Dissent doesn’t equal disloyalty in U.S.

Not since the Vietnam War has the American public been so divided about the prospect of a military engagement, or so resoundingly vocal about it. Beyond the tens of thousands who have taken to the streets to demonstrate, millions more argue and disagree and freely express opinions in smaller groups, at home and in public. In many countries, including Iraq, such vocal dissent could get you jailed, if not killed.

Even after more than two centuries of democracy, there’s still an uneasy undercurrent among some Americans that such dissent is somehow disloyal. A few days ago, an airline passenger who had two “No War with Iraq” signs in his suitcase said a federal transportation security agent who opened his luggage inserted a handwritten note. It said: “Don’t appreciate your anti-American attitude!”

Whoever slipped that note into the protester’s luggage is profoundly confused. Dissent is not anti-American, or unpatriotic. Quite the contrary.

What is happening today in America, fierce, vociferous, even to some, offensive, debate over war, reflects the robust health of our democracy.

The U.S. appears likely to go to war. At that point, if the past is any guide, much of the American public will close ranks behind its soldiers. Dissent may subside a bit then, but many who feel passionately that the war is wrong likely will continue to speak out.

Let’s hope so. America stands for the defense of the opportunity to speak freely, to express an opinion and not to be muzzled either by fellow citizens or the government.