens's Club, Nassau, Bahamas, October 8, 2002, in his remarks said: "As President Bush so clearly said, Saddam Hussein represents a clear and present danger for not just the United States, but for the entire world."[6]

Two days before President George W. Bush announced on March 19, 2003, that the United States and the coalition of the willing had launched an attack on Iraq, U.S. Senator George Allen, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement in reaction to President Bush's address to the nation (March 17, 2003):

"Make no mistake, Saddam Hussein presents a clear and present danger to the United States though [sic] a long history of funding, supporting and harboring members of terrorist organizations."[7]

The phrase clear and present danger was popularized by Tom Clancy's 1993 thriller "Clear and Present Danger", which is "based on America's war on drugs...and the covert--and shocking--U.S. response."[8]

In his 1998 "Freedom of Expression, Dissenting Historians, and the Holocaust Revisionists", David Botsford writes regarding what he identifies as the "doctrine of clear and present danger."

The doctrine, he says, was invoked by the Supreme Court on a "number of occasions to limit freedom of speech. The doctrine of 'clear and present danger' stems from the period after World War I which saw some 1,900 federal prosecutions for peaceful speech, mostly for statements considered subversive because they encouraged resistance to the draft or otherwise opposed the war effort. Among the notable cases of that era was the prosecution and imprisonment of the leader of the American Socialist Party, Eugene V. Debs, which was upheld by the Supreme Court. The restrictive force of the doctrine was broadened in 1951 during the prosecution of 11 top US Communist Party leaders, when the Supreme Court ruled that if the climate is right for an evil to occur, the government may imprison people whose advocacy could create that evil at a future point. If the Supreme Court had adhered to this view, which it subsequently abandoned, the government would have had a powerful tool to crack down on all manner of speech that particular officials might find offensive."

"Freedom of speech is ultimately the greatest protection against the kinds of crimes that took place in Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia, and against the crimes that Julius Streicher was able to incite in Nazi Germany."

Source (according to footnote): Index on Censorship, vol. 27, no. 1, January/February 1998, pp. 57, 59.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., wrote in Schenck v. United States, 1919:

"The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. ... The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent."[9]

One commentary regarding Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919); Frohwerk in United States, 249 U.S. 204 (1919); and Debs v. United States, 249 U.S. 211 (1919) states: "These are decisions, with Holmes writing for a unanimous court, that upheld criminal convictions of various socialists for antiwar polemics that today clearly would qualify for First Amendment protection. Nevertheless, by employing the clear-and-present-danger test and by declining to suspend it even '[w]hen a nation is at war', Schenck, 249 U.S. at 52, Holmes can be read to evince an appreciation of the value of political criticism. By insisting that First Amendment protection remains 'a question of proximity and degree,' not a matter of the innate tendency of the idea, Holmes implemented an approach that was, in theory at least, more protective of controversial speakers than the bad tendency test that previously had dominated First Amendment interpretation." [10]

In his June 25, 2002 "Phantoms of Government Provided Security", David Sadler (for Congress) wrote: "The National Security State has become a national security threat to the free people of the United States of America and represents a clear and present danger to the US Constitution. ... We were defeating many of these attempts at weakening our liberty and sovereignty prior to 9-11, but 9-11 provided the Hegelian opportunity to those who profit from war and national debt. The issuance of totally unconstitutional executive orders and the passage of unconstitutional laws for alleged security purposes increased dramatically after, in direct responce to, 9-11." [11]

Other Related SourceWatch Resources

External links

  • 'A Clear and Present Danger'. Possible Plans for Chemical Attacks Feared as Investigation Intensifies, ABC News, September 25, 2001: "'Terrorism is a clear and present danger to Americans,' Attorney General John Ashcroft said today as he testified before a Senate panel on Capitol Hill. 'Intelligence information available to the FBI indicates a potential for additional terrorist incidents.'"
  • Howard Zinn, The Case Against War on Iraq, Boston Globe, August 18, 2002: "... none of these facts or conjectures, even if true, make Iraq a clear and present danger. The fact that Iraq is a tyranny would not, in itself, constitute grounds for preemptive war. There are many tyrannies in the world, some kept in power by the United States."
  • Terry Eastland, How Danger Becomes "Clear and Present", From the October 7, 2002 Dallas Morning News: A brief history of the roots of "clear and present danger.", October 8, 2002.