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Reflection on Free Speech: 60 Minutes May 6, 2012

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The idea of fighter pilots in the U.S. Air Force losing their sense of control while operating one of the most sophisticated war machines in the world not only alarms me, but it energizes me. While flying the newest fighter jet entitled the F-22 Raptor, pilots suffer from hypoxia which is caused by a lack of oxygen. Yet it isn't the inability of the government to solve this problem, or the way officials seem to acknowledge the problem and still run training missions endangering the pilots and the communities they fly over that has me invigorated. It is how the pilots spoke out about the issue to 60 Minutes that has illuminated an often forgot about aspect of democracy.

With the checks and balances in this form of government, the balance of free speech may be the strongest, and yet sometimes the most apathetic. The two pilots who spoke to 60 Minutes and the many more who unusually spoke out against higher ranking military officers were exercising the very right guaranteed in the constitution. The freedom of speech can be applied to many situations, but one arguable intent is a mode to protect the people from their own government. The interesting thing about free speech is that even though it is provided, it does not necessarily mean that it is inherent.

For the freedom of expression to be meaningful, someone or a group of any size must care enough to enact change. When change is involved, free speech becomes dangerous and powerful. The fact that the words a person uses can manipulate the world around us means the tradition of this right must not only be protected, but exercised to the fullest. As the fighter pilots are working toward a change that has not been fully realized, another story on the same broadcast illustrates why free speech is so vital to the way society must progressively function.

A local college student and his boss, both in their 20s, sought to clean up Whitley County in Kentucky. Through hours of tedious work, they exposed the wrongdoings of the county sheriff turning the tide of corruption. There was no major prize at the end of this tunnel, only the drive to make things right. Defying the typical apathetic loathing so many are known for, these journalists used the power of the only thing the sheriff could not strong-arm, the true freedom of the press. At times their lives were threatened during the investigation into the sheriff. Yet despite the danger, they pressed on changing what was thought to not be changeable.

The power of words can be noticed in an array of situations in America. It is not a shelter for slanderous villains, or an excuse to speak disturbing phrases to unwilling listeners. It is the utmost protection American citizens have because it can operate completely independent of any government function and yet act on the government in a way that nothing else can. In a world where greed and corruption can always infect the best intentions, freedom to communicate is the binding element against an ill fate. With all the forms of media and technology we use to express thoughts between each other, it seems foolish to waste such fundamental power.