Support dissent or the terrorists win: thoughts on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war

Saving dissent[Note to readers: Mediation Channel is not a political blog, so I don’t typically use it as a vehicle for expressing my political views. Sometimes though I must when an issue implicates the work I do or when it has affected me or my family directly, as it did when I wrote “When the political gets personal: what the Military Commissions Act of 2006 means to one mediator and her family“.

Today marks another one of those times when I must speak up. That shouldn’t be surprising, though, to hear from a mediator — not when our work means empowering people to do precisely that. But by all means give this post a pass if you’d prefer to keep your mediation blog reading and political punditry separate.]

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Last night on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I found myself picking up a book my son gave me for Mother’s Day two years ago, Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent and the Stifling of Democracy by Lewis Lapham, an account of the silencing of dissenting voices in American political discourse during the days between the towers falling and the bombing of Baghdad.

Those were dark days for many, particularly those among us who see the value of the hard questions and the give-and-take of dialogue, who know the dangers of the uninformed agreement or the decision made in haste. It was a time when many who supported the war against Iraq accused its critics of a lack of patriotism, or worse, of treason — of hating America, of giving comfort to its enemies, of aiding terrorism.

While five years later dissent has regained some of its former vigor, these old libels still stain our public discourse.

Yet we depend upon the critics and the naysayers of this world to temper our judgments. Both good decisions and democracy alike depend upon candid dialogue, the availability of information, and access to the truth.

And so today, on the fifth anniversary of a war that seems will never end, while I join those who mourn the tragic loss of thousands of lives, both military and civilian, or who struggle to comprehend the economic costs of a war that some have calculated to be $3 trillion, I pause today to recall the first casualty of war. I grieve for dissent.

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