University Temple United Methodist Church
17 October 2013
What is one to do when confronted by blatant criminal actions and illegalities? Look the other way? Punch out at 5 and go home? That’s not what Edward Snowden did. His disclosures have informed and educated the people of the United States and the world about secret surveillance and massive data-gathering that the NSA and other government agencies are engaged in within the U.S. and abroad. And Snowden’s reward? Hounded. Threatened. Defamed. His passport has been revoked. Instead of encouraging whistleblowers the Obama administration has created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Open up your mouth to report wrongdoing and corruption and you’ll have the book thrown at you. Obama has the dubious distinction of prosecuting more whistleblowers than any administration in U.S. history. It has criminalized not only the truth tellers but also the journalists who report on their revelations.
This lecture and interview are available as a CD or mp3 or transcript from Alternative Radio
Ray McGovern is a 27-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency. He helped form Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence. Sam Adams was McGovern’s colleague at the CIA. McGovern and several other former intelligence officials went to Russia in October to honor Edward Snowden with the Sam Adams Award. Ray McGovern also works for Tell the Word, a ministry of the inner-city Washington D.C. Church of the Saviour.
You can listen to Ray McGovern speak for himself here.
I was attracted to this very attractive offer being an analyst for the CIA, where you would be given in your little inbox—and most of you are probably old enough to remember that we used to have inboxes made of wood. Can you believe it? When I talk at colleges, they say,
What kind of inbox was this?
Into our inbox would come all manner of information: from press, from spies, from photography, from intercepted messages, from wherever. The FBI even shared information with us every now and then. We would be responsible—I’m far enough away from Washington to use the following word—we would be accountable. We would be accountable for looking at what information was available, and if it were important enough, we would serve it up to the president. Somebody might correct the syntax or the spellings, but there was no political thing on this. We told it like it is, and we had career protection for telling it like it was.
What you need is documents. My friend Dan Ellsberg always says,
Don’t just speak out. Bring the documents.
And Chelsea Manning did that fairly well, didn’t she? 700,000 documents.
And to his credit, Ed Snowden went through the documents that really needed to be released and figured a way to get them out.
What I’m saying here is that the Sam Adams award is made in recognition of Sam. He did the work but he didn’t go out of channels. Most of our whistleblowers had to. Ed Snowden is the par excellence example of that, because he saw what happened to Bradley Manning. He said,
I don’t want to be tortured by the Marines for eight months.
And he saw what happened to Tom Drake.
Tom Drake is the NSA senior executive who released information about billions and billions of dollars being wasted on a system that deprived us of our rights under the Fourth Amendment, where he and other experts in house had created a system that preserved those rights and was more efficient. He went to the Baltimore Sun and told them finally. First he went through all kinds of channels: Defense, Congress, everywhere else. He didn’t get anywhere. So what did they do when he told them? The Justice Department charged him with 10 felonies under the Espionage Act. He was going to be put away for years, he was told.
Long story short, Jesselyn Radack, who is a lawyer with the Government Accountability Project, but was a lawyer with the Justice Department, took up the cause. She did the PR of this. He used the public defender of the State of Maryland for his defense. He didn’t have any money. And at the end the federal judge said,
You so-called lawyers from the Department of Justice, you should be really ashamed of yourselves. This case had no basis from the beginning. You wasted all our time, and you put Tom Drake through four years of persecution. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
What did Tom do? I don’t know how this works legally, but he pled out to a misdemeanor for having exceeded the authorized use of a government computer, in other words, he wrote a letter to his wife or something on a government computer.
The point here is that Ed Snowden watched what happened to Tom Drake. So here we are in Moscow, and we’re ushered into this nice dining room. And there’s Ed Snowden. I let Tom go before me. Snowden looks at him, and you could just see it in his eyes:
This guy saved my life. I knew what I had to do. I never could have achieved my mission if I had gone through channels. So I figured out a way to do it.
And Tom Drake is looking at Ed Snowden, and he’s thinking,
My God, I never thought any good would come out of those four years of persecution, but this is a good.
