Thursday, August 31, 2006

Murrow Among Us, Thank God!

Below is a stream of Keith Olbermann's comment on the recent speech given by the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, that those who would dare offer dissenting voices in the face of government decisions, particularly those of a military variety - are either "intellectually or morally confused." And, that they are not unlike those who saw no real threat from Hitler in the 1930's, with history having labelled them "appeasers."

This is one of those rare moments when a commentator does what a commentator, living in a country where freedom of the press and freedom of speech rate number one on The Bill of Rights, should do.

This is not about political party - it really isn't.

It's about what power, unchecked, unchallenged, becomes -always.

Among the absolutes of the human condition, this is one.

There is also a theology to dissent. It is not meant to injure. That's way too easy. Rather, it is meant to confront power, where power is abused to separate God's children one from another.

Dissent was the role of the prophet - the role of Jesus - the role of the first Christians - a role played well by Christians until Constantine made Christianity the religion of the state, and we haven't been the same since.

It is the role of any who lovingly hold the other accountable.

It's Methodist, for God's sake. Or, at least it was.

It's at least Wesleyan.

I don't know KO's religious leanings, and I don't care.

But this translates well into the citizenships I hold.

Too often it becomes cliche', but I believe it to be especially true now.

We live in perilous times.

In ways that have never before been a part of my vocabulary apart from Biblical criticism, I understand anew the role and warnings of apocalyptic literature.

These are the days when our voices must be heard despite the efforts to silence or diminish them.

It matters not whether you are for or against the war or this administration.

I cannot fathom any American,

or any Christian for that matter,

especially Methodist Christians, who share that name with the Commander in Chief,

who can sit idly by and think that what's happening right now, or what has happened since 2001 is right, honest, moral or faithful.

The man who sees absolutes, where all other men see nuances and shades of meaning, is either a prophet, or a quack.

Donald H. Rumsfeld is not a prophet.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s remarkable speech to the American Legion yesterday demands the deep analysis—and the sober contemplation—of every American.

For it did not merely serve to impugn the morality or intelligence -- indeed, the loyalty -- of the majority of Americans who oppose the transient occupants of the highest offices in the land. Worse, still, it credits those same transient occupants -- our employees -- with a total omniscience; a total omniscience which neither common sense, nor this administration’s track record at home or abroad, suggests they deserve.

Dissent and disagreement with government is the life’s blood of human freedom; and not merely because it is the first roadblock against the kind of tyranny the men Mr. Rumsfeld likes to think of as “his” troops still fight, this very evening, in Iraq.

It is also essential. Because just every once in awhile it is right and the power to which it speaks, is wrong.

In a small irony, however, Mr. Rumsfeld’s speechwriter was adroit in invoking the memory of the appeasement of the Nazis. For in their time, there was another government faced with true peril—with a growing evil—powerful and remorseless.

That government, like Mr. Rumsfeld’s, had a monopoly on all the facts. It, too, had the “secret information.” It alone had the true picture of the threat. It too dismissed and insulted its critics in terms like Mr. Rumsfeld’s -- questioning their intellect and their morality.

That government was England’s, in the 1930’s.It knew Hitler posed no true threat to Europe, let alone England.

It knew Germany was not re-arming, in violation of all treaties and accords.

It knew that the hard evidence it received, which contradicted its own policies, its own conclusions — its own omniscience -- needed to be dismissed.

The English government of Neville Chamberlain already knew the truth.

Most relevant of all — it “knew” that its staunchest critics needed to be marginalized and isolated. In fact, it portrayed the foremost of them as a blood-thirsty war-monger who was, if not truly senile, at best morally or intellectually confused.

That critic’s name was Winston Churchill.

Sadly, we have no Winston Churchills evident among us this evening. We have only Donald Rumsfelds, demonizing disagreement, the way Neville Chamberlain demonized Winston Churchill.

History — and 163 million pounds of Luftwaffe bombs over England — have taught us that all Mr. Chamberlain had was his certainty — and his own confusion. A confusion that suggested that the office can not only make the man, but that the office can also make the facts.

Thus, did Mr. Rumsfeld make an apt historical analogy.

