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Differing opinions should spark debate, not hate

I get a lot of compliments on some of the columns I write. It’s always good to get positive feedback. But I also enjoy good debate and hearing from people who have a different take on things and are capable of expressing their thoughts. We all learn, and benefit, from listening to an opposing viewpoint.
But sometimes, I’ll get a letter or a call from someone who sees things a little (or a lot) differently, and instead of good debate, it becomes an attack on who I am and the rights I have as an American to disagree with the elected officials who I think are incompetent.
To me, it’s not really a Democrat or Republican issue, it’s an incompetency issue. And I firmly believe that the present administration is the most incompetent that I have seen in my lifetime. And I have every right to voice that opinion.
I am a descendant of Casper Cable, who fought alongside George Washington in the American Revolution. And I am a descendant of his descendants, who have fought in every war this country has endured.
Of course, I never got to know some of my early ancestors, including Casper Cable. But I knew my grandfather, who fought in World War I, really well. And I knew my father, who was a machine-gunner in World War II.
I remember sitting in the porch swing with my grandfather a year or so before he died and my older cousin came up on the porch with an old bayonet that a neighbor had given him. My grandfather, who was a kind, soft-spoken man, went into a rage.
‘Get that thing out of here!’ he shouted, surprising both my cousin and myself. ‘I know what those things did. I had to use one of them. They’re not toys, and don’t ever bring that thing around here again.’
I asked him later why he had gotten so angry. He told me about being in a trench during the war and being attacked by enemy troops, and that there were so many soldiers that you couldn’t shoot for fear of hitting other Americans, so they had to use bayonets.
‘If you could have seen what I saw, and what I had to do, you’d know why I hate war so much,’ he told me. ‘And I did it so you boys will never have to.’ I never forgot the look on his face when he told me that.
My dad would never say much about the war. I often write stories about veterans, but he would never let me tell his story. He passed away last year and took his story to his grave. I actually learned more about his stint in World War II from my grandmother than from him.
‘Your dad used a machine gun in the war,’ she told me. ‘It changed him. When he came home after the war ended, I didn’t really know him anymore. He didn’t laugh or even smile until he married your mother a couple of years later. I know your dad is a little strange, but don’t be upset with him. He went through more than you and I can even imagine. War does that to soldiers.’
As Americans, we’re all born with certain rights: the right to worship (or not worship) as we please, the right to assemble, the right to free speech, and the right to a free press, among others. But those rights didn’t come easily. Someone, somewhere along the line, had to fight for them, and many have had to fight to keep them. My family has done just that.
So, I feel that if I don’t voice my opinion when I have one, or if I refrain from doing so because someone may disagree with me, my family should be ashamed of me. This country should be ashamed of me.
But something has happened to the way we deal with someone who has a different opinion. Why are people so hateful to anyone who has a different take on things? I got a letter from a guy recently who said that what I write in my columns is vomit. Another person wrote a letter to my boss trying to get me fired, because they disagreed with my opinion about George Bush. I wonder how they would feel if I contacted their boss and tried to get them fired because of an opinion that they voiced. Why is it that they can have an opinion but I’m not supposed to? It’s one thing to disagree with someone; it’s something totally different to hate the person because you disagree.
Another recent letter stated that I was ‘anti-war,’ as if that is a bad word. Yes, I am anti-war. My grandfather made sure of that. And I couldn’t imagine being ‘pro-war.’ Why would anyone want war? Especially an unnecessary one.
Anyone can write an opinion and have it printed in the opinion section of the paper. That’s what I do. But I never attack or try to demean anyone who has a different opinion. I am only critical of those who are elected by the people to represent us. Even though George Bush and Dick Cheney are Republicans, it’s their job to represent all Americans. I don’t feel that they are representing me, or what this nation stands for. And I’m not ashamed of my opinions. I sign my name to them.
My editor at the Clarion News, Chris Adams, and I disagree politically all the time. We debate issues almost daily, and sometimes those debates will continue into the next day. But we certainly don’t hate each other, and we never even get angry at each other. We share ideas, and I’d like to believe that we learn from each other. That’s what debate is all about.
I love to hear from my readers, so keep the letters and phone calls coming, even if you don’t agree with my opinion. And if reading my columns makes you angry or hateful, don’t read them. But don’t expect me to quit writing them. My ancestors fought, and even died, to assure me of that right, and you can bet, I’m not going to let them down.