Monday, March 2, 2015

Answering a son's thoughtful question

Dearest Aaron,

You asked a few days about my opinion on the Edward Snowden situation. What I see is a tragedy for the American people unfolding here, and not in a way you might at first think.

Snowden is your generation’s Daniel Ellsberg, and as I admired Ellsberg a generation ago, so I admire Snowden now. I’ll let you look up the Pentagon Papers (Wikipedia gets it mostly right, and it gave rise to one of the most beloved quotes in modern journalism.) TLDR version: Ellsberg was an analyst for a CIA contractor who compiled and gave to the New York Times and Washington Post several tons of documents proving that the U.S. Government (specifically presidents Johnson and Nixon) lied about almost everything concerning the Vietnam War. To his credit, Ellsberg relied on the common sense and “gatekeeping” of professional journalists to protect the innocent. He was prosecuted and at first the judge did all he could to secure a conviction, but when the extent of government wrongdoing came to light, even the pro-prosecution judge couldn't let the case go forward. Subsequent government attempts to brand Ellsworth a traitor or a nut case fell on deaf ears.

Snowden has done almost the exact same thing, but America today is a lot different than it was back in the 1970s, and that’s where the tragedy lies. He was thoughtful enough to hand the documents over to professional journalists for vetting and, yes, censorship to try to protect the innocent. Glenn Greenwald is, hands down, one of the finest journalists of our time. He has academic and field credentials few other journalists have; he is driven by an overpowering sense of justice, and he has an innate sense of what is fair and right. He will turn out to be one of the greatest journalists America has ever produced.

But three things have happened between 1971 and now that changed things for Snowden. First, of course, was 9/11/2001. For the first time since 1812, the United States of America was actually attacked by an outside force. True, it wasn’t an armed military attack by a recognized state, but it was a coordinated attack aimed at killing as many Americans as possible and, despite my previous protests about mere criminality, for most Americans it was as much an act of war as if al-Qaeda had stormed our beaches.

The second thing that happened is that our government has used that attack to convince the American public that we are constantly under siege (we’re not) thus bloating any number of little kingdoms under the umbrella of (shudder!) Homeland Security. More crimes have been committed by U.S. government workers against humanity in the past 14 years than in the previous 230. One of the worst of these crimes is making the media environment so toxic that Fox News and all of its attendant ass-hats could thrive. American peasants are like peasants anywhere – they have no problem believing that some shapeless, formless evil is responsible for the sad-ass condition of their lives, including their obesity, their shitty jobs, their lazy kids, and their leaky trailer houses. They also believe in God, but no one really knows why.

The third thing was Julius Assange  and WikiLeaks. Assange single-handedly destroyed vast swaths of American human intelligence-gathering (“humint”) capability just to show that he could. I won’t spend a lot of time on this except to say that Assange is in desperate need of the Seal Team Six treatment.

So when Snowden handed Greenwald proof that our government was illegally spying on us, Americans had pretty much had e-fucking-nough. We’d become so inured to government wrongdoing and we were so riven by peasant-pandering, gun-totin’, God-spoutin’, duck call makin’ jacknuts like Phil Robertson that anyone who even looked intelligent must the Antichrist. No longer does the United States represent the ideal that we could be – Americans are, by and large, so incapable of critical thinking that, to them, this greatest nation on earth is fuckin’ perfect, bigawd, and anybody that sez dif’r’nt kin jist GIT THE HELL OUT!! Sadly, I have only to look down the road I live on to see a half-dozen examples of this.

And that’s the tragedy of America. We refuse to believe when someone does something good for us. Ordinarily, I would like to see Snowden come back, face the music with Alan Dershowitz working pro bono to defend him, and show the American people just how deluded they are. But I won’t do that because if that happened, Clint Eastwood would probably try to resurrect Chris Kyle to snipe him. 

And that’s my take.


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