Hed Lines: We have a right to protest the war

The allied bombing and invasion of Iraq are much on the minds of residents in this conservative, pro-military community – and throughout Arizona, the nation and the world.

Since the war began March 19, the Miner staff has done a number of stories.

While working on the reaction story for March 20, I interviewed several local residents who made hawkish statements and found few who expressed doubts about the war.

Two men whom I interviewed at local bars criticized anti-war protesters.

While they did not say so directly, they basically believe that the protesters needed to get with the program by supporting the war.

Ideally, America would like to present a united front in our war against the regime of Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein, as we did following the Japanese bombing on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the terrorist attacks of Sept.

11, 2001.

However, support for the war is far from being universal, and opposition is much more widespread throughout Europe and most of the world.

And like Vietnam, support for the war in the United States could erode as more Americans come back from the Persian Gulf in body bags.

By launching the war, in conjunction with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President George W.

Bush has unintentionally unleashed a force that the Republican Party has been trying to neutralize since Richard Nixon narrowly defeated Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 presidential election: 1960s-style protests.

War opponents have taken to the streets in New York City, San Francisco, Washington and other big cities, and in college towns throughout the United States.

With rare exceptions, protesters have said they support the troops – by bringing them home as soon as possible.

They are not necessarily against the war aims of disarming Saddam of weapons of mass destruction, but oppose the toll in human lives on both the allied and Iraqi sides.

I've even heard some opposition in Kingman before and after the war started.

A month ago, I approached a Golden Valley man while I conducted a photo poll for our sister newspaper, the Golden Valley Enterprise.

I asked him to smile for the camera.

"I don't smile.

I'm an anti-war activist," he responded.

The man said he served in the Gulf War.

Unfortunately, he did not agree to speak to us on the record about why he opposes the new war against Saddam.

Local residents are debating the war in their homes, in restaurants and bars, and in other places where they gather.

So far, I am unaware of any local residents taking to the streets to express opposition to the war.

Taking an unpopular position in a small town could have negative consequences: the potential loss of friends and business as well as alienating area residents who have family members risking their lives by serving in the military in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As was the case during Vietnam, many war supporters have questioned the patriotism of the protesters, and argue the military is fighting to protect freedoms such as the right to protest.

However, peaceful war protesters are not being unpatriotic, un-American, or even misguided or naïve.

They are exercising the rights of citizenship, rights that few citizens enjoy in the Arab World.

Under the Bill of Rights, we have the right to free speech, to petition our government for a redress of grievances.

The Founding Fathers framed our Constitution to protect the expression of unpopular views.

The Constitution protects words and deeds many of us may find offensive, such as documentary filmmaker Michael Moore's attack on Bush during the Academy Awards March 23.

While hawks and doves fight in the battlefield of public opinion, they all support the troops, want the war to end as soon as possible, and hope that it leads to positive results such as resolving the 55-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict

History will prove whether Bush made a prudent move or engaged in folly.

His supporters should hope he does not meet the fate of another president from Texas whose political career was shortened and other legacy was sullied by a war: Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Ken Hedler is the county government and politics reporter for the Miner.