JFK warned about secrecy

Richard L. Johnson

“The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. …there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.”

The President and the Press” address to the American Newspaper Publishers Association, John F. Kennedy, April 27, 1961

National security is one of the greatest challenges that any government faces.  Securing its citizens from foreign attack is a fundamental duty of any administration regardless of political party or philosophy.  But when that government crushes the individual freedoms of the people it serves to protect, it is unethical, immoral and must be stopped.

Since September 11, 2001, the American people have been told that to prevent additional terrorist attacks, there is a greater need for intrusion into the privacy of individual lives. We have seen the rise of a national police force – something we have never had – called the Department of Homeland Security. We have seen women, grandmothers, children and wounded veterans violated in airports by the Transportation Security Administration.

We have seen agencies of the government targeting political dissenters and attempting to intimidate and silence them.

We now find out the National Security Agency is spying on all Americans through phone and internet use. In fact, some people suggest that everything, right down to individual keystrokes, is being recorded.

On April 27, 1961, President John F. Kennedy addressed an organization of newspaper publishers.  Kennedy was facing the very real danger of third world war, a nuclear war, with the Soviet Union. He recognized the awesome responsibility of protecting the United States from the growing communist threat, and would find himself making grave decisions regarding the placement of nuclear missiles off Florida’s coast just 18 months later.

Kennedy referred to the expanding Soviet threat in these terms:

“For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence — on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night instead of armies by day… Its preparations are concealed, not published… Its dissenters are silenced not praised.”

Despite the pressures he faced, Kennedy was very clear about the course our government must maintain, saying “No President should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or opposition. And both are necessary…I have complete confidence in the response and dedication of our citizens whenever they are fully informed.”

The Founding Fathers attempted to protect the citizens through the adoption of the Bill of Rights. The one thing that the Founders understood, but could build no statutory protection against, is an ignorant citizenry.

The Constitution’s built-in a failsafe protection on the rights of the citizens is the Second Amendment.  It is this small addition to the Constitution that served to keep the government in check for the past two-and-a-quarter centuries.  But, both the fate of the Second Amendment and the Land of the Free hang in the balance.

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