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Dissent is a fundamental American right

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Dissent is a fundamental American right

That was quite a stunt President Bush pulled off last week, landing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln at 150 knots in a Navy S-3B "Viking" jet. There was hardly a newspaper in the country that didn't give the event front-page coverage, complete with photos of the president strutting about the flight deck like a barnyard rooster.

Here, then, was the nation's heroic Commander in Chief, fresh back from his spectacular victory in Iraq, grinning from ear to ear and giving the thumbs-up as he climbed out of the aircraft in full combat gear to the cheers of sailors aboard the massive American warship.

Talk about a public relations coup. In Washington, where the president's dramatic tail-hook landing was hailed as the mother of all photo opportunities, it is now conceded that even the World Wrestling Entertainment's master promoter Vince McMahon couldn't have scripted anything more over the top.

One can only wonder what the merchandising wizards at the White House will come up with next? There's talk of an appearance this summer at the Ringling Bros. Circus, where rumor has it the president will walk a tight wire high above a den of hungry lions, all without benefit of a safety net.

Such a display of skill and daring would help ease public fears concerning how the president intends to lead the country out of the current recession. Certainly there is no denying the president's popularity. According to Bush watchers, eight of every 10 Americans are delighted with the ease in which he dispatched the evil Saddam Hussein and his sinister Bath Party loyalists.

But for skeptics such as myself—the less than 20-percenters—there are far too many disturbing and unanswered questions to allow for any genuine enthusiasm.

Naturally I hope my criticism of the president proves unfounded. But something in my gut tells me that the Bush administration has set America on a course that will lead it into the jaws of some future geo-political "perfect storm."

In last week's address to the nation, the president stated that he wasn't sure when the people of Iraq would embrace the principles of American-style democracy. What he did say, however, was that it would probably take a long time. Until then, he added, U.S. troops would remain in Iraq.

That admission explains why government contracts totaling billions of dollars already have been awarded to a handful of giant corporations for the construction of three air bases and an equal number of army installations in Iraq. Not surprisingly, several of the newly hired-on contractors have deep connections to the Bush administration.

Ostensibly, the U.S. invaded Iraq to reduce the terrorist threat to America and to give the Iraqi people an opportunity to plot their own future. That mission has been accomplished, so what could possibly justify the continued presence of U.S. troops in that long oppressed and exploited country?

Part of the answer was revealed in something Secretary of State Colin Powell said upon his return from Damascus last week. In comments to the press, Powell noted that in his meeting with Bashar Assad, the Syrian president was advised that the leaders of the Arab Middle East must now contend with the reality of a new American strategic presence in the region.

In other words, the White House intends to maintain a strong, long-term military force in Iraq, one powerful enough to rapidly deploy east, west, north or south at the whim of a president who already has demonstrated little regard for diplomacy, treaties, previous agreements or world opinion.

Though it may be unpopular even to suggest it, all the flag waving and super patriotic mumbo jumbo in the world can't conceal the fact that the real story behind the president's war in Iraq has yet to be told. And so accusing the president's war critics of unpatriotic, even traitorous behavior is but one of the many tactics now being used to curb dissent and conceal the truth.

This one small voice speaks for no one but himself. All wars are a mean and dirty business. Still, there are conflicts I would support and others I would not. Had I been born earlier, it is likely that I would have joined the 28,000 Americans who headed off to Spain in 1937 to defend the Spanish Republic from a fascist uprising aided by Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy.

Or, like my father's cousin who disappeared over the Atlantic while ferrying bombers to England prior to America's entry into the Second World War, I too might have chosen to head north and join the Canadian Royal Air Force. Given what some have termed the "economic calamity and political turmoil" of the 1930s, there were those few Americans who did not wait for Pearl Harbor to challenge the demonic forces of fascism that posed so great a danger to the world in those days.

Sixteen years after the global conflict ended, it was a letter from my draft board that prevented me from participating in the Freedom Rides that first struck at the heart of America's Jim Crow South in the summer of 1961.

As fate would have it, one year later I would stand on the burning, bullet-riddled, bloodstained campus of a previously all-white university in Mississippi, a common foot soldier sent by his president to engage in what historians would later call "the last great battle of the American Civil War."

Today, due to my advanced age—or perhaps because I have for so long been a witness to so much greed, violence, indifference, blind ambition and corruption—I no longer find it necessary to hide behind or wave the American flag to prove my patriotism.

The difference between the American ideal that is called democracy and Nazi Germany, the Taliban's Afghanistan or Suddam Hussein's Iraq, now and forever, is every citizen's right to free expression.

That is why to dare even suggest that opposition to this particular president's foreign and domestic policies somehow equates to treason smacks of the kind of cancerous, Gestapo-like m entality that, left unchallenged, undermines the very principles and values upon which America's very survival is absolutely dependent.

Jim Munn is a Gloucester Daily Times columnist.

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