In being an advocate of the Civil Rights movement in this country, in being an advocate of peace during the Vietnam War, there was a sense of rightness about it, perhaps one could even say righteousness. As we know our national political landscape got progressively (interesting word, yes?) more conservative, it seemed that some aspect of collective guilt over the lack to sensitivity to -- to say the least -- those soldiers and then veterans who had been drafted or enlisted out of a myriad of motivations and necessities, increased. The outpouring of yellow ribbons and American flags during the first Gulf War, seemed to me at the time some degree of atonement for what I now see in myself at least, as a one sided arrogance that made me culpable of demeaning those who often didn't have the opportunities even for draft dodging that the more affluent with more connections did at the time of Vietnam.
Then we know, September 11, 2001, the time when our compass in terms of national consciousness, seemed to change radically. We in our home on Long Island did not display the American flag that even in a predominantly liberal suburb was more common than not. Sometimes I joked with friends about whether Americans needed to remind themselves of where they lived, but I did so rather privately. It was a time when it seemed increasingly unpatriotic to question national policy.
I watched with extreme tension how we as a nation got manipulated into the war in Iraq, the first time since before my youth when McCarthyism had immobilized journalism and the nation for some time. When the revelations about Richard Nixon and Watergate came it was immediate scandal: that was what I came to expect in my adulthood. When in China visiting our daughter who was teaching at the time, some 20 years after Watergate, I wasn't surprised particularly though I cherished the difference between America and China, when our private guide responded to my questions about Tiananmen Square, the student inspired revolt in 1989 in which hundreds of students were killed. She let herself (I doubt we were taped at the time and I don't know who she is) experience what I have to feel was a lapse of composure as she reeled off just how dangerous democracy was. She said, "Look, it got one of your presidents fired." Flabbergasted, I said, "Are you referring to Richard Nixon?" and she nodded. We ended our short lived venture into the political arena, with my once again cherishing our differences, cherishing America's wish to have access to information, even if it meant challenging, "firing" or forcing the resignation, in essence of a president.
Now, the week of the 25th anniversary of the revolt in China, which is written about here in the context of mainstream Chinese news outlets ignoring the date, the events and the importance of them, I take time to pause in reflection of our own commitment to freedom of the press. And since in most of my writing I wind up questioning or seeing my own part in whatever the larger issues of our time seem to be, I am concentrating on what I perceive as both a personal and more general allergy to taking a strong outspoken position in favor of applauding Edward Snowden and his alerting us to what we should see as abuses -- grave abuses of our freedom as citizens, as people, as individuals. And I realize that I too have felt intimidated and somehow wrong for seeing him as something of a hero. The point for me here is not hero worship but an obligation to take his data seriously, to take how much we have been lied to seriously.
This isn't really a political issue, in the sense of right or left. It is really that we can't make educated decisions without being educated, without having evidence given to us, and without caring whether we go into wars where hundreds of thousands of people may get killed based on true dangers or false enticements and threats. The fact that we went into Iraq with our major media outlets not investigating the reports given them by the White House, has aroused -- everything being relative -- little outrage. Why wouldn't Edward Snowden, with the assistance of Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and the Guardian, publish the facts of the extent of the invasion of privacy by the NSA, when in fact nobody in the chain of command listened to the strongly expressed crises of conscious expressed to them by numerous employees.
But the point of this is to talk out loud about the liberal tendency to be timid, to be scared of offending unless in the context of a blinding adrenalin that accompanies that often ethereal and equally mistaken sense of righteous indignation. I suggest those of us who are scared consider the urgency of Edward Snowden's reporting, delve into our own fears of betrayal, even when we are motivated by a love for our country and desire for it to uphold freedom for years and years to come. I know that to love another person means to care enough to interrupt damage when we can. When we love our children, the same -- daring to interrupt or try to do so when we see a destructive pattern.
I am suggesting only that we begin to analyze and study our own motivations. So that we can in fact follow the egis of "If you see something say something". Knowledge can in fact be power, but also responsibility. If we are so scared of taking positions of dissent, we will increasingly be afraid to know. I'm not here confessing my guilt as an attempt at atonement, but rather as beginning a more open conversation about why some of us have been trembling with the fear and avoidance that may just come from an embedded guilt that needs our focus as much as anything else.
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