Issues with the use of force overseas

I would like to make a response to the editorial by Emily Rouse in the March 6 edition of The Simpsonian. Emily, whose husband is now serving in the armed forces in the Gulf region, declares that we should support our troops because they are willing to risk their lives in our place when they are called to do so. I agree wholeheartedly that we must show our appreciation and admiration for those who show such bravery and loyalty.

But I would like to take issue with some of the other arguments that she makes in her editorial. She states that those who argue against the war are unpatriotic, anti-American and opposed to freedom. These are very strong statements to make, and she does not explain what logic leads her to make them. I would like to look at each idea more closely.

Why are those who express opposition to the war unpatriotic and anti-American? Is it because they dare to question the pronouncements of the President of the United States? Is it because they have looked critically at the issues and the information and come to a different conclusion than those in the administration? Is it because they express their disagreement and their criticism in public?

In a dictatorship, these intellectual activities would certainly be condemned as treasonous, but we live in a democracy. A democracy depends on its citizens to commit themselves to taking part in public debate, to thinking for themselves, to seeking out the best information they can and drawing their own conclusions about it. A democracy also depends on its citizens to say honestly what they think and engage in constructive debate with others. Through rational discussion, we hope to discover what is true and what is right. We cannot do that if we reject discussion, if we suppress debate, if we refuse to engage in constructive dialogue. We must respect each other’s opinions, but we must also respect our duty to express and explain our disagreements with each other, not by attacking those who differ from us and saying hurtful things about them, but by taking what they say seriously and subjecting it to rational analysis and discussion.

This is the line of reasoning that leads me to say that by informing myself on the issues at stake, thinking about what I know and believe and expressing honestly the opinions I have even to those who disagree with me, I am doing exactly what a citizen of a democracy should and must do. I am acting in the best traditions of our country.

Emily also says that those who oppose the war take for granted their right to protest and their freedom. The implication is that those who do not support the war endanger the rights and freedoms of all Americans. But how is this demonstrated in this case? In what way does Saddam Hussein threaten the constitutional rights of American citizens? In what way is he a threat to our freedom? He has not attacked us, nor does he have the means to attack us directly on our own territory. He has not a single military person anywhere near our land, though we have upwards of 300,000 soldiers directly threatening his territory and in fact already carrying out a low-level war in the northern and southern regions of Iraq. As of this moment with regard to the people of Iraq, we are a more serious and direct threat to their most basic human right, the right to life, than Saddam Hussein has ever been to us and our rights and freedoms.

In war, people fight and kill each other. People die in terrible ways. Some people who are not combatants will die, and many will suffer. Some people who are serving because they believe in their hearts that this is right thing, the best thing to do, will kill others who think exactly the same way. Each person who is wounded or killed, whether Arab or American, will leave behind many who loved him, many who will mourn. What a terrible thing.

Are not the lives of our soliders, and all human beings, precious to us? Aren’t those lives what is most important to us? War should be a last resort; war should be the solution that we turn to with great sadness and reluctance only when all other means to protect our land and our lives have been unquestionably exhausted. Supporting our troops means not accepting the waste of their lives.

Jennifer Hedda

Professor of History