I remember when I read headlines that the United States had finally invaded Iraq. The color drained from my face as I picked up the paper and read the terrible news. My conservative roommate at the time was excited about the U.S. invasion of Iraq. She, like many others at the time, thought that President George W. Bush and his Cabinet were doing the right thing – deposing a dictator and replacing him with democracy. I shook my head; war and its consequences were never so easy.
I asked my roommate, “What happens if civil war breaks out between the Sunni and the Shiites? What happens if we break everything and can’t fix it? How can we maintain this and Afghanistan at the same time? How can we pay for all this?”
My roommate simply replied that civil war would not break out – that we the Americans would fix everything and be back home within two, maybe three years. She seemed haughty delivering this information, as if admonishing a small child for not knowing what he or she was supposed to know.
My roommate seemed to fit right in with the chorus of pro-Bush citizens at the time, ever quick to toss labels like “unpatriotic” or “soft on terrorism” at the slightest bit of independent thought. I felt like I had stepped back in time and place to Communist Asia, where dissent was regarded a threat and violently squashed.
Dissenting lawmakers who failed to go with the flow were tarred and feathered by their own party while flags and yellow ribbons went up. If there was any question in my mind how the Nazis were so successful at brainwashing citizens into a massive swarm that resisted minority views, they were answered as I watched the nation lose the very thing that made it great – dissent, dissent and more dissent.
Here we are, five years later. The president, his Cabinet and the war in Iraq have become increasingly unpopular. We now have lawmakers and citizens alike regretting their support of the war. We have young men and women returning from war with trauma to their bodies and minds.
We also have a nation hurt from the division this war and administration has caused. There were many citizens convinced that the war was necessary to fight against terrorism who now feel that the invasion is wrong. We have many other citizens who disagreed with the war and feel sad at the mess they tried to prevent. Both sides likely experienced insults, mudslinging and hurtful treatment by those with opposing views.
Trying to move on and find a way out of Iraq is impossible without trying first to reconcile the ideological split in our nation. I will be the first to admit to shrill and harsh language against people I could not convince to oppose the war (my first target being my then-roommate).
By acknowledging guilt we can come together and effectively hold this administration accountable for its crimes and begin to repair the damage done. Holding onto the vestiges of the pro/anti-war sentiment only serves to divide further and allow the administration to stay its course. Maintaining this divide by failing to reach out and embrace dissent only keeps us tools of the administration.
Quynh Nguyen can be reached at [email protected]