Radical abolitionist John Brown led a raid on Harpers Ferry October 16, 1859. His goal was to encourage the slaves to revolt against their masters. The state department fears that Peter Van Buren - an envoy once stationed in Iraq - would inspire people to do the same thing.
The similarities - and the differences - between Brown and Van Buren are as important as they are stark. Van Buren, a government insider with decades under his belt, is a peaceful man who - after witnessing firsthand the folly of the U.S. occupation of Iraq - reached out to his superiors inside the government until he exhausted his options at every level.
Brown resorted to violence in an attempt to bring down the vile institution of slavery. Van Buren peacefully wrote a book detailing his experiences.
And while Van Buren has never been out of contact with his U.S. government employer, Brown had to be captured by the Marines.
Here's what happened to Brown: He attempted to steal the 100,000 weapons stored in the arsenal at Harpers Ferry. He believed that the slaves along his escape route would take up the armaments he distributed to them as he went. Along the lines of a present day Arab Spring: Brown believed that with a little encouragement, the slaves would free themselves.
President James Buchanan called for militiamen in the area to confront and capture Brown and his small ragtag band of abolitionist fighters. The militias refused to intercede on behalf of the U.S. Federal Government so Buchanan mobilized the Marines under the command of Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee.
By Oct 18, Lee and his men - among them J.E.B. Stuart - handily took control of the situation. Within weeks Brown was tried and convicted of treason.
Many condemned the violent actions Brown employed to battle slavery. Brown had envisioned a small amount of violence causing a chain reaction that would lead to a broad scale slave uprising. He surmised that frightened slave owners may not understand that slavery was wrong but would likely abandon its practice when it became a dangerous proposition.
By the time Brown rode on his coffin to the gallows, he came to the conclusion that only a great deal of violence would make greedy hands let go of slave labor. He wrote, "I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done."
The civil war resulted in more than 600,000 casualties. The men who chased Brown down - capturing or killing the small band of revolutionaries - would prove to be the true traitors to the U.S. when they accepted their commissions just two years later in the army of the Confederacy.
No one in power then or now has ever excused Brown's actions. Although no one denies that slavery and the defense of slavery were evil.
Back now to the case of Peter Van Buren: Van Buren is still employed by the state department, although they are working feverishly to discharge him. Van Buren - a State Department Foreign Services Officer for more than two decades - seems an otherwise unlikely candidate for termination. At least he was until he wrote the book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.
In a recent interview Van Buren explained that he would not have written the book, had anyone in the U.S. State Department listened to him when he came home with detailed instances of the corruption, contractor abuses, and fool hardy policies that were costing the U.S. tax payer billions as well as causing rampant and unnecessary loss of life. Even in the waning years of the war when Van Buren returned to the states, soldiers and civilians alike were still dying needlessly.
When no one inside the government would listen, Van Buren used his book to speak directly to the American people. For his honesty and his patriotic devotion, he has lost his security clearances, his career, and if the state department has their way, his livelihood.
Read Van Buren's book, his recent post here at the Huffington Post, or check out his blog. Write to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and tell her to protect Van Buren. Tell her that the U.S. thank and protect whistleblowers like Van Buren. If the American people finally push back when confronted with the facts that their government is preserving evil - as it was when it protected the institution of slavery and as it did in the invasion and aftermath of the Iraq war - then Van Buren will have proven to his predecessor Brown that when it comes to mending a broken nation, the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.
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