Thursday, July 11, 2013

Snowden...a man without a country?

Edward Snowden’s quest for refuge reminds me of  a short story I read moons ago, “The Man Without a Country”, by Edward Everett Hale. Whether you believe Snowden was just a whistle blower or traitor for disclosing the extent of our government’s record keeping on its citizens,  Snowden’s plight has some parallels with this work of fiction. I wonder if he would eventually meet the same emotional end  as did the subject of Hale’s story.
Hale wrote about a fictional  Army Lieutenant, Philip Nolan, who was being tried for treason for being too close to Aaron Burr, a former Vice President of the United States,   who , in real life, was also tried for treason but acquitted.   
Nolan renounced his country during the trial and shouted out  with anger “, "I wish I may never hear of the United States again!" . He should have been careful for what he wished. The judge sentenced him to spend the rest of his life aboard US Navy warships, never permitting him to step on US soil, and anyone in contact with him was forbidden to mention his country.
 He still was treated per the privileges due his rank  on board the ships he sailed and he was never confined to the  brig.   Even so, he gradually realized how much he missed home and his country., Nolan tried to contact sailors to get news of home   and once he was reported to warn a sailor not to make the same mistake he had as he realized the value of the country he denounced. He missed it   more than his friends or family, more than art or music or love or nature. Without it, he felt he was nothing.   The day before he died,after  56 years on ships,   he revealed his feelings to the fictional teller of his story. In his cabin, the narrator saw  The Stars and Stripes  draped around a picture of George Washington.  Nolan had painted a bald eagle over his bed.
The plight of exiles and  their conflicted emotions in later life, are often the subject of  works of fiction. Many in real life must of have traveled that road to inspire writers to draw on that theme so frequently. .  Like Dorothy returning from Oz, waking up, sometimes  there is a realization that there is no place like home.  Opera, too, had its exiles inspired by late 18th and early 19th  century fiction. The Flying Dutchman was set to music by Richard Wagner. One version of the story that may have inspired Wagner was   John Leyden’s writing in Scenes of Infancy  in 1803: “The crew of this vessel are supposed to have been guilty of some dreadful crime, in the infancy of navigation; and to have been stricken with pestilence ... and are ordained still to traverse the ocean on which they perished, till the period of their penance expire”.  The Dutch man’s ghost ship was graphically portrayed in the movie, “ Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”.
 Snowden for now  can only find refuge in those countries who count themselves as critics  of the US and most of those are a  fire into which he jumps from the frying pan…autocratic, repressive, and hardly champions of freedom of the press or freedom of expression. The three countries he considered for refuge,  at the time of writing the column, could  face  regime changes in these days of democratic populist upheaval..   Where he lands is likely to be only a temporary perch forcing him to  sail from one safe place to another during his lifetime to avoid facing justice in the US.
 One thing is for sure, his blowing the whistle on his hosts would never be appreciated by   those kinds of  countries offering him refuge.  He should be careful for  what he wishes.

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