Barry's Blog # 61: An Attempt at a Conversation

A few days after Edward Snowden revealed the NSA’s secret – and criminal – surveillance programs, an old friend of mine posted on Facebook that Snowden was a “traitor” who’d done irreparable damage to American security and should be punished most severely.

I was stunned that Leda, who’d participated fully in the political, cultural, racial, sexual, spiritual and pharmacological upheavals of the 1960s and 70s, should feel that way. I posted a quote:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin

Leda responded by writing, “Most Americans just don’t know what they don’t know. That’s why there is such secrecy involved in these security activities. It is not hyperbole to say that there are lives on the line here. As my Sihing likes to say, for those who have fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know. This kind of security activity has been going on in one form or another for a very long time, and most Americans will never know what horrors have been prevented in the process and at what cost to those serving this country.”

I offered another quote: If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed... – Dwight D. Eisenhower

She insisted: “My friends, I thought as you did until someone really in the know explained things to me that could turn your hair white overnight. You don’t know what you don’t know. Have faith that there are people out there protecting you from things you know nothing about, at the risk of their own lives, and be grateful that they are doing so…I know I will change no minds by what I am saying. I just know things that you do not know. If you knew what I know, you would probably think about this differently.”

Many years ago Leda had had a lover who’d served in intelligence work. Clearly, Minos, a good man and a patriot, like many thousands of other snoops, had spent his career believing that he was protecting America from the evil Soviets. And he had known that he would receive no public praise for his sacrifices, because he had worked in secret. Clearly, he’d left a strong impression on Leda.

I followed with a couple of quotes from George Kennan, the primary architect of the American policy of “containment” of the Soviets:

Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial complex would have to remain, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. (1987)

I did not believe, nor did others who knew the Soviet Union well, that there was the slightest danger of a Soviet military attack…(1995)

I thought that Leda, a Radcliffe graduate, a holder of an MFA in creative writing, a mother of a bi-racial son and a deeply spiritual person, might rationally reassess her position and at least consider the possibility that men like Minos might well have been pawns in a much larger political and economic game.

Leda was certainly a rational person. Her response made me wonder:

“Quotes are nice, but they may have been put out there for a reason. What do you know about the Cold War really? Have you spoken to people who were on the front lines of the Cold War? I have. Maybe what you think is what happened isn’t what happened.”

Well, I took the bait. I responded not with another quote but with some passionate opinions. If I couldn’t move her with logic, maybe she’d feel my concerns:

“No, but I have met people who were victims of the Cold War, people who believed in the absolute American value of free speech, who spoke out for no gain of their own and at great risk, and were persecuted for doing so. Besides, if you know secrets that Minos had revealed, wasn’t he guilty of exactly what you are accusing Snowden of?

 And “Traitor?” After Viet Nam, Indonesia, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Chile, the Congo, South Africa, Iran, Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, do you still believe in American innocence?

But what bothers me is not our difference of opinions nor not even your patronizing tone; it’s your loony assertion that self-incriminating admissions by high-ranking members of the National Security establishment “may have been put out there for a reason.” That kind of twisted logic wouldn’t get you a C- on a high school freshman civics exam!”

Leda apparently chose not to respond to most of my points (a D+ strategy in high school civics, but an A in presidential debates). She wrote:

“He never revealed anything classified to me, and rather than write the book he knew he could write, like the good soldier he was he took his secrets to the grave. Disinformation is put out to the public sometimes for reasons. Sorry if you think I sound patronizing. I am just trying to tell you that there is much you do not understand in a bigger picture than you are currently understanding. I do not know secrets, but I know something of how the business works. So in the end it does not matter to the protectors how citizens choose to view the situation. It matters that those who are working hard to protect us all are doing their jobs so that we are able to be free and alive to have these discussions.”

I was about to respond with, “No – I’ve been writing not because of “the protectors” butin spite of them. Besides, Minos spent his entire career monitoring communists, not Muslims, and he retired and died long before the attacks on the World Trade Center. Butyou have transferred your paranoia from the old ‘Other’ to the new one,” just as the ‘protectors’ wanted you to do. How can I have a conversation (literally, “to turn about with”) with a fundamentalist, a person who “knows” the truth and is impervious to persuasion?”

One final quote:

First they came for the communists and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.

                           — Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

But when I clicked on the FB link to respond, I saw this notice:

Sorry, this page isn’t available — The link you followed may be broken, or the page may have been removed.

Leda, apparently tired of dealing with a naïve fool like me, and wanting the last word, had erased the entire “conversation” from her FB home page.

But I got this blog. And I have to imagine that truth (which Keats equated with beauty) will have the last word.

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