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Commentary: Freedom of Speech?

There’s an elderly lady in the Detroit suburbs who doesn’t follow the news much these days, and I’m grateful for that.

Her name is Margaret Radulovich Fishman, and you may never have heard of her. You may not even remember her brother, Milo Radulovich. But fifty-nine years ago, they were at the center of one the biggest human rights controversies in our history.

Back in nineteen-fifty, a formerly obscure freshman senator named Joe McCarthy charged that there were eighty-one Communists working in the U.S. State Department.

That was at the height of the Cold War, when we regarded Communism as a malevolent force and Communists as evil traitors  controlled by Moscow who were committed to a life-and-death struggle to destroy us and our way of life.

Being accused of being a Communist was something like having your friends, co-workers and neighbors today believe you are an active agent of Al-Qaeda. Your life was over.

Milo Radulovich wasn’t a Communist. Nobody even suggested he was. He was born in Detroit, and joined what became the Air Force at age seventeen. But his father was a miner and autoworker from Serbia, which later became part of Communist Yugoslavia.

His sister Margaret had worked in the Yugoslav embassy in Washington, and participated in left-wing demonstrations here. And as a result, the Air Force wanted to kick Milo out, deny him GI benefits, and make it impossible for him to finish studying physics at the University of Michigan.

They told him the only way he could prevent this was to denounce his father and sister. Radulovich had no interest in politics. But he told the military to take a hike. He wasn’t going to renounce his family. The case became a national sensation when Edward R. Murrow, the most respected broadcaster of the age, did an entire TV program about it. He followed with another that exposed Joe McCarthy, and helped end the climate of fear in the country.

Milo Radulovich was reinstated, but too late. Under the pressure his marriage fell apart, and he never finished his degree. But he told me before he died five years ago that he never for a moment regretted standing up for his rights.

Yesterday, something unbelievable happened. A congressman from Florida named Allen West said  he believed “seventy-eight to eighty-one” Democratic members of Congress were members of the Communist Party. Which, given the legacy of history, is about as obscene a statement as I can imagine.

Communism today is a virtually extinct philosophy, but its legacy still has tremendous power. A Florida baseball manager earlier this month was suspended just for saying he respected Fidel Castro for surviving decades of assassination attempts.

Calling fellow members of Congress Communists is something that should cause West’s own party to, at the very least, censure him.

But we live in an age where it has somehow become to permissible to openly suggest that the President of the United States is a traitor and a secret Muslim radical born in Kenya.

Reckless disregard for the truth and human rights are corroding our freedom of speech. I once knew some real Communists. What we are doing to ourselves today would have made them happy.