Excepting the fact, that he has the battery plugged in backwards.

His government, absolute -- and exclusive -- in its knowledge, is not the modern version of the one which stood up to the Nazis.

It is the modern version of the government of Neville Chamberlain.

But back to today’s Omniscient ones. That, about which Mr. Rumsfeld is confused is simply this: This is a Democracy. Still. Sometimes just barely.

And, as such, all voices count -- not just his.

Had he or his president perhaps proven any of their prior claims of omniscience — about Osama Bin Laden’s plans five years ago, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons four years ago, about Hurricane Katrina’s impact one year ago — we all might be able to swallow hard, and accept their “omniscience” as a bearable, even useful recipe, of fact, plus ego.

>But, to date, this government has proved little besides its own arrogance, and its own hubris.

Mr. Rumsfeld is also personally confused, morally or intellectually, about his own standing in this matter. From Iraq to Katrina, to the entire “Fog of Fear” which continues to envelop this nation, he, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their cronies have — inadvertently or intentionally — profited and benefited, both personally, and politically.

And yet he can stand up, in public, and question the morality and the intellect of those of us who dare ask just for the receipt for the Emporer’s New Clothes?

In what country was Mr. Rumsfeld raised? As a child, of whose heroism did he read? On what side of the battle for freedom did he dream one day to fight? With what country has he confused the United States of America?

The confusion we -- as its citizens— must now address, is stark and forbidding.

But variations of it have faced our forefathers, when men like Nixon and McCarthy and Curtis LeMay have darkened our skies and obscured our flag. Note -- with hope in your heart — that those earlier Americans always found their way to the light, and we can, too.

The confusion is about whether this Secretary of Defense, and this administration, are in fact now accomplishing what they claim the terrorists seek: The destruction of our freedoms, the very ones for which the same veterans Mr. Rumsfeld addressed yesterday in Salt Lake City, so valiantly fought.And about Mr. Rumsfeld’s other main assertion, that this country faces a “new type of fascism.”

As he was correct to remind us how a government that knew everything could get everything wrong, so too was he right when he said that -- though probably not in the way he thought he meant it.

This country faces a new type of fascism - indeed.

Although I presumptuously use his sign-off each night, in feeble tribute, I have utterly no claim to the words of the exemplary journalist Edward R. Murrow.

But never in the trial of a thousand years of writing could I come close to matching how he phrased a warning to an earlier generation of us, at a time when other politicians thought they (and they alone) knew everything, and branded those who disagreed: “confused” or “immoral.” Thus, forgive me, for reading Murrow, in full:

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty,” he said, in 1954. “We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.

“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.”

And so good night, and good luck.


Kathy B said...

Thanks for calling attention to this commentary; those of us without cable would never have heard it otherwise.

I had heard of Rumsfeld's accusations while listening to NPR's "All Things Considered" (ATC) earlier this week, and as always, found Rumsfeld's comments simultaneously frustrating and terrifying. It is utterly amazing how he is able to rally the Bushies to believe that the government is on the right track, doing the noble and moral thing by killing countless innocent Iraqis and U.S. servicemen and servicewomen, rooting out the "evildoers" (which seems to be anyone of Middle Eastern descent that might also have possession of oil), all the while scolding and condemning those who would speak out against the atrocities performed by and in the name of the United States.

Yesterday, while listening to ATC, I heard an excerpt of Bush's speech again warning Iran to watch out since the U.S. "knows" that Iran is producing weapons-grade uranium. This, in stark contrast to the evidence found by the U.N. through the I.A.E.A., that Iran has actually only purified uranium to the level used for nuclear energy production. Please stop the warmongering, Mr. Bush!

My true fear and sadness is that the world sees all Americans with that "George W." lens: out for more money and power, no regard for the plight of the poor, starving, and disease-stricken unless it impacts the bottom line, and insensitive to cultures whose social mores and traditions are just as valid and important as ours. What can we do to change hearts: not the hearts of other countries around the world, but of those in our own country who don't value our global neighbors?

Anonymous said...

Marvelous... and prophetic. Thanks fot the post.