I was looking at this and thinking,
This is wonderful, this is really wonderful.
We had a chance to ask Snowden,
Your major concern, of course, was that you could sacrifice all this, give up everything, maybe your life, you said you were willing to do that, and nothing is going to happen, right, nothing happens. Are you aware, Ed, that a lot of stuff is happening?
Yes, I am.
Coleen Rowley and Jesselyn Radack, both lawyers, really up on the legislation that’s being prepared now, some of it quite promising, were able to fill him in on some of those details that haven’t been on the Web. If it’s been on the Web, Snowden has seen it. He’s really engaged.
I’ll just say one more thing about Snowden. People say,
Why did he go to Moscow? Did the Chinese turn him down?
He’s a traitor.
I’ll tell you who the traitor is. It ain’t Snowden. What he did was very artfully figured out, a way to get in touch in a confidential way with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. He arranged to meet them in Hong Kong and get all the stuff out. Because he knew he could get to Hong Kong from Honolulu without being intercepted and discovered, he couldn’t get to Latin America any other way.
So there he is in Hong Kong, meets with them, gives them the stuff. And, of course, they’re journalists, they’re not Good Samaritans or Red Cross people. So they go back and write their stories.
And there’s Ed Snowden. Hong Kong is sort of dithering. Who saved him? WikiLeaks. Julian Assange sent his right-hand person there, Sarah Harrison, and said,
Do what you can, see if you can get him—he’s got to go through Moscow if he wants to get to Havana. So talk to the Russians.
So she goes to the consulate there and arranges for him to get out of Dodge. And he just got out of Hong Kong before they were going to keep him there.
Was he headed to Russia? No, he wasn’t going to end up in Russia. I was comparing him in my mind to Columbus. I was thinking, I remember a history book that started out this way about the discovery of the New World. America was discovered by somebody who was looking for something else. The next two centuries were spent trying to figure a way through it or around it. It was named after somebody who had nothing to do with the discovery of America, and the people there were called people from the other side of the world. History is very chancy like that, very ironic. Here’s Ed Snowden. He wants safety, he wants security, he wants not to be killed. So he wants to get to Latin America. When he got to Moscow, he wanted to get around it or through it. He couldn’t.
And in the end, because of the U.S. imperiousness, John Kerry saying,
All right, Vladimir Putin, we know there’s no extradition agreement here, but you must give up Ed Snowden because we want him and we say you must.
That was a big mistake. Vladimir Putin doesn’t take kindly to that kind of thing. And besides, you can seek the high moral ground by obeying international law. There used to be some premium in obeying international law. There still is among some countries. So he said,
Yes, come on in here.
What’s the result? The height of irony. Ed Snowden is in the safest place on the globe. Why? General Michael Hayden, who was head of the CIA and the NSA, suggested openly,
I’ve got a list that I’d like to put Ed Snowden on, a different kind of list, not a list for an award.
And Mike Rogers, head of the House Intelligence Committee chimed in,
Yeah, yeah, I can help you out on that.
You know what list I’m referring to: The kill list for assassination—the one that President Obama on Tuesday mornings carefully reviews and decides who will live and who will die, including American citizens.
I hope none of you are shocked to hear that. There used to be a Fifth Amendment that would prevent that, but that’s gone by the boards, just like the First and the Fourth. So Michael Hayden and Michael Rogers have said he should be killed. I said to Snowden,
Are you aware that these guys have said that?
He just looked at me and kind of shook his head like,
Yes, I’m aware.
Like, what’s become of our country? This is not the Mafia. They’re not supposed to be the Mafia.
The thing with Snowden was just beautiful. We had a formal ceremony to give him the award. We each said something, Jesselyn Radack, Tom Drake, Colleen Rowley and myself. Jesselyn read something from Albert Camus.
Edward Snowden, you are in good company.
