The war has begun. Now that President Bush has brought the United States to the point of no return in Iraq, many a misguided voice will tell us that it is too late for doubt, discussion, debate. They will tell us to bite our tongues and rally behind our troops, that articulating dissent of any kind in times of war is dangerous and unpatriotic.

Well intentioned though these voices may be, they fail to understand that the principles for which they say our troops are fighting – the basic founding principles of the United States – demand incessant and impassioned critiques of those in power. It is no accident that the freedoms of speech, petition and press top the Bill of Rights; no nation can be truly healthy without a strong dose of constructive criticism from within as well as from without.

Campus today will be highly charged. War will be the topic of conversation in classrooms, bars, apartments. Professors will steer discussions away from syllabi-directed topics and toward Iraq. Parents will phone. Opinions will be expressed that seem to some offensive, belligerent and wholly inappropriate.

It is imperative, though, that when geopolitical events reach such an explosive climax, when our emotions approach their thresholds, that we do not allow histrionics and vitriol to rule the day. Democracy is made to work through clear-headed discussion and debate, not through hot-blooded vociferation. It is easy on days like today to forget this. We must not allow the intense images and urges running through all of our minds to wrench us away from rational debate.

The manner in which we choose to respond today may well define us for years to come. Let us show the rest of the world what it really means to be Americans, to be free; let us speak our minds and allow others to speak theirs, regardless of whose position is most popular or least inflammatory.

War reveals. The essential characteristics of human beings, institutions and nations are laid bare in grave moments like these. It is critical, then, that we approach today’s events with sobriety and dignity. Dialogue and debate are patriotic; it is the responsibility of free peoples to reveal the awesome human potential so often obscured by flags flung unquestioningly.

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