Dissenters doing patriotic duty

Kai Hagen

March 21, 2003

I am writing this late Wednesday evening from the quiet woods of Frederick County. My wife and our children are sound asleep. The house is dark, except for the light of a single lamp, my computer monitor and the television. Like many others, I presume, I am following news reports and discussions about the beginning of the invasion of Iraq.

In the morning, we'll all wake up at the usual time. We'll have breakfast. The kids will go to school. My wife and I will go to work. In most ways, for us, it will be a normal day.

Normal...and not so normal.

We will wake up to radio reports about the war. The morning newspaper headlines will be about the war. All of the television networks will be covering the war. Half a world away, the fighting in Iraq will also be in our living rooms, in our cars, and on our minds.

Now that the battle has been engaged, all of us, including those who have supported the war without reservation, those who are uncertain, and those who have been firmly opposed to this war, can share the hope the conflict will be swift and as casualty-free as possible. Tonight and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, we will all share sincere concerns and the hope that our men and women in the field are safe.

There is no doubt the American military forces will prevail. The real uncertainties are about what may happen on the way to achieving the inevitable and decisive military outcome, what will happen in Iraq and throughout the region in the days and weeks and months to follow, and what will happen here at home.

One thing is certain is that within families, in our workplaces, and in our communities here in Frederick County, we will continue to have differing views about choices that have been made and choices that lie ahead. War is a serious and solemn endeavor, and I hope we can discuss and consider and debate our options and choices in a civil and thoughtful manner, without resorting to simplistic labels and convenient stereotypes.

Among other things, that means understanding and accepting that good and reasonable people can have a different perspective about what is right, about what is in our national interests, and about what strategy offers the best chance for genuine peace and security at home and around the world.

Whether or not someone supported this particular war, engaged in this manner, at this moment in time, is not the measure of good citizenship or courage or patriotism.

And yet, many recent letters to the editor of this paper have accused those who harbor and express doubts of not supporting our troops, even of aiding and abetting the enemy. Peaceful demonstrators have been called un-American. They have been labeled socialists, They have been described as cowardly extremists with an anti-American agenda. And they have been told to "love it or leave it."

In fact, none of those accusations fairly describe the tens of thousands of Frederick County residents and tens of millions of Americans who think there might have been a better way, even though not in doubt about the evil of Saddam Hussein or the necessity of removing any weapons of mass destruction. They are our relatives, our friends, our classmates and co-workers, our neighbors. They are fellow Americans. And we are all in this together.

In a country dedicated to the freedom of debate and dissent, it is the patriotic duty of every citizen to speak out, even as we wish our troops well and hope for their safe return.

One inescapable truth is that we will never know what would or might have been possible if some things had been done differently, if the invasion of Iraq did not happen in this way, at this time. We can only go forward from here, and work and hope for the best outcome.

And for we all hope the war is short. We hope that many Iraqi soldiers and their leaders will surrender. We hope that few civilian lives are lost. We hope that other conflicts do not break out in the region.

We hope that American special forces or Iraqi dissenters can prevent Saddam from blowing up the oil wells of Iraq, which could lead to the greatest single environmental catastrophe ever seen. We also hope that he is not able to destroy any or all of the huge dams in Iraq, taking thousands of lives and causing another unprecedented environmental disaster.

We can all hope that how we pursue this war and its aftermath reduces the risk of terror at home and abroad, rather than sowing the seeds of future terrorism.

We can all hope the war does not destabilize democratic coalition partners who have risked a great deal by supporting an American strategy in spite of heavy, even overwhelming opposition in their countries.

We can all hope that the United States will be able to repair frayed relationships with longtime and newer allies around the world, and that American leadership on the global stage will be as much about modeling what is right and what works as it is about the exercise of power.

Time will tell.

Meanwhile, both the simplest and the most profound questions and concerns remain unanswered. I hope we can allow for, and respect and consider a variety of views and possibilities as our future unfolds, and as hard choices are made.

Whatever your view, there is a lot at stake...for all of us.

To get in touch, e-mail Kai Hagen at