The historical quote, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism" has often been attributed to Thomas Jefferson but historians have been unable to verify that belief. Who actually said it matters little; what matters is the intent of the words themselves that tell us American citizens have a patriotic duty to dissent and to speak out when it is apparent their government is creating policies and taking actions that are in conflict with the best interests of the people and the laws of the land.
The right of patriotic dissent has been a part of America since those days that brought us our independence. However, in recent years, especially since 9/11, the notion that Americans have the right to dissent has become more and more problematic. Right-wing conservatives and their many associates in the controlled media have tried to silence voices of dissent in America. Serious attempts to question the actions of our government, especially in matters relating to war, are met with charges of unpatriotic behavior and treasonous intentions.
A great example of patriotic dissent can be found during the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower. While some historians consider his presidency to have been devoid of great achievements, during his time in office, from 1953 to 1961, after he had ended the Korean War, America enjoyed a period of peace without war. That is certainly a great achievement.
Eisenhower was a five-star general and the commander of the allied forces in World War II. After the war he became the first commander of NATO. This was a man who knew war, a man who had conducted a massive invasion of France and Germany. Here's an excerpt from his wise and insightful speech entitled, "The Chance for Peace" that he gave to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 16, 1953, shortly after he became president:
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, and the hopes of its children.
The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement.
We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.
Is there no other way the world may live?"
These are very powerful words that should resonate across the full spectrum of America in this great time of national crisis as our government leads us further and further into a massive quagmire of foreign wars.
Yes, this was a man who knew what war was all about. He knew how to conduct wars; but he also knew that wars were not the real answers to nations' differences. At the end of this speech he said these words of great wisdom -- "This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."
That speech was given after he had just returned from Korea where he had witnessed that conflict first hand. He returned convinced that the war had to be ended and that peace negotiations had to be initiated. He was met with great opposition by his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and Defense Secretary Charles Wilson. He was subjected to the scathing criticism of the military and congressional war hawks who called him an appeaser, and even threatened him with impeachment. But he knew what he had to do and he prevailed.
It was said that "Ike" blew the whistle on those who were determined to continue on the path to war. President Eisenhower was a true American patriot and, by that speech and similar statements, he was exercising a form of patriotic dissent while he was a part of the government that he knew was going in the wrong direction. Yes, anyone can and should exercise the right to dissent, when the situation requires it; even a president of the United States.Â
He was not hesitant to speak out and directly challenge the views of those elements of the government, the military, and the defense industry that had intentions of using America's military power to pursue and sustain an agenda of global hegemony. As he was leaving office in 1961 he gave a notable farewell speech in which he stated, "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."Â
Consider this recent headline from the Huffington Post website: "63% of Americans Oppose War in Afghanistan." That's great news but also troubling. It's easy to respond to polling, but when the majority of America is against that war, where is the real dissent, where are the voices of the people? There are some dissenting voices in the progressive movement such as antiwar activist David Swanson, and even a handful of those in Congress, if you can believe it. However, the mass media, including liberal voices, are simply not speaking out. For the most part passive silence has become the order of the day.
These trying times call for more involvement -- not less -- by Americans in questioning the actions of their government. Going into the future, one of the greatest dangers to this nation will be the suppression of dissent by those in positions of power. When the voice of the people is silenced out of fear of retribution, America will become a pacified, controlled society. Sad to say, that eventuality is far closer to reality than we realize.