Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How free is free speech?

Over the weekend there has been a spate of grumbling in the household, ranging from misery to swearing in anger.

The reason was that Terrington Tigers had given money to Scotty's Little Soldiers.  This in itself wasn't an issue.  We liked that.  The Scotty's people are always up for donations, and being given money and so forth. This is a Good Thing that enables them to carry on Good Works.

But then someone left a comment on the newspaper article.  It wasn't a nice comment. The person who had organised the event said that there was nothing worse than losing a parent.  The commenter started with "Oh yes, there is.  Losing a child." and then went off into a paragraph of how this was an 'elitist charity', with political aims and only existed to alleviate the guilt felt by the Forces for 'invading' Afghanistan and Iraq.


And then there was a response from someone, and another one, and another one. (Just the three, totalling four)  All three of them supported Scotty's.  The first one was saying that the charity commission has everything set out and organised, and that the statements in the comment were deluded and offensive.  The second was from a Scotty mum, who was hurt and offended and referred to the comments as being offensive to both her and her child.  The third was from a friend of mine, who said that the comments were unkind, unhelpful and said by someone who was only able to say those things due to the actions of servicemen and women in the past.

Next time we looked, the whole page had been taken down.

The thing is, that what was said about the actions of servicemen and women, is true.  A lot of them joined up to protect the values of Great Britain, to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves.  They joined up to serve.  Serve is a big word.  Putting others before self, before family.  Going where you are told, regardless of when the baby is due, or when the first Christmas is, or any of that.  Moving homes, regardless of how many friends your 6 yr old has and whether she was going to be in the play this year at school.  Being on duty 23hrs59minutes a day for less than minimum wage.

And then, in some cases, dying whilst doing that job.  Putting others before self, to the extent that self becomes vulnerable and extinguished.

But it is not just the serviceman or woman who serves, it is his whole family.  I knew Rich was in the Armed Forces when I met him, when we got together, when he asked me to marry him.  I knew it, and I chose to serve in the background.  I washed the kit, held the house together whilst he was away, took care of him when he got home, managed dinners that were delayed by random runs to here and there, listened and loved and prepared myself, that each time he went away, that this could be the last time I saw him.  After all, Afghanistan is the dangerous place, right?

My son had no choice.  He was born into a RAF family, and then his mother took up with a RAF lad after his daddy left.  He had no choice but to serve.  He was part of the morale boosting whilst Rich was away, sending pictures and letters.  He wasn't sad about Rich being away, he was proud of him.  He missed Rich like anything, but he was proud of the job that he did, and prepared to not have his stepdaddy for a while so that other people could say what they wanted.

When Rich died, the RAF served us well.  They took care of the funeral, they took care of the boy and I, to the extent that at Rich's Celebrations, the boy went and sat with the armourers, needing the security that the uniform gave his 6yr old self.  They encouraged him to be who he wanted to be, to say what he needed to say.

We all serve and are served, a point the original commenter missed.  We all do it in pursuit of one thing.  Freedom for all to be who they want to be, to say what they need to say in a democratic environment.

And that brings us back to where we started.

Free speech.  I might not agree with the statement of the person who made the original comment - in fact I damn well don't.  I'd challenge them to have the conversations that we do, holding everything together and taping over the cracks one more time, hoping this time it mends a bit more and cracks a bit less.  But just because I don't agree doesn't mean that they shouldn't say it.  In fact, it means they should say it even more - but that I get my free speech in return.  That's where this situation went all wrong.  They said their bit, and we said our bit, and then the Lynn News denied all of us our freedoms by censoring the online paper, and removing the page.

How free is free speech? Not very in Lynn.

1 comment:

Chef Penny said...

Well said, Sarah. I always like it when people say their part against the military when without the military, they wouldn't be able to say it. I would venture a guess that they were just looking for attention. That said, I can't believe that the paper took it down after only 4 comments.