A Vietnamese court sentenced three bloggers to jail sentences between four and 12 years on Monday.
Their crime? Spreading “propaganda against the state.”
Americans tend to recoil at such violations of the basic right to speak and write freely. The official U.S. response called the sentences “troubling.”
“These convictions are the latest in a series of moves by Vietnamese authorities to restrict freedom of expression. The Vietnamese government should release these three bloggers, all prisoners of conscience, and adhere to its international obligations immediately,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
But as I thought about the charges, I had to wonder just how different we really are here in the United States. Just a month ago, federal authorities questioned former Marine Brandon Raub about posts on his Facebook page, and police had him involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility for “evaluation” in Virginia.
Granted, Raub’s case was exceptional. Police don’t typically break down Americans’ doors when they criticize the government. But an underlying current, not unlike the one that led to the jailing of those Vietnamese bloggers, runs just below the surface in the United States. Criticizing “the state” just doesn’t sit well with most Americans. Oh, it’s cool to run down the president if he’s a member of the “other party.” And nobody gets too bent out of shape if you slam the IRS or the TSA. Congress? Yeah, its fair game too. Criticizing the government won’t get you in too much trouble in the U.S.A. Except maybe with some paranoid law enforcement types, or with the folks at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
But criticizing the government isn’t the same thing as criticizing “the state.” That will get you in hot water pretty fast with the majority of Americans. Doubt me? Try burning an American flag. Or saying something negative about Abraham Lincoln. Suggest not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, or criticize the actions of the U.S. military overseas. Watch how fast you get labeled “unpatriotic” and worse. Watch how quickly the steely knives appear out of the scabbards when somebody challenges the sanctity of “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Large centralized power structures demand obedience. Diversity of thought throws monkey wrenches into centralized planning and hinders efficiency. The state thrives on conformity, and the more powerful the state, the more necessary uniformity becomes. In Vietnam, government must force adherence to “the state” and obedience to the party line. In America, the government doesn’t have to. Peer pressure and “education” does the job just fine. But I’ve listened to the rhetoric and I have no doubt that if too many people got “out of line” here in the U.S., the government would tighten the screws and most of American would nod in agreement.
After all, we can’t have “propaganda against the state,” Right? That just goes too far.