Henry David Thoreau, Edward Snowden: On Heroes, Traitors and Cowards

ON THE DUTY OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE is one of the seminal essays in the history of the United States. We are Americans, and we do things a certain way. Our government, and the rules and actions and regulations or our government are always subject to scrutiny, and, in certain cases, rejection. We are an independent lot. That is a major reason for our success as a nation. Rebelliousness is a part of our national character. How could it not be since we were born of a rebellion known as the American Revolution. Irreverence is our calling card, and our rejection of rules and convention is the means by which we innovate, invent, alter paradigms and change the world, in science, art technology, music, everything. But we rebel in a certain way.

When Ralph Waldo Emerson went to the jail to get Thoreau out after he had been incarcerated for refusing to pay a tax he considered unjust, Emerson said, “Henry David, what are you doing in there?” Thoreau replied, “What are you doing out there?” The point is that the American spirit of Civil Disobedience requires that we accept responsibility for the rule of law. If we are going to break the law, we face the consequences. Those who don’t are both cowards and criminals. Cowards run. Traitors go to the enemy. Heroes accept responsibility and put their life in the way of wrong, even if it is their government committing the wrong.

During the Vietnam War, which was one of the most destructive and divisive events in our history, there was a level of resistance that began at a grass roots level and worked its way  to the top. It was a cruel, unjustified, and misdirected war started by politicians waving ideologies, and finally stopped by the people themselves. That’s never happened before and probably never will again. A discussion of that war is not a blog, it’s a hundred blogs. But that history has been written many times over and there is no need to repeat it here. During that era a young man of draft age had three main alternatives if drafted. Serve in the armed forces, refuse to serve and stay home and face the consequences, or go to Canada, or some other country that would provide safe harbor. Your choice said a lot about you.

I will not mention Edward Snowden in the same paragraph with those above. He is arrogant, a narcissist, and a coward. I believe he would and did jeopardize the safety of this country to satisfy his own ego. I believe he thought he was going to be hailed as a hero. This is the heart of the matter: Heroes don’t run. Cowards and traitors do.