Don’t Expect Equivalent of Thomas Jefferson

Recently I received a Facebook message from an old missionary friend I hadn’t heard from for many years.


His name is Earl Taylor, an attorney who lives in Orem, and an all-around smart guy. We served together in Indonesia in the early 70s. His story tells a truth the country needs to pay attention to in foreign affairs:

Dear LaVarr:

Recently as I was driving around I was listening on NPR to back-to-back stories about Egypt and Syria. These stories made me think of you.

I enjoy reading you on Facebook, and have enjoyed reading you for some time in the newspaper. Since you are a thinker of deep thoughts, political and otherwise, I think there is a story that may be of interest to you.

As I recall, you were once upon a time in Bandung, and I presume you remember Han King, a Chinese-Indonesian who spoke excellent English. I was in Bandung from October 1972 to July 1973. During that time I was working on translation matters. Han King had been hired to assist in this.

At that time I got to know Han King very well. I respected his general intelligence very much.

In the summer of 1973 Han King asked me about what the deal was with Watergate. My information at that time was limited to what could be had from the limited editions of Time and Newsweek. My explanation was that it appeared some people working for the reelection of President Nixon had engaged in some illegal conduct, and that President Nixon had somehow wrongfully interfered with the investigation of the wrongdoing.

Han King said that pretty well agreed with what he understood, and asked why there was the public furor over this. I stated that it appeared that the news media in the New York Times and Washington Post were keeping the news before the public.

Han King then asked the main question, suggesting a very Indonesian solution: “Why doesn’t President Nixon just shut down the newspapers?”

I was stunned to hear the question. I explained to Han King that in the United States we had something called the First Amendment, and that closing the papers in that matter was not an option.

He then said, “Elder Taylor, if this happened in Indonesia, then the army tanks would surround the newspaper offices, or the publisher would be put in jail. I presume America would be more subtle. Why doesn’t the government use pressure such as limiting the newspapers access to newsprint, or giving them a hard time when it is time to renew the licenses for the newspapers?”

I explained that the government did not ration access to newsprint, and that the government was prohibited from requiring a license to operate a newspaper.

Han King then asked if there were any limitations on the operation of newspapers. I gave him an explanation of what I understood about defamation: “If you knowingly publish false information you can be held liable after the fact, but there was no prior restraint”.

So Han King asked: “So in the United States, if I had the money to buy a printing press, I could just go out and print a newspaper if I wanted, without getting the permission of the government?”

When I said yes, that about sums it up, he asked a final stunning question: “Isn’t that dangerous?”

Right then and there I got insight into the difficulty of establishing Democratic traditions in countries used to a more autocratic way of doing things, like Indonesia for example. Han King was smart. Han King was educated, and yet he lacked the basic understanding of the concept of Freedom of the Press. Before you can have a functioning Democracy there must first be a lot of ground work carried out to establish a viable foundation. I doubt there are any shortcuts, military or otherwise.

When the United States goes off on foreign policy adventures, hoping the get rid of some Tyrant, it is with the expectation that Truth, justice and American way will necessarily follow the absence of the tyrant. 

So now we contemplate the certainty that Assad is a vile person. If he is removed we will probably end up with someone about as bad, or worse. I doubt we will automatically get the Syrian equivalent of Thomas Jefferson.

So much for something that happened more than 40 years ago.

Hope all is well with you. Keep up the good work

Earl Taylor