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Over the past few months, there has been a clear division in this country on the topic of military action against the nation of Iraq. Many who oppose the use of force have taken to the streets to express their views, and have been consequently labeled unpatriotic. Yet how can an individual expressing their opinion and exercising their right to free speech be considered as such?
Let me preface this by stating that my views on the issue of military action are inconsequential to the topic of discussion. Whether or not I support such an action is irrelevant, for I am a patriot either way.
Since the inception of this nation, the notion of protest has been central to the ideology of our system of government. Revolutionaries in the original 13 colonies used words and open protest to rally their peers to free themselves from the yoke of a tyrannical king, forming the basis for our country today. We are a nation of individuals who are gathered under the auspices of a Bill of Rights that begins by guaranteeing us certain inalienable rights, the first among them Freedom of Speech and Free Assembly.
In 1849, a man by the name of Henry David Thoreau published a paper entitled “Civil Disobedience” that called for his fellow citizens to disobey unjust laws in an effort to bring notice to them. Martin Luther King, Jr. followed Thoreau’s lead by quietly, yet firmly, violating unjust laws to bring light to his campaign of Civil Rights. Neither men are considered to be criminals, yet both men were jailed for their actions. Such is the nature of civil disobedience. Those who practice it should be willing to pay the price, and those who enforce the laws should be held accountable for violent actions against nonviolent criminals.
So far, in this current period of protest, there has been little call for civil disobedience, but now that the conflict is joined, the protest and nonviolent resistance must increase. This is not a call for criminal action, merely a statement of fact. Protesters will not accept what they view as an injustice without exhausting every just means of combating it. They will not be dissuaded from voicing their concern for the government’s actions. The day they become complacent, in fact, the day that all Americans are completely pacified by the American government is the day that our government ceases to exist, and is replaced by a dictatorial hegemony, devoid of the foundations upon which our Constitution is based.
Yet, even with such powerful moral obligations, protesters of today’s conflict are viewed with suspicion and disgust. They are called unpatriotic and entreated to leave the country if they are not satisfied with it. A sports radio personality in Philadelphia, by all accounts an expert in his field, has even called upon his listeners to kill protesters on Market Street in Philadelphia’s Center City area by running them over with cars. Such calls are the true voice of tyranny. Those who would deny the few their right to speak unpopular opinions are not deserving of their own opinions. Our country has been beset from abroad by men who feel we are wrong and would kill us for it, and in response, some of our own citizens would call others to kill those they disagree with. Who are the greater terrorists?
It must also be noted that there are plenty of protesters out on the street today who have family in the conflict. Protesting against military involvement must not be seen as protesting against the military personnel. The two are separate issues and should not be confused. The protest is against the nature of the conflict and the leaders behind it, not the soldiers carrying it out.
The time to be a true patriot is at hand. Our country faces a great conflict with the world at large, even as we send our soldiers into battle. This is the greatest time to express our patriotism, regardless of how we interpret that. All men who serve the Constitution are to be called patriots. Be they on the field of battle, or the midst of a protest, those who shed their blood to defend the ideals of a nation are one in the same.