Over the proud history of the United States of America, the use of the nation’s military has produced a long string of public debates going back to the Revolutionary War itself.
What we recognize today as a courageous battle for liberty and self-government, many colonists called treason.
When George Washington sent troops to quell the Whiskey Rebellion, some Pennsylvania farmers called it tyranny.
The American experience is full of episodes in which full-throated reliance on the freedom of expression assured that grave political decisions would receive thorough public scrutiny.
The protesters weren’t always right (the Tories who stood by King George, for example), but time after time the nation was forced eventually to reconsider hastily decided courses of action.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, many Americans thought the war in Vietnam was such a mistake. Today, many loyal Americans think the war in Iraq is.
Speaking out about it isn’t just their right; it’s their duty. It’s not an act of disloyalty, it’s an act of reverence for American ideals. Parents scolding children for making bad choices are showing the same kind of tough love.
Government leaders being called to task tend to react defensively, and the current administration is no exception. The favored strategy in such circumstances is to brand critics as unpatriotic.
Hence, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, speaking on Tuesday to the American Legion convention in Salt Lake City, likened opponents of the Bush administration’s foreign policy to those who tried to head off World War II by appeasing the Nazis and negotiating with Adolf Hitler.
Labeling loyal Americans as Nazi-appeasers is a bald attempt to silence protesters and chill their convictions without having to answer their challenges.
Honest, spirited discourse about national policies is an indispensable check on political recklessness. This country has attained the status it enjoys today because the public voice, even when it isn’t heeded, can at least be heard.
Demanding blind acquiescence of Americans in policies they consider wrong is an abandonment of American principles. How unpatriotic can you get?