by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
March 21, 2003
A DUTY TO SPEAK UP
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle expressed the views of many in America when he said: "I am saddened that this President failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war. Saddened that we have to give up one life, because this President couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country."
Predictably, the Republicans went berserk over this mild criticism of the failure of the Bush administration to avoid war.
"Is Tom Daschle the official Democrat hatchet-man or just a taxpayer-funded pundit?" House Majority Leader Tom DeLay asked. "Fermez la bouche, Monsieur Daschle."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert said he that he "was disappointed to see his comments. Those comments may not undermine the President as he leads us into war, and they may not give comfort to our adversaries, but they come mighty close."
We'll hear lots more comments like that in the coming days. We're all supposed to shut up and support this war.
My response to this kind of thinking is simple.
I will not keep quiet as I watch the land that I love turn into a rogue nation.
I will not keep quiet as I watch scheming men profit economically and politically from blood shed by others.
I will not keep quiet as I watch as nearly six decades of international law and institutions are crushed in an effort to bring a Pax Americana to the world.
I will not keep quiet as I watch my government manipulate the fears of the citizenry to grab more power for itself.
I will not keep quiet as we wage a war that is - by any objective standard - unjust, immoral, illegal and just plain stupid.
And I will not allow anyone to attempt to silence me, for I and others who are opposed to this unjust, immoral, illegal and stupid war still have the right to dissent and the obligation to speak up when our nation is doing something that is terribly, terribly wrong.
Dissent is the essence of democracy. The suppression of dissent is the essence of tyranny. Those who wish to shut up those who oppose this war do democracy a disservice.
This is a frightening time. Dissent is rarely appreciated in times of peace, but it is equated with treason in a time of war. We are but one terror attack away from martial law and a suspension of the Constitutional guarantees that have been in place for more than two centuries. And that attack became more likely to happen the moment the bombs and cruise missiles started falling on Baghdad.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the federal government has room to scale back individual rights during wartime without violating the Constitution.
"The Constitution just sets minimums," Scalia said after a speech at John Carroll University in suburban Cleveland. "Most of the rights that you enjoy go way beyond what the Constitution requires."
Scalia didn't say what rights he believed are constitutionally protected, but said that in wartime, "the protections will be ratcheted right down to the constitutional minimum."
Given the record of Scalia and his conservative allies on the Supreme Court, I would say that the Bush administration has a blank check to do whatever it wishes to our civil liberties in the name of national security.
But we don't have to see this happen. It's not over yet.
The former governor of my adopted state of Vermont, Howard Dean, made these remarks after Bush's Mar. 17 speech that started the final countdown to Gulf War II. Dean is one of the few Democrats running for president that has the guts to challenge the Bush administration on this stupid war. Dean's remarks are words all of us should remember in the coming weeks.
"Those Americans who opposed our going to war with Iraq, who wanted the United Nations to remove those weapons without war, need not apologize for giving voice to their conscience, last year, this year or next year. In a country devoted to the freedom of debate and dissent, it is every citizen's patriotic duty to speak out, even as we wish our troops well and pray for their safe return. Congressman Abraham Lincoln did this in criticizing the Mexican War of 1846, as did Senator Robert F. Kennedy in calling the war in Vietnam 'unsuitable, immoral and intolerable.'
"This is not Iraq, where doubters and dissenters are punished or silenced - this is the United States of America. We need to support our young people as they are sent to war by the President, and I have no doubt that American military power will prevail. But to ensure that our post-war policies are constructive and humane, based on enduring principles of peace and justice, concerned Americans should continue to speak out; and I intend to do so."
As will I. And, I hope, as will every other American who right now is grieving for the death of the principles that once guided this once-great nation.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).