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Quite the World, Isn't It?

On fear, the past, and the present

Eugene and Peggy Dennis arrive at the Foley Square courthouse for his sentencing.
Sixty years ago this coming Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the convictions in the Dennis v. U.S. case, which is the focus of my latest book. The Los Angeles Times was kind enough to print an op-ed I wrote on the subject (or will be kind; it's available online now and is to be printed in Monday's paper).

The case was one of the major stories of the year (1949), though it has faded into obscurity, overwhelmed in our consensus memory by the Hollywood 10, McCarthyism, Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs. Yet the Dennis case was the most troubling of all those events. For a time, the U.S. government in effect outlawed a specific political belief, undercutting what it is that we tell ourselves sets our democracy apart. This story displays exactly how fragile these basic civil liberties are.

The piece summarizes the case, and then concludes:
"Sixty years later, it might be hard to build up much sympathy for a dozen communists at the peak of the Cold War. But in this era of Patriot Act-permitted warrantless searches, surreptitious surveys of library and bookstores users' records, and extralegal rendition of terrorism suspects to secret interrogation sites, we would be wise to recognize that the rights we deny others out of fear, we eventually deny ourselves."
I encourage you to head over to the article and read it, and invite your comments there or here.

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