A Pyrrhic Victory

Brass Tacks

CERTAIN MEMBERS of the audience at a last week's conservative club-sponsored "Contra" lecture came with a somewhat different purpose in mind than most. They came not to hear the man speak but to shout him down. Needless to say, they achieved their objective; the man was not heard. But in this case the result was a pyrrhic victory.

It is safe to assume that those who weren't heckling the Contra "speaker" came not to see him gagged but to hear him speak.

If the Conservative Club's goal in bringing this man to Harvard was to drum up support for the Contras, the anti-Contra hecklers may have unwittingly supported the very cause they were trying to oppose. Not only were the uncommitted denied the opportunity to witness firsthand the indefensibility of the Contra's position, but any avowed Contra supporters in the audience now have one more reason to be skeptical of the Sandinista's American friends. Aren't those hecklers the same people who accuse the Contras of being Somocistas in disguise, and charge the Somoza regime for suppressing freedom of expression?

TAKING THE ANTI-CONTRA people at their word--that is, assuming the Contras to be reprehensible--one must ask what they were trying to hide by censoring such an obvious rogue. The advance of information and understanding will never do harm to a just government or a just cause; only leaders who cannot answer to their people need the services of a censor.

But the super-hecklers thought that the hapless audience might have been persuaded by the scoundrel, so they took it upon themselves to protect the innocents. This kind of political elitism has no place in a free society with mass education, let alone in a university.

And in usurping freedom of expression, the hecklers damaged their own interests as well as the community's. They ought to have protested, and protested loudly, and when the Contra began to speak, they ought to have passed the soapbox to him. For in this way they would have allowed the audience to see for themselves how contemptible a Contra really is.