Snowden had talked about “the work of a generation.” He wrote a statement for the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs. And Jesselyn went to Geneva, I think it was, to read it. The title he gave it was “The Work of a Generation Starts Here.” She pointed out that “the wager of our generation” is how Albert Camus described what Ed had called “the work of a generation.” It was 1957, the year that Camus won the Nobel Prize for literature.
In 1957, Camus expressed hope in “the quality of a new generation and its increasing unwillingness to adopt slogans or ideologies and to return to more tangible values.” He wrote, “We have nothing to lose except everything. So let’s go ahead. This is the wager of our generation. If we are to fail, it is better, in any case, to have stood on the side of those who refuse to be dogs and are resolved to pay the price that must be paid so that man can be something more than a dog.”
Camus rejected what he called “the paltry privileges granted to those who adapt themselves to this world,” adding that “those individuals who refuse to give in will have to stand apart, and they must accept this. Personally, I have never wanted to stand apart. For this is a sort of solitude, which is certainly the harshest thing our era forces upon us. I feel its weight, believe me. But, nevertheless, I should not want to change eras, for I know and respect the greatness of this one. Moreover, I have always thought that the maximum danger implied the maximum hope.”
In December 1957, the month he won the Nobel Prize, Camus warned strongly against inaction: “Remaining aloof has always been possible in history. When people did not approve, they could always keep silent or talk of something else. Today everything is changed and even silence has dangerous implications.”
I think that has relevance to today.
Jesselyn Radack continued,
A key figure in the French Resistance, Camus in July 1943 published a “Letter to a German Friend,” an old friend that he had had for decades, which began as follows: “You said to me: ‘The greatness of my country [Germany] is beyond price. Anything is good that contributes to its greatness. Those who, like us young Germans, are lucky enough to find a meaning in the destiny of our nation must sacrifice everything else.’”
Camus, “No,” I told you, “I cannot believe that everything must be subordinate to a single end. There are means that cannot be excused. And I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice. I don’t want for my country a greatness born of blood and falsehood. I want to keep it alive by keeping justice alive.”
You retorted, “Well, then you don’t love your country.”
Jesselyn wrapped it up by saying,
Edward, that may have a familiar ring to you. But, of course, the truth is the very opposite. Let us take one more cue from Albert Camus, who emphasized that “Truth needs witnesses.” We are honored, Edward, to be here at this time and this place to be your witnesses. You have the full measure of our gratitude and support.
That was just one of the statements. Colleen Rowley read another and I read a little Russian poem. It was really interesting. We were hosted officially by Anatoly Kucherena, who is a civil rights lawyer and one of the lawyers who is supporting Edward Snowden. He’s a great big, wonderful, burly Russian guy. He gave us all gifts through a translator, inscribed books. The last one he gave out was Pushkin. And that gave me a chance to try to follow Cicero’s dictum of trying to render your audience “benevolent, attentive, and docile,” because I know a lot of Pushkin.
And I know one poem of Pushkin—does anybody here know Russian? Usually up in the Northwest we have some. I’ll translate it, anyway. It’s a poem Pushkin wrote when he was behind bars in Kishinev, now in Moldavia, I guess it is, because he spoke out, he wrote subversive things in his poems.
This one is titled “Usnik,” which means prisoner or somebody kept in captivity. He’s sitting in his little cell and he’s looking out the window. It goes like this:
I’m sitting behind the bars of this window in the dark, dank cell, cooped up like an eagle who can’t fly away. He looks out and he sees this crow waving his wings and picking up a piece of a dead animal and throwing it at the window. He’s clutching at this thing. And then he looks into the window and he looks at me as though he has the same thoughts that I have. He says to me, Let’s fly away. We are free birds. Let’s go. We need to fly away to that place beyond the snow-capped mountains, that I just saw flying in yesterday, beyond the blue seas that surround our country and beyond, where only the wind and I can fly.
Why did I take you through all that? Pushkin is their national hero. My feeble attempt to render him probably doesn’t do him justice, but that sort of gave us a real welcome with Kucherena. It was just fortuitous that the book he happened to give me was Pushkin short stories translated into English.
