Traitor or Patriot – a Matter of Conscience

Benedict ArnoldThere are two stories in the headlines today that bring to mind an incredibly difficult dilemma that men and women of conscience must sometimes face. I will examine this question in great detail in my next novel, The Spear of the Hunt. Where is the line one crosses between being a patriot and being a traitor? At first glance the two seem diametrically opposed to one another but in these stories they are clearly linked.

A fellow named Bradley Manning leaked secret military information to an organization called WikiLeaks and is currently being tried¬†for this transgression. Another man named Edward Snowden recently admitted to releasing secret government information about U.S. intelligence agency techniques used to monitor telephone conversations. He has fled to Hong Kong. Both of these issues are extremely complex and I’m not going to debate the right and wrong of them here today. What I do want to discuss is the decision that both men had to make. A decision that many people have had to make throughout history and, as I mentioned, that the protagonist of my next novel will have to make.

I don’t doubt for a moment that both Manning and Snowden believed they were doing the right thing. I don’t think either man meant to hurt the United States and both ¬†likely suffered tremendous mental anxiety before they decided to release their respective pieces of information. There is also no doubt that both men did compromise U.S. interests by revealing these secret. A fellow named Benedict Arnold faced a similar question in his time.

Let’s put ourselves in their situation for a moment. We love our country. We have information that causes us to doubt the path our leaders are taking us on. We make some sort of attempt to rectify the situation through accepted channels but our effort is rebuffed. What should we do? This decision defines us as either a traitor or a patriot. We want to do what’s right, to make our nation stronger. Perhaps we are naive, perhaps we are stupid, but our intentions are good. Do we expose what we consider to be dangerous activity by our government or do we keep the secret? Our parents taught us to do what’s right, not to be a mindless worker drone content to simply follow orders. There are plenty of those out there and that kind of person doesn’t build a nation. Men and women of courage, who stand up for what is right are the kind of people who make a nation strong.

One only has to read the commentary on Manning’s case to see the vitriol his decision has engendered. People want to hang him. People want to pin medals on his chest. I’m certain Snowden will likewise face such scrutiny. Their lives are forever changed because they had the courage to stand up for what they thought was right. Standing up for what is right is not the safe way to journey through life. You can suffer for doing it. It takes courage and leads to change. Whether that change is for the better or not is unclear.

My goal today isn’t to exonerate or eviscerate either Manning or Snowden, but simply to point out that their actions cannot easily be classified as right or wrong. As much as we’d like to sound bite judge I think a more careful examination is in order. History will eventually give them their place in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not proclaiming them heroes. There are plenty of examples of people of courage standing up for what they think is right when it was completely wrong. There are many examples of murderous villains who stood up for their misguided principles. Lynch mobs, Islamic bombers, men who open fire on politicians, they all thought they were doing right, they weren’t.

I’m not sure where Manning and Snowden will eventually find themselves in the public eye. The fine line between Patriot and Traitor is worth examining because it can apply to even our lives. At work, at home, when is it best to stay quiet, when does our conscience insist we speak up?

What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (300+ pages of adventure for $2.99)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt (General Yumanar must decide between supporting the corrupt politicians or overthrowing them)