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Finding Faith In A 9-11 Snowden World

by John on 06/14/2013

Again, I think Edward Snowden deserves applause but also punishment.

Most Americans agree.

For instance, polls say the majority of Americans are OK with losing some privacy for increased security.  Yet, others think Snowden’s actions were heroic.

Isn’t this a contradiction?  No, in fact, this is complex stuff.

Actually, this is the original American theme: the individual versus the common good.  It permeates Twain, Melville, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway.

We need to understand that no side of this issue is right or wrong.  It is the natural conflict of this new technological world we face.  So let’s embrace all facets of this issue.

First, realize this.  We are still living in the shadow of 9-11.

Fortunately, those attacks on American soil are seared into the minds of half of us.  And just as fortunate, the other half won’t allow September 11, 2001 to rule our lives.  If we’re honest, we all possess both these conflicting ideas in different proportions.  That is our American angst.

As December 7, 1941 started the US dominance on the world military stage and November 22, 1963 ushered in the 1960s, so too September 11, 2001 started the 21st Century.  They all started an era of conflict and change.

Think about what 9-11 did to our American psyche.  We hadn’t been attacked on the American mainland by a foreign enemy since 1812.  And 9-11 happened despite our possession of the greatest military in the history of the world.

But deep down, we fear that agents of evil are threatening – and maybe winning – the battle against what we hold so dear – Democracy.   Can this experiment from the 18th Century survive again?  That many of us even ask that question is a sign that we need to pay attention.

So, let’s be careful not to portray Snowden as a hero or an enemy.  He’s both.  Daniel Ellsberg called Snowden the next Daniel Ellsberg.  But remember what Ellsberg accomplished by leaking the Pentagon Papers.  He released secret documents that showed the military secrecy and crony capitalism surrounding the Vietnam War.  He was talking about taxpayer waste and immoral US actions.

But many – including Ellsberg – miss this point.  The Viet Cong never attacked New York City or Washington, D.C.  Today’s foreign enemies have and are planning again.

Sure, Snowden was trying to uncover what he believed was something immoral or in violation of the Constitution.  But you can easily make the case that he jeopardized our safety.  No one successfully argued that national security was violated by Ellsberg.

So Snowden has the right to Freedom of Speech and civil disobedience.  Those, too, are American traditions.

The irony is Snowden revealed himself outside the United States.  He fled to a country that is a potential economic and military opponent/enemy of the United States.  Yes, you can make the case that we’re trade partners with China.  And sure, Snowden’s efforts could be construed as a symbol of peaceful openness between two countries.  But Snowden’s thinking is short-sighted.  Do you really think China will acquiesce and its stop hacking and surveillance of our industries?  Will they stop exploiting or trying to hoard Africa’s natural resources?  Will they stop this because of Snowden’s actions of openness?  The answer is no. It’s pure naivety.

It begs this question raised in the 1960s.  Why haven’t we heard from the same people who chastised Jane Fonda for her propaganda photos with the North Vietnamese?  Shouldn’t Snowden get the same treatment?

Snowden’s libertarian creed, which is followed by a growing number of Americans, lacks any checks and balances; the same they demand from our government.

Too many of these Americans myopically believe their rights are being trampled when, in fact, they might be trampling the rights to security and safety for others.   Here’s what they forget.  Our rights in the Constitution are limited rights.  In other words, with those rights come responsibilities.  It’s the old adage: you don’t have the right to yell fire in a crowded theater when there is no fire.

Clearly, Snowden’s actions broke the law.  He also violated a contract he signed with his employer, a defense contractor.  That cannot be ignored by us – or the law.  Society doesn’t survive when people can ignore laws.

Sure, those laws, our government, and our industrial military complex may be obtrusive and may need changes.  And Snowden’s rights and freedoms may be taken away to help make those changes happen – but also to restore American faith in each other.

Clearly, we need to find that faith again.

Snowden is just a symptom of that faith that has eroded for decades.  For too long, we have leaders who take money from special interests.  We have a majority of Americans who are takers either as tax evaders or gluttons for government largesse.  There is no difference between the CEO who creates corporate by-laws that gives him a golden parachute even when stockholders lose than from someone taking government entitlements they don’t deserve.

What’s worse: we’ve become a nation that compliments rather than questions this behavior that is zapping our faith in our institutions and way of life.

That’s why we need a deep and pervasive debate on the issue of who we really are.

We need careful debate on this.  We also need to reassess ourselves individually.  And you and I — with our online pulpit — need to embrace the entire landscape of ideas.

Thus, calls to prosecute journalists like The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald are useless.  If anything, our elected officials should be outlining how the stories got some details and context of the PRISM program wrong.

And calls for complete transparency of these programs to the public are just as useless.  Let’s broadcast to al Qaeda, Iran, the Chinese military, and other nefarious groups that we are not home and the door is unlocked.

Despite the wave of Big Brother rhetoric against the government, I have been eased by the bi-partisan response and the Administration’s explanations of what the program really does and how it works.

Sure, there are some questions that cannot be answered like what terrorist threats were thwarted.  But I believe there are checks and balances on the program – from all three branches of government – that should foster some faith from us.

But we need more debate and introspection.

My fear is that we will just move onto the next issue and never really find the solution.

Your thoughts now.

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