Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dissent is More than Just Saying No

I was browsing Facebook earlier today when I came across the e-vite for an anti-war protest that several of UMD's lefty activist groups are putting together this week. Predictably, the message board for the event was filled with the standard back-and-forth between the "Bush lied" crowd and the "support the troops" crowd.

Despite my own views (I support continued U.S. military involvement in Iraq), I have a problem with views held by extreme members of both the pro- and anti-war sides.

A couple quotes of what passes as the less-shrill dialogue from the message board:

"The [Iraqi] people don't want us there. We have no right to be there. So the only logical thing to do would be to leave...I don't see how thousands of more deaths will 'clean up' the thousands that have already died." - Matthew L.

"Every red-blooded American knows what it takes to have peace--it takes people willing to do what's most difficult--pick up a weapon and fight for it...Understand that you are doing little for the good of the country that gave you the freedom and the education you needed to think up your silly ideas and whine about them in public." - Karen M.

War supporters get angry at the anti-war crowd for what they see as opposing actions undertaken in this country's best interest, and more importantly, as undermining the efforts of military personnel who are risking their lives. Pro-war people should stop impugning the anti-war crowd's patriotism, and not just out of respect for the sincerity of their convictions.

I want to avoid boring anyone by being trite, so I'll skip the part where I quote some Founding Father or eminent thinker's pithy comment on the value of protest. Instead, I'd like to remind the pro-war crowd that we need the anti-war crowd. We need them to legitimize America's military efforts, to show that our country is not some barbaric monolithic society. We need them to demonstrate the variety of opinion tolerated in our democratic society.

Dissent isn't just about them saying no. We need them to second-guess us and provide oversight for our decisions so that we can feel more assured that we are acting in a manner consistent with our values. The America I feel comfortable living in is one where people debate and disagree, not one where everyone is lockstep on every important issue.

With that admonition to the pro-war crowd behind us, I'd like to address the anti-war crowd as well. Here I mean to appeal to reasonable people--I don't waste time trying to address anyone who talks about conspiracy theories, evil corporations, or loosely throws around words like fascism or genocide. To the reasonable, principled section of the anti-war crowd (which I'm sure makes up the vast majority of that group), you also have a duty to do more than just say no.

Your country is at war. War is a serious issue that should not be turned into a political football. You may be against our country's military involvement in Iraq, but remember that our country is better off if we succeed, not if we fail.

To that end, if you care about the future of the Iraqi people, you can do more than just attend protest marches. After the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina hit, so many people I know were involved in charity fundraising, efforts to rebuild houses, etc. I've found it strange that I never see any groups pushing to raise money to help Iraqi civilians, rebuild Iraqi schools and hospitals, etc.

Helping out by no means has to mean enlisting in the army or serving as a contractor in the rebuilding of Iraq's society. I was heartened by the response to the recently-exposed mistreatment of injured soldiers at Walter Reed--pro-war and anti-war supporters alike joined together to express their outrage and successfully push for change.

Realistically though, we are all college students, and the number of options we would actually pursue is quite limited. I think the best way each of us could do our part in the war effort is to remember to keep an open mind.

If you're against the war, good for you, but correct someone the next time they try to paint the war in political tones. Keep our country's best interests at heart, not those of your particular ideology. The same applies to the war's supporters, who need to remember that most anti-war protesters are more than just stupid hippies.

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