Finding Our Voices: Stories of American Dissent

Finding Our Voices: Stories of American Dissent
Photo: jcolman, Creative Commons, Flickr
One of the things that bothered me in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the lack of debate over the merits of the invasion.

Finding Our Voices: Stories of American Dissent
Photo: Imagined Reality, Creative Commons, Flickr

My husband was treated to almost-nightly rants about why no one was speaking out against this war, and why no one was asking tough questions.

"Why," I demanded again and again, "isn’t the media doing its watchdog duty?" (Looking back, I realize that I should have been more vocal in my own community.) What I didn’t know was that some people were speaking out. However, in the midst of fears of being labeled "unpatriotic" (and being barred from White House press conferences and maybe not being embedded with the troops) prior to the invasion of Iraq, many of these stories weren’t being covered by the mainstream media.

When I saw "Finding Our Voices: Stories of American Dissent," I understood that there were significant protests about going to war with Iraq. The movie takes an interesting look at the stories of a few of the people who spoke out against the invasion of Iraq, before it began, and who continue to speak out about it five years later. It is a look at dissent in America, and puts the dissent over the Iraq War in context with the history of debate, protest and social change from the earliest moments of our country’s formation. The documentary looked at such anti-war organizations as Code Pink and the efforts of representatives like Jim Moran (one of the minority who voted against giving the President authorization to start a war) to prevent the war.

Certain stories were presented in a way that was a bit melodramatic, and I suspect that there was a little puffing-up of the impact that some of these people actually had. Some of the comments about being surprised about being arrested were a bit much, since many activists (and I suspect — though I can’t prove — that these were some of them) purposely do just what is needed in order to get arrested to bring more publicity. But the overall message was good, and the assertion that some activists that had not been arrested are on FBI watchlists with restricted travel abilities is disturbing.

I enjoyed the story of John Brady Kiesling, one of the diplomats (he was in Greece) that resigned in protest over the planned invasion of Iraq. He put the decision to go to war with Iraq in the context of American values. He asked the question: Is this us? Is this really the America we want to be? The stories that I found most intriguing also framed the discussion surrounding the Iraq War as one of values. They were stories of two soldiers who began speaking out against the Iraq War after actually serving there. My husband’s cousin is getting ready for his third tour of duty in Iraq, so seeing what soldiers had to say about the war really interested me.

Camilo Mejia spoke about some of the interrogation tactics used on the Iraqi prisoners, saying he couldn’t believe that, as an American, this was something considered acceptable. He also shared his fears, saying he was scared to say something, lamenting that he would be seen as a traitor for speaking out to defend others’ rights.

John Bruhns also offered interesting insights from a soldier’s point of view. He said he became skeptical of the morality of the war in Iraq. He pointed out that pretty soon after toppling Saddam Hussein, US soldiers were raiding homes two or three times a week, kicking in doors and looking for anti-American propaganda and weapons. After this happens two or three times a night in multiple communities, Bruhns said, the people don’t feel liberated. They feel occupied. "If this happened in our country…" He sympathized with Iraqis who confusedly fought intruders, expressing the simple truth that if someone came to America and started doing the same thing, he’d fight to the death to defend his home.

"Damn straight," I said to my husband.

In the end, though, points about values were what really interested me, the movie is really about the value of dissent. All major social change in our country — from efforts of the Founders to throw off the reign of a tyrant to the suffragettes to the Civil Rights Movement — has come from dissent. The Reverend Graylan Hagler summed up the position of dissent quite nicely in the movie when he pointed out how easy it is to slip from a democracy to a fascist state when people don’t question the government.