As a freelance reporter, I have covered anti-war protests, panel discussions on the war and pro-war, pro-troops events such as a military homecoming at McGuire Air Force Base. At every event where American policy was questioned, the participants or speakers asserted their patriotism and love of this country, arguing that there was nothing un-American about questioning American foreign policy or the actions of the President and administration. It seemed as though these panelists and protesters were genuinely scared of backlash.
No one should be afraid to speak openly in this country. Americans shouldn’t forget the tyrannical rule of the British royalty, who threw colonists and residents of the British homeland alike in jail for speaking out against the government. We should not aspire to that type of control here, more than two centuries after our founders broke away from the unjust rule of kings.
Many Americans today are reactionaries who denounce anyone who goes against President Bush’s war plans. Protest, debate or even discussion of the war is often considered unpatriotic or un-American. Under the slogan of “support our troops,” opinions and debate are being stifled.
I would remind America of the last time the word “un-American” was thrown around with the frequency it is today. A senator named Joe McCarthy was making a career for himself by accusing Americans of being communists. He was one of the most counterproductive leaders this country has ever endured, destroying people’s lives to further his own career. I worry that while McCarthy may be dead, his spirit lives on every time the word “un-American” is uttered.
What does any of this have to do with supporting American troops? In this country, we are free to decide whether or not to serve our country in this way. No one is forced to serve, and no one has been drafted since the Vietnam war. Those serving in the military right now made their choice regardless of how others feel about the cause they are fighting for.
One can oppose the war while praying for the safety of American troops. An American can be angry at President Bush for putting American soldiers at risk and still hope for the safety of those soldiers. A member of our society can embrace American foreign policy and praise the president and the military as they please. And I would go so far as to say a citizen of this country, protected by the First Amendment, can find fault with members of the American armed forces who choose to serve in a time when that citizen feels our actions are questionable, if that is how they feel.
Adolf Hitler came to power by crushing all opposition in his own country, all debate or discussion, and once that was accomplished, he turned to the rest of Europe. He eventually dissolved Parliament and assumed the role of dictator for life.
Debate, discussion, argument and, yes, even protest is our defense against dictatorship. Remember that as terrible as Nazi Germany was, it was also very efficient. Nazi Germany spoke with one voice. As Americans, we should fear that kind of efficiency and unity. This is not to say that President Bush is Hitler-like or would become a dictator if given the chance; only that Americans should beware of the stifling of debate. Bush himself never told anyone not to protest. Everyday Americans have.
America is a country born out of protest and argument. To deny our roots as an opinionated, free-speaking society is to deny our own heritage as Americans.