During World War II the United States government’s Office of War Information spearheaded a national campaign whose most well-known slogan was “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” The purpose of the campaign was to encourage citizens to not talk to each other about aspects of the war effort that could inadvertently divulge military plans, troop movements, or other secrets that could result in the loss of life and/or defeat in combat.
(Click here to view some of the campaign’s posters that were placed in public locations throughout the United States.)
The Bush administration should institute a similar campaign that instructs citizens of both the real dangers of proliferating classified information and that the meaning of the First Amendment is not a license to publish anything. If done correctly, this would have the effect of isolating, and bringing public condemnation upon, mainstream media, such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, that insist on publishing classified information that may result in placing American citizens and military personnel in the crosshairs of terrorists.
In order to pull this off, it would require a multi-media campaign that would not only include posters and radio (as in the 1940s), but also television, the Internet, and podcasts. They would have to be done well, with attractive and winsome citizens and narrators conveying a strong and serious message that does not come across as syrupy, heavy-handed, or inconsistent with the protection of civil liberties. Consider this commercial:
Scene: A young, handsome, man appears on the screen. He is standing in his military uniform in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Man: Hello, my name is Timothy Jones. I am a Colonel in the United States Marine Corps. I am proud to serve my country in the war on terrorism.
That war not only requires combat troops, but hundreds of other dedicated men and women, including those who are involved with secret operations to infiltrate and monitor terrorist organizations and stop the flow of money between terrorists and their supporters. When terrorists are disrupted because of this important work, lives are saved, and we make another September 11 less likely.
In World War II, the U.S. government published posters that warned its citizens, “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” It is no different today. But when well-intentioned people, including newspaper reporters, publish the details of our secret operations, they put in danger all of us, and they make another September 11 more difficult to stop.
So, please be careful if you think you know something about any aspect of our war on terrorism that would help those who want to hurt America. Our lives depend on it.
Narrator: Loose lips sink ships.
Here’s another commercial:
Scene: Camera pans the U.S. Capitol, then shows a painting of the American Founders working on the U.S. Constitution. It goes on to show photographs of a number of important figures in American history, including George Washington, FDR, Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, etc. It also shows men and women in combat and military personnel in other settings, including the famous flag planting on the island of Iwo Jima. Pictures of policemen and firemen on September 11 are strategically placed in particular spots. During this 60-second televised collage, a narrator speaks.
Narrator (a familiar and distinguished voice, perhaps that of Kelsey Grammer, Tom Selleck, or Rudy Guiliani): The freedoms we have in this country are worth protecting. We defended them against fascism and Nazism during the Second World War and against atheistic communism during the Cold War. Among these liberties are the freedom of speech, religion, and the press. But when a newspaper publishes classified information that benefits terrorists, that newspaper endangers these liberties and puts real lives at risk.
Just as there is no freedom to extort, defraud, slander or defame, even though one may use speech to do so, there is no liberty to publish classified information that will help those who want to destroy liberty.
In World War II, the U.S. government published posters that warned its citizens, “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” It is no different today. When well-intentioned people, including newspaper reporters, publish the details of our secret operations, they put in danger all of us, and they make another September 11 more difficult to stop.
So, remember that loose lips sink ships, and not all the news is fit to print. Please be careful if you think you know something about any aspect of our war on terrorism that would help those who want to hurt America.
Our lives, and our freedoms, depend on it.
I CAN EASILY IMAGINE OTHER commercials and public service announcements that include citizens and military personnel who explain how the administration’s secret operations have worked to protect them, their families, and millions of people around the world. Such testimonies could have a powerful impact on helping the country to understand that the publishing of classified information on the acquisition of intelligence is deadly serious business, and that those who willfully ignore the gravity of the situation are aiding and abetting the enemies of America and its liberties.
Rather than waiting for the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times to strike again, the administration should act preemptively. This would shift the terms of the debate and force the mainstream media to justify their actions to a public adequately informed of its real-life ramifications.