Edward Snowden: The Asymmetry of Courage

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/06/13-6

by Robert Shetterly

One of the ironies of warfare is that an apparently vastly superior force can be defeated by an apparently much weaker one when the weaker force refuses to meet the more powerful on its own terms, play by its rules, square off army to army, submit to punch and counterpunch. A combination of strategy and tactics designed by the weaker force to enervate the morale, confidence and finances of the powerful may prove decisive — as it did for the American revolutionaries against the British, North Vietnamese & Viet Cong against the U.S., or the Afghanis against the Soviets. In 1975 Andrew Mack first used the term “asymmetric warfare” to describe this phenomenon in an article called Why Big Nations Lose Small Wars. A materially weaker force with higher motivation — they may be fighting for their own land — and greater perseverance may prevail. The weaker force may be beleaguered by the horrible and high tech weaponry of exorbitant power — stealth bombers, napalm, cluster bombs, cruise missiles and drones, depleted uranium, helicopter gun ships and satellite surveillance — but it manages to dodge and absorb, go underground, patiently wait to strike an exposed weakness.

I was thinking about asymmetry this week as the story of Edward Snowden unfolded. This story, one young man pitted against our national security state, is an extreme asymmetry, but the disparity is not between lesser and greater violent forces. And, for that reason, it could not properly be called a David versus Goliath confrontation. David was small but armed with sling & stone. Edward’s only “weapons” are courage and truth.

In asymmetric warfare, the powerful say, “Come out and fight on our terms! We’ll show you who’s stronger!” The weaker say, “Not on your life! We plan to win, not commit suicide.”

Conversely, in a contest of asymmetric courage, the lone whistleblower says to the powerful institutions, “Come out and fight on my terms — ethics, courage, truth, law!” And there is deafening silence from the powerful institutions because with all their secret knowledge and secret money, their special forces and spies, their torture and secret prisons, they have not courage. They have not ethics, truth or law. They are muscled up with conformity, with arrogance, with self-congratulatory winks and nods. They have the power to easily crush the person of courage, to discredit him in the media, to arrest and convict him in a kangaroo court, to torture him, disappear him, force feed him. They have secret protocol and secret policy, the power to change the law to legalize atrocity. But they have no courage. They have the pathetic vanity of a steroid-pumped-up robots flexing in front of a mirror. With satisfied smirks they ask rhetorically, “Who’s the strongest in the world?” But they have no courage.

Thomas Jefferson said, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” He could have been commenting on the situation of Edward Snowden or any one of so many recent whistleblowers. People fear the government when it secretly and lawlessly insinuates itself into the fabric of their lives with the ever present threat that each person could be plucked out of that fabric with no recourse. This is done in the name of security. But a government that spies on its own people actually prefers fear to security. Or, simply, the security of fear.  There should be no trade off or balancing act, no compromise, between our freedoms and our security. Our freedoms are our security. Sacrificing our privacy, which is our autonomy as individuals, for the sake of security is like willingly agreeing to be half a slave.

Continue reading at: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/06/13-6

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