What the World Needs Now, Colltalers
Words such as hero or villain always get in the way of actual reality. While it may be easy to define an act of heroism or atrocity, who’s to determine who’s a hero or villain? Lionizing or demonizing someone does little to gauge the nature of their actions.
Last week, for instance, marked the two years since NSA contractor Edward Snowden met two journalists in a Hong Kong hotel room, and produced the most comprehensive trove of documents about the inner workings of that government agency.
They ignited a global debate about security and individual rights, and shed a spotlight on the secretive agency that’s become a mammoth after 9/11. Naturally, he’s demonized by government hacks, and embraced by a resurgent civil rights movement.
Since that meeting, Pvt. Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley), and CIA analyst John Kiriakou, were sent to prison, and the WikiLeaks organization has become a target of the intel community, all for disclosing unrelated information deemed classified, but in fact way more trivial and damaging to personal freedoms than originally admitted, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Something else happened since 2013 too: public awareness of what’s being done on citizens’ behalf with taxpayer money became more acute, and scrutiny over routine procedures adopted by the NSA, CIA, and even the FBI, more critical. These agencies have found themselves in the embarrassing situation of having to justify their failures with little to show in the way of success.
It was then a momentous coincidence that the U.S. Senate allowed the Patriot Act to expire. Created to wage war on terrorists, the law has only managed in 14 years, to mostly spy on law-abiding individuals, rather than validate its own existence. That Congress and the Obama administration rushed to enact a replacement legislation doesn’t take away the fact that the Patriot Act is now officially defunct.
Despite a feverish effort to discredit both Snowden and the documents’ veracity, showing NSA’s worldwide surveillance of peace activists, political leaders, and even ally government officials, nothing substantial came to light. Instead, Snowden’s critics had to swallow even that old horse of an argument, that disclosure of classified documents always endanger troops on the ground.
Lately, their focus has been re-engendered to frame the computer analyst as an opportunist who ‘chose’ the opaque regime of Russia as a shelter, as if that was a matter of choice. It’s been a while since anyone has mentioned the real reasons why he’s in Russia, in a parallel situation to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, who’s stranded at the Ecuador Embassy in London since 2012.
For all we know, they both face similar fate as Manning and Kiriakou if they’d venture outside their ‘incarceration.’ The Dept. of Justice has no qualms about prosecuting Snowden for what it considers an act of treason, a seriously misguided charge.
But even if the summary of the events leading to his current situation are helplessly brief and incomplete, no one is reading anything close to even that on the U.S. media. Apart from a few progressive publications, Snowden remains an elusive figure, who may have done what he did for personal gain, another phony and gratuitous charge that’s often mentioned along his name.
In fact, he sacrificed more than many Americans would be willing to, even considering the massive amount of private information everyone surrenders on a daily basis, in exchange for surfing the Internet. His status as an American citizen is all but revoked, his life has been uprooted, and he may as well become a pariah even in Russia, due to his recent criticism of Putin’s leadership.
Not just Americans have benefited from his revelations, but millions more around the world did too, in what he’d like to see as the ‘critical role of informed citizens in correcting the excesses of government,’ as he wrote in a NYTimes Op-Ed article.
Perhaps; he’s surely earned his optimism but not everyone sees it just as clear. On the reaction wave that celebrated, or aimed at debunking, the documents, there were those who minimize Snowden’s role, along others who lionized him uncritically.
Calling him a hero, or villain, adds nothing to the significance of what we now know about the actual extent of secret government operations here and abroad, and it has had little to do with the demise of the Patriot Act. On the contrary, labels will likely neuter the new found awareness of what’s wrong with too much power in the hands of a few, and what happens when we ignore the signs.
Saturday also marked another anniversary: 71 years ago, allied forces landed in Normandy and inflicted one of the seminal defeats of Nazi Germany. A regime that called itself eternal and had started with a democratic win, it engendered history’s largest ethnical cleansing ever documented, following the lead of a man obsessed with his hatred of Jews and determined to rule the world.
There’s no comparison with Hitler’s reign of terror and America now or ever, but ideals that guided democracy in this and other countries, the rule of the people and for the people, continue in need to be reinforced and reenacted. The worst part of suspecting that Big Brother realities may be alive and well, albeit hidden, in our world today, may be not knowing who’s our ally .
Mottos such as ‘if you see something, say something,’ and, if you don’t have anything to hide, don’t worry about government surveillance, are too close to a totalitarian, nightmarish vision of a future that was thankfully aborted by the sacrifice of thousands on the French shores. It’s the powers that be that shouldn’t be so fearful of citizen’s awareness and demand for transparency.
As for Edward Snowden, or Chelsea Manning, and all others paying dearly for selfless acts for public empowerment, whether they are heroes or not, is not the issue. As mentioned, it’s not hard to call a firefighter’s sacrifice entering a burning house, for instance, as an act of heroism. That being said, who cares whether he or she can ever live up to our highfalutin expectations?
Before we go, a clarification about last month’s Curtain Raiser Newsletter, The Cure for Medical Debt: in discussing efforts to buy and extinguish debt, we failed to mention RIP Medical Debt, which is all but leading the charge. They’re campaigning to raise, through donations, $14.4 million that will serve to buy and erase about $1 billion in personal medical debt. Click and donate.
Again, they’re not heroes or even care about such nonsense. But their selfless efforts equate that of so many whistleblowers that literally ruined careers and hope of a personal life, so to do something for everyone else. Enough of these big words and empty rhetoric about ideals and equality and all that. Let’s all just start small, doing something relevant every day. Have a great week. WC