By Leonard Zwelling
Joseph Heller would love the irony.
ex-CIA contract worker, a 29 year old computer technician, is the leak behind the
continuing revelations about the extent of the secret surveillance program run
by the US government and its many contracted partners. His name is Edward
I describe the irony, let’s acknowledge the courage here of someone who acted
on his core beliefs about the limits of governmental power, even in the age of
Al Qaeda. Let’s also acknowledge the difficulty he faced and is likely to face
in revealing secrets he was supposed to keep to himself. He may well have
committed espionage and if so, he is no hero. And, let’s not forget that he
alone decided what he would reveal and what he would keep secret making him a
judge, jury and news source all in one. He was putting his own judgment above
that of the country’s leaders, but he felt he had to so that the American
people could determine what their government could do in this area and not just
leave it to a few chosen leaders, many of who were not elected and thus were
accountable to no one other than their superiors in the executive branch of the
before you judge young Snowden too harshly, imagine the pain we all would have
avoided if someone in June of 1972 alerted the press to the shenanigans
approved by the Nixon White House directly in the Oval Office. The current
story is far from over.
irony might be lost on the younger crowd but all of us old folks who read
Catch-22, Joseph Heller’s blistering anti-war novel first published in 1961,
might remember the end of the book (or the movie with Alan Arkin). Throughout
the book and film there is a foreshadowing to an event that had already
transpired and had had a huge effect on the lead character, Yossarian. There is
a quote in French used in the book:
sont les neiges d’hier? Where are the snows of yesterday?
is an adaptation of Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan? (But where are the snows
of yesteryear) from Francois Villon’s Ballade des dames du temp jardis: “The
Ballad of the Ladies of Times Past.”
“snow” in Catch-22 is the tail gunner Snowden who is mortally wounded on a
bombing run and cared for by the protagonist Yossarian. At first Yossarian
thought Snowden’s only injury was a severe leg wound. As he tries to mend that
wound he sees that the young gunner is mortally wounded with his guts spilling
out under his flak jacket. It is the climax of the book and the Mike Nichols
film. It denotes the brutality and fruitlessness of war and the transient
nature of human life. Yossarian sees in Snowden’s entrails what a man is really
in 2013, we have a new Snowden who may well have made the ultimate sacrifice
short of death for a cause in which he believed, the freedom of the American
people to know. He is running up against a huge bureaucracy just as Yossarian
did. It is likely that he may not survive other than in a federal jail cell if
the US government can reach him in Hong Kong where he gave an interview
yesterday. He is reported to have left Hong Kong though on tonight’s news.
out against an entrenched bureaucracy that is abusing the rights of people even
when that bureaucracy is within the boundaries of the law, is a time honored
tradition and one that is fraught with danger. After all, what is the
Declaration of Independence if not a wail against the oppression of British
occupation and taxes? It is doubtful that we would have Washington, DC, the
Washington Monument or the current face on the dollar bill if the good guys had
lost the Revolutionary War. History is written by the winners.
sort of activity is not for the faint-hearted nor for those with large
responsibilities to others when those others might suffer if the one standing
up is put down, as is usually the case. Those of us old enough to remember the
sacrifices of the civil rights movement, the protestors at the Democratic
convention in Chicago in 1968 and the blood letting at Kent State have seen
quite enough in our lives. So what motivates these folks?
guess is that it is anger. They simply cannot stand the way things are and
would rather sacrifice what they have, even life itself sometimes, to make the
world a better place even when it makes their world a tougher one for them.
the 1997 film Contact by Robert Zemeckis, Jody Foster plays an idealistic
astronomer (Dr. Ellie Arroway) who discovers an in-coming signal from the stars
that indicates the presence of extraterrestrial sentient life. The pursuit of
this discovery is hijacked by a government bureaucrat and scientist David
Drumlin (Tom Skeritt). He rather than she is chosen to meet with the
extraterrestrials using technology they have beamed to Earth. The two
scientists confront each other about this:
Drumlin: I know you must think this is all very unfair.
Maybe that’s no understatement. What you don’t know is I agree. I wish the
world was a place where fair was the bottom line, where the kind of idealism
you showed at the hearing was rewarded, not taken advantage of. Unfortunately we
don’t live in that world.
Arroway: Funny, I’ve always believed that the world is what
we make of it.
sont les nieges d’antan—–ici?
to quote another great film line from Brian DePalma’s The Untouchables when the
Sean Connery character says:
are you prepared to do Mr. Ness?”