Duty to dissent

Published: Thursday, July 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 30, 2004 at 10:49 p.m.

In his letter of June 25, William Heithaus argues that those who question the war in Iraq are "just itching for a way to stir up trouble for President Bush and is using the war to do it." The assumption that the war is justified and necessary is used to "justify" categorizing anyone who questions or disagrees as a traitor.

The alternate view is that it is not a desire to cause trouble for President Bush that sparks the negative comments, but that actions and decisions by the President are viewed as showing poor judgment based on less than critical evaluation of the facts. A matter, then, of demanding that the President and the administration accept the consequences of their actions.

During WWII, there were groups that refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance in school. In Barnett v. School Board of West Virginia, Justice Robert H. Jackson (for the majority in affirming the right not to say the Pledge) wrote that "Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent will soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard."

The implication of Heithuas' argument is that he prefers unanimity, at whatever cost. Fortunately, the First Amendment, battered though it may be, protects free speech. We have a right, a duty, to dissent, for whatever motives or reasons. We have an obligation as concerned citizens not to remain silent.

John Johnson,


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