- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

As we pause to assess the state of the nation one year after the attacks of September 11, it is worth considering the role of dissent and national unity in our war-fighting efforts. America's motto, E Pluribus Unum out of many, one has always been more of a goal or prayer than an objective description of reality. We fought a Civil War to bring the many states back into the one union. All our wars have been fought with violent dissent on the home front. Even the act of interning thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II whether it was a reasonable and necessary defensive action or not was an act by our own government of "manyness," not "oneness." Either by government decision or personal choice, there have always been many who were not part of the one.

How could it be otherwise? As a nation born in revolution, the right even the obligation of dissent is inherent in the meaning of the word America. No American of courage and conviction will fail to resist what he or she opposes. Even violent and illegal dissent has sometimes been admired in our remembered history. John Brown rebelled against slavery and was hanged for his criminally rebellious conduct. But he is remembered by many (and was portrayed by Hollywood) as an at least partially admirable figure. In Norman Rockwell's iconic illustration of free speech in a town hall meeting, a working man stands up to oppose the consensus of his fellow townspeople.

Uniformity or conformity of opinion either in the war Cabinet or amongst the citizenry is not a strength. We are strengthened by testing our proposed policies, plans and values against the arguments of their strongest opponents. The hardest steel is forged in the hottest fire. Conformity of thought and expression particularly by timorous producers and editors is a greater threat to a genuine national unity, than is even outrageous and loudly expressed dissent.

The vigor of our patriotism is not lessened by the failure of some amongst us to practice it whether it is Arlington County's decision to encourage its residents to display flags other than the Stars and Stripes, or UC Berkeley's initial refusal to issue red, white and blue ribbons (for fear of seeming too patriotic). The public discussion of these oddities undoubtedly has only reinforced most of us in our patriotic instincts. We have established a central unity of purpose in this first year without imposing an unrealistic uniformity.

It is particularly incumbent on those of us who support the president's war efforts to not let our advocacy cross over into intimidation of others who wish to exercise the sacred right of free speech and press.


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