During the American Revolution, a company of volunteers seized Joshua Hardcastle, a Williamsburg, Virginia, resident accused of speaking ill of the soldiers and their cause, and gave him a choice: apologize or be tarred and feathered and ridden through town on a fence rail.
Like Hardcastle, dissenters have often faced trouble during wartime—part of Americans’ continuing struggle to balance the values of unity and diversity. In 1798, with war with France seemingly looming, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, designed in part to squelch opposition to the war. During the Civil War, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus.
More recently, WikiLeaks became the focus of controversy after the organization released military reports and diplomatic correspondence pertaining to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Government officials here and abroad condemned WikiLeaks for endangering the lives of soldiers and civilians. Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence analyst who allegedly leaked many of the documents to the organization, has been charged with aiding the enemy as well as theft.
The Obama administration has aggressively prosecuted leakers, bringing six criminal cases against officials who allegedly passed secret information to the media. Does this unify Americans by keeping legitimate secrets safe? Or does it do more harm than good by silencing legitimate diversity of opinion?
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