Dissent is not necessarily patriotic. It can be. But it can also be treasonous. It depends entirely upon the nature and content of one's dissention.
To dissent is no more unequivocally patriotic than to place someone under citizen's arrest is unequivocally justified. Dissent is a tool, and you are accountable for how you use it. Place someone under false arrest and you're a kidnapper. Support America's enemies and you are considered a traitor.
Yet many of those most radical critics of the United States will insist they are simply fulfilling their patriotic duty. But how far does this logic go? Is a spy giving American military secrets to foreign governments simply fulfilling a patriotic duty? What if the spy earnestly believes that America is an evil nation and what he is doing is for the best?
That the dissenter believes in what he is doing is not enough. A dissenter's actions must be guided by a love for this country and its citizens in order to be considered patriotic.
But there is a second qualification. Even if a dissenter's actions are guided by a love for America, if the true result of that dissent is ultimately harmful and destructive to this nation then such dissent, however well-intentioned, clearly falls under the category of unpatriotic dissent.
Some might wish to be able to attack and assault and accuse with moral impunity, seeking refuge in platitudes about the great democratic tradition of dissent, but this noble tradition does not shield them from culpability. If they actively pursue ends that harm this nation, the fact that they are engaging in a great American practice does not make them great Americans. Free speech, which encompasses the right of dissent, is a sacred American right, but no sane person would argue that any exercise of free speech is a patriotic act. The evaluation is contingent upon what is said.
So why, then, are we as a society afraid to condemn the dissent of others when it falls far outside acceptable bounds? Why is it so politically incorrect to question people's patriotism no matter how heinous their libeling of America becomes?
Such individuals are still entitled to the full protections of the law and the complete security of their constitutional rights. But they are not entitled to our respect, and they are not entitled to be considered patriots. The right of free speech is in no way, shape or form meant to protect people from moral judgment.
When Ted Kennedy gets up and says on an international stage that "shamefully, we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management-U.S. management," he is not exercising the dissent of a patriot but that of a traitor. It's of course true that such egregious comments are not legally treasonous, but when you lie about your country, slander the troops serving overseas and compare our military with that of one of the world's worst dictators, you have betrayed your nation and are morally guilty of treason.
When Cindy Sheehan calls the same Iraqi terrorists that slew her son "freedom fighters" and argues that George W. Bush is "ten times worse than Osama Bin Laden," she's not engaged in morally defensible dissent. She's supporting our enemies and lying about the true nature of our country's military activities. Not once has Bush ever deliberately targeted innocent civilians. It is impossible to validly argue that Bush is a terrorist. Sheehan's rants qualify as unpatriotic dissent of the worst kind.
Islamic terrorists have declared holy war on the United States. They have declared a death sentence on every man, woman and child living in this country. They are actively seeking, with the assistance of radical Muslim despots, weapons that would permit them to execute hundreds of thousands of Americans in a single attack. America, under the leadership of George W. Bush, is doing its best to protect its citizens, defeat its enemies and prevent the unthinkable from occurring.
There are profound political forces within and without the United Sates that would like to see us stand down, concede defeat to Zarqawi in Iraq and cease the post 9/11 strategy that has kept the terrorists on the defensive and prevented a second attack inside our borders. Every American has the right to support a policy of retreat and capitulation, and, as so many leftists do, they also have right to lie and slander the country and the president to further this agenda.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
All Americans-Duke students among them-who have compared Bush with Hitler, falsely accused our army of some of the worst human rights violations in history, against all evidence claimed Iraq was a war for oil and praised or supported the motivations or activities of the terrorists in Iraq or elsewhere are in fact dissenting in a legal and protected fashion. But this legal protection cannot shield their hands from the possibility of someday being stained with the blood of the innocent Americans whose country they betrayed.
Stephen Miller is a Trinity junior. His column runs every other Wednesday.