A Voice of Conscience

Edward Snowden

By A. G. Moore June 9, 2013
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer who spoke against the Nazis and was executed
 Photo courtesy of The German Federal Archives
 From Wikimedia Commons“It is with a heavy heart,” Allen Bowie Davis began an 1861 letter in which he reported that Fort Sumter had fallen. The nation, he explained, was to be “involved in Civil War…and God only knows where it will end.” Mr. Davis continued in this pessimistic vein: “It is a great misfortune we have…a president for whom we cannot entertain political sympathy & hardly personal respect”. I find myself echoing Mr. Davis as I begin today’s blog.  We are at another critical juncture in U.S. history: It is with a heavy heart–and not a little apprehension–that I write about the U.S. government’s surveillance of its citizens. And, like Mr. Davis, I write with an added measure of dismay because the president who was once a Constitutional scholar, in whom I once had faith, is complicit in this theft of freedom.First let me say that I am inspired by Edward Snowden, the “leaker” who revealed last week the existence of the pervasive surveillance apparatus. Mr. Snowden unmasked himself a few hours ago from a relatively secure location in Hong Kong. It seems like such an extreme thing to do, almost irrational, to flee your country and betray secrets you are sworn to keep–and yet, is this not the same standard to which we have held German citizens, when we reflect upon their compliance during the rise of fascism? Where were the protesters, we ask. Where were the judges and civil servants to stand in opposition? Where were the voices of conscience?In Mr. Snowden we have such a voice, someone who risked it all. Mr. Snowden had a good job. His future  looked bright. And then he saw something that undermined his sense of what it meant to be an American, to live in a free society. And he acted.I don’t have Mr. Snowden’s courage. I hesitate to write this blog, knowing what I know, what Mr. Snowden has told me, about surveillance and data collection. Of course I suspected all along that the government was watching and lists might exist, especially as revelations about FISA courts became public and the implications of the Patriot Act became clear. But it seemed I was being paranoid, that what I suspected could not be. Because this was too extreme, too “Orwellian”.And now I feel as though a cage has slowly been constructed around me, around everyone who lives in the U. S. We’ll be all right, so long as we don’t rock the boat, so long as we don’t come to the wrong person’s attention in the wrong way. But if we do transgress, or someone even suspects we may be transgressing, then there’s an extra-judicial rabbit hole waiting to swallow us up.This is not paranoia. The groundwork has been laid. And if it weren’t for Mr. Snowden, and a few other brave “leakers”, how would I know?