Honor American Dissidents
by Dennis Rahkonen
May 24, 2003
Newspapers feature letters reflecting an impossible contradiction.
They’re written by those angry over antiwar protests held as the U.S. is actively engaged in Iraq. Permit me to generalize their complaint:
“I’m outraged by peaceniks who condemn our president while our troops are fighting to preserve the freedoms they so offensively abuse. Don’t they know it’s the blood shed by our troops in many wars that gives them the opportunity to make fools of themselves?”
Then they continue: “We shouldn’t have to put up with such treason. If they can’t support the USA and what it stands for, they should go to Cuba and see how they like it there!”
All this is stated with an air of complete certainty and rectitude. The writers couldn’t imagine being wrong. But that’s exactly what they are.
Freedom is just an empty word unless a nation that professes to be free tolerates absolutely unfettered criticism of controversial policies whose lack of legality, ethics or overall wisdom calls for serious objection.
Liberty isn’t something for the majority to weakly “exercise” by patting itself on the back. It’s properly the RIGHT of a minority to have the full democratic space it requires to get its message across, without violent behavior. That includes conscientious civil disobedience, for which those participating know and accept the cost.
These are activities that all who believe themselves patriots should support on principle, saying, “I may not share your views, but I strongly defend your right to express them.”
Furthermore, it isn’t just the spilled blood of soldiers that gave us our rights
Never forget the sacrifice of countless souls from various movements for justice and true empowerment who fought illegitimate authority to make U.S. freedom authentic.
Abolitionists, suffragettes, union activists, anti-segregation martyrs, feminists, gay rights heroes and, yes, many opponents of far too frequently unjust wars.
Toby Keith may not sing their praises, but their contribution to America is absolutely pivotal.
To all who’ve bravely resisted everything from racial and sexual prejudice to jingoistic chauvinism, you have my undying gratitude.
I especially want to salute those who understood the key distinction between patriotism and imperialism, and who courageously said so, from the Philippines more than a hundred years ago, through Central American travesties in the early 1900s, up to Vietnam, and Iraq today.
Also, let’s recall some downplayed historical facts.
It was Federal soldiers who brutally stole this land from its original inhabitants and then called it the “home of the brave, the land of the free.”
It was General MacArthur’s forces that assaulted WWI Bonus Marchers encamped in the nation’s capital in 1932.
Numerous strikes by American workers seeking decent conditions and dignity were broken by troops called up to serve greedy business interests, not our wage-earning majority’s needs.
It was Legionnaires enflamed with Red-baiting hysteria who violently attacked Paul Robeson’s peaceful political gathering in Peekskill, New York, in 1949.
It was National Guardsmen who fired on students at Kent State in 1970, killing four.
If we add police to this pattern of U.S. repression by those with uniforms and guns, we get a picture far different than the one George Bush’s always tries to convey.
Finally, let’s accept the validity that motivates ongoing protest concerning Bush’s blatant aggression.
There are families in America, and others in Iraq, who've had precious loved ones killed for the falsehood that Saddam Hussein had countless weapons of mass destruction about to be horribly used at any moment.
Weapons never found.
Some say that’s immaterial, since the world is now rid of a terrible despot. But how did Saddam arise in the first place?
United Press International recently ran a story, based on extensive interviews with US and British intelligence personnel, telling how the CIA picked Saddam from obscurity in the '60s to conspire against perceived leftists then running Iraq. He went about killing real or suspected communists, which is how he honed his sinister skills. So long as his barbarism served Cold War objectives, he was "our boy," just like Osama in Afghanistan.
Double standards and selective morality aren't appropriate reasons to send a kid from Ohio to his needless, horrible death in Baghdad.
And neither is the totally twisted foreign-policy interpretation of freedom that has Washington controlling every aspect of Iraqi life, at gunpoint, exclusively for multinational-corporate gain.
There’s rarely been as justified a rationale for dissent as America’s unprovoked strike on Iraq.
Our country is a freer place today not because that invasion occurred, but because folks from all walks of life understood that freedom atrophies unless it’s fully flexed, in the streets.
May we never be devoid of the free impulse that allows ordinary people to right our country’s wrongs when objective reality convincingly so warrants.
Let’s praise our dissidents.
They keep our freedom healthy and hale.
Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, WI, has written progressive commentary and verse for various outlets since the ‘60s. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org