Tuesday, May 5, 2015

PUNISHED FOR EXTRAORDINARY COURAGE: AMERICA'S "REWARD" FOR FOUR EXCEPTIONAL CITIZENS

Courage is defined as being willing to face immense difficulty, to deal with hardship, to even risk one's own well-being in the pursuit of what one believes is right, driven by service to one's convictions, family, community, or nation.  Our nation's history is full of examples of people who have demonstrated extraordinary courage, and been admirably and properly rewarded by their families, communities, and the nation for their bravery and their sacrifices. In our political history during the past 50 years, however, there have been at least four prime examples of citizens voluntarily demonstrating extreme courage, knowing full well of the risks involved, in an attempt to shed light upon and hopefully correct major improprieties and violations occurring within high levels of the government.  While history, and even evidence present at the time, reveals the accuracy of their revelations, they were consistently hounded by government officials, castigated by much of the press, threatened with criminal charges and jail, in some cases lost well-established career positions or were driven from the country. There is little doubt they were, in each case, acting to correct a significant national or international transgression, a military blunder, or a violation of citizens constitutional rights, but the government's response was consistently one of punishment, not one of reward. I am referring to, not unsurprisingly, Daniel Ellsberg, for revealing the Pentagon Papers, showing how the escalation of the Vietnamese War was based upon a known distortion of fact; Valerie Plame and Ambassador Joe Wilson, for providing evidence that the rationale the Bush-Cheney Administration was using to validate initiating the Iraqi War was likewise based on a known fiction; and Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who revealed that NSA's surveillance of citizens private communications, and even those of government officials, was much more extensive than they claimed and than was authorized.  In each case, each individual knew the risk they were taking, the likely consequences for themselves, their families, their futures.  But the danger was trumped by the importance to the nation of revealing the truth, lessening the damage likely to be done by an unknowing continuation of policies and actions that were so mistaken, illegal, and unjust.  Their actions certainly fall within the definition of "heroism", and a minority of our population undoubtedly feels they merit that term, but not within the halls of Wash. DC.  Whistleblowers are encouraged on paper, but when it comes to challenging the powers of government, they are clearly frowned upon, negated, and ostracized.  Meanwhile, those in powerful government positions who initiate and/or perpetuate mindless, mistaken wars (e.g., Dick Cheney, Richard Nixon) or who oversee and/or manipulate the gross violation of rights of their political opponents (e.g., J Edgar Hoover, Sen. Joe McCarthy) are honored, receive state funerals, have federal buildings named after them. They are, literally, too big to fail, too powerful to jail, in spite of the damage they have caused to the nation and to numerous law-abiding citizens. Who are the real heroes, and who are the cowards, shielded by the immunity inherent in their high positions from paying any personal price for the damage and destruction their misdeeds might impose on individual lives, on society, and on the world?  When we think of heroes, let's think of the real heroes who truly deserve the term. May our country come to have a greater appreciation for the service they provide for all of us.