I’ve had enough of cruddy people, lowlifes who occupy high office and have glowing pictures taken of themselves as they perform their slimy duties. (Yeah, Max – you.) I need some cleansing.
I’ve been trying to conjure up a list this morning, and it is turning out to be quite a short one. It is a list of courageous people, people who, even though famous, actually embody noble qualities. These are people who took risks that involved great sacrifice and personal peril, and paid a price for their actions. Their actions were for a cause … not for fame, so daredevils need not apply.
Here’s what I have come up with:
Daniel Ellsberg: Few people remember that prior to Nixon’s people breaking into Ellsburg’s psychiatrist’s office (thereby destroying the court case against him), that Daniel was on his way to prison. He released the Pentagon Papers to the press knowing that he was breaking the law and that there would be a price to pay. He was willing to pay that price. To this day he claims that his only regret was that he did not act sooner, before so many millions had died. He is publicly asking for someone in the Obama Administration to do the same dirty deed – tell us something true about Iraq or Afghanistan.
Jane Fonda: As the old saying goes, it is dangerous to be right when your government is wrong. Jane was famous, though a bit malleable, and foolish. She didn’t seem to care how her activities affected her movie career – she used her fame to expose wrongdoing. She got up on a platform – a gun turret used to defend the Vietnamese people from American attacks – and that act has defined her. She paid a price – to this day she is hated and maligned by our most dangerous people – right wingers with guns.
Muhammad Ali: Cassius Clay was on top of the world, the best boxer alive, a charismatic and dynamic man who decided to … adopt the Muslim faith? Refuse to be inducted into the military? Go to jail? He had more to lose than almost any man alive, and he put it all on the line.
Philip Berrigan: He willingly went to jail time and again to protest American wars, pouring blood on jets, destroying the killing equipment. He never hid out – he felt it is duty to submit to authorities after defying them. (That part I don’t admire – the willing submission part.) He and his brother Daniel, two Catholic priests, antagonized the government and the Catholic Church by openly involving themselves in war protests. Courage? Yes. Were I Philip, and I am nowhere close to being Philip, I would perform my deeds in Clyde Barrow fashion, hiding out, and giving it up to a hail of bullets in the end. That would be a strong message. (Side note: I imagined Mr. Berrigan in a lonely jail cell in need of human contact, and so wrote to him while he was in prison. He wrote a brief note back saying that it was really hard for him keep up with all the correspondence he was getting.)
Rachel Corrie: This young gal perhaps did not know she was giving it all up that day, but she defied the Israelis by standing in front of a bulldozer that was leveling Palestinian homes. She was 23 years of age on March 16, 2003, the day she was pancaked.
Pat Tillman: He was killed by friendly fire, and not in combat. I know that. But he did something unusual – he left a lucrative career in football to sacrifice himself for a cause. Perhaps he was gullible, perhaps he bought into the wrong cause, but he was courageous. He took a risk, gave up something real and valuable. Perhaps he knew more than we know, but it’s hard to tell. His legacy is being sanitized. However, before his death, he had arranged to have lunch with Noam Chomsky. As Mencken said, … how much nobler it would be if men died for ideas that were true!
I am trying hard here to come up with people who are courageous in support of right wing causes. The problem is that right wingers seldom have to give up much. If they lose office they go to work for right wing think tanks. There’s always a job and income for them somewhere. Somebody help here … I’m not paying enough attention. Please – a right wing hero or two? Are there any? I can think of only one:
Bruce Bartlett: Employed by a right-wing think tank, and had bad thoughts. He wrote book critical of George W. Bush. He got fired. “Nobody will touch me,” he says. He wrote Impostor: Why George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.” He was toasted, and not with champagne.
Please add to this list -I have overlooked many, I know.
I just got done reading Glenn Greenwald, who in a similar vein honors Jerald terHorst, President Gerald Ford’s press secretary, who resigned in protest on the day that Ford pardoned Nixon.
“As your spokesman, I do not know how I could credibly defend that action in the absence of a like decision to grant absolute pardon to the young men who evaded Vietnam military service as a matter of conscience and the absence of pardons for former aides and associates of Mr. Nixon who have been charged with crimes — and imprisoned — stemming from the same Watergate situation. These are also men whose reputations and families have been grievously injured. …Try as I can, it is impossible to conclude that the former president is more deserving of mercy than persons of lesser station in life whose offenses have had far less effect on our national wellbeing.”
Indeed, refusal to fight in a war to defend one’s country from aggression might rightly been seen as cowardice, but refusal to fight on the side of the aggressor requires courage. Some Vietnam era draft evaders went into hiding, some went to jail, some went to Sweden or Canada. One, who was not acting out any discernible high principle, became president. One man who was truly unworthy of clemency, Nixon, got it anyway. Jerald terHorst belongs on this list, along with anyone who has ever paid a price for refusal to fight an unjust war.