Pushkin lived in the first part of the 19th century, so he was part of that insurrection that really never got off the ground. He spoke out in favor of the Decembrists, which was really the first Russian revolution. These guys had chased Napoleon back into Western Europe, and they looked around and said,
Hey, this is a pretty nice place. How do they rule themselves?
They heard about constituzia, constitution. So without much preparation they drew themselves up before the square in St. Petersburg and shouted
Constanine y Constituzia! [Bring Constantine, Tsar Nicholas’s brother, into power and the constitution. ]
No other Russians except the ones that had chased Napoleon knew what constituzia was. They knew who Constantine was. But the tsar just brought his folks out and they shot some of them and imprisoned the rest. But that’s a measure of how people find out a different way of doing things and act on it.
I want to say a couple things about General Keith Alexander. Let’s have a moment of rejoicing that Keith Alexander is going. Good riddance. Keith Alexander is for the next few months still the head of the National Security Agency and the U.S. Cyber Command. Cyber Command? Yes. You’ve heard about how we very artfully with the Israelis set back the Iranian nuclear development program with the Stuxnet? We’re pretty smart. We can do that. How smart is that?
Just as an aside here, the battles of the future are not going to depend on battleships or aircraft carriers or B-52s or F-35s. It’s going to be cyber. So the great big advantage that the U.S. now has, to its detriment, of spending half of our tax money on defense, is not going to amount to a hill of beans. You know why? Because well-educated Iranians, well-educated Chinese and Japanese, that’s all it takes to do this cyber warfare. There are just as many of them, and some of them are better educated, as there are of us. Add to that the fact that NSA and our government, to the degree it wants to do this, cannot do it without people like Edward Snowden. They just can’t do it.
So this whole generation has grown up that is technically incredibly proficient, and they want to have good jobs. And a lot of them end up at the NSA and other places because there is good pay. But some of them, I don’t know, maybe 5%, have a conscience, and some of them remember the solemn oath that all of us who serve in the armed forces take to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. That’s what Snowden remembers. He was a soldier for a while. That’s what I remember. We talked about that over dinner. Is this an oath that has an expiration date? No, it doesn’t. So what are we to do? Are we supposed to sit back and watch this happen?
When I’m doing interviews these days, people don’t seem to have any concept of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. I know you do, but I’m going to read it to you anyway, because you can see just by hearing it how much flouted it is by what’s been happening.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Put that up against the dragnet, collect-everything mentality. The natural conclusion is that there’s probable cause to believe that all of us are a bunch of terrorists. How many terrorists here? Because we’re all suspected terrorists. That’s a measure of what we’re up against.
I said that I’d do something about the empire here, so I’ll say something about the empire. I’ll say what I learned first about the empire when I was about 8 years old and my Irish grandfather said,
Raymond, you’ve heard about the British Empire. Do you know why they say that the sun never sets on the British Empire?
Yes, I think I know, grandfather.
No, no, you don’t know. Sit down there and I’ll tell you what it is. The sun never sets on the British Empire because the good Lord would never trust the British in the dark.
I was born a week before Hitler began the war with Poland. And even in the womb, I suppose, I sensed that people were really upset about what was happening. I grew up in that atmosphere and I remember a lot of it. After the war, 1948, when I was 9, here’s what the first policy paper of the newly created State Department’s Policy Planning Staff said. This was written by George Kennan, someone who used to be my hero. He was ambassador to the Soviet Union, Russian expert, author of the containment policy. He really wrote well about Moscow and so on. This is what he wrote in that paper. This was to set the policy for the U.S. after the war.
We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of the its population. Our real task in the coming period is to maintain this position of disparity. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day- dreaming. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford the luxury of altruism. We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives, such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts.
George Kennan, I later learned, was responsible for making the CIA a hybrid. President Truman knew what happened at Pearl Harbor. He was hell-bent and determined that wouldn’t happen again, there would be no surprises. There would be a central place, therefore, Central Intelligence Agency, where in that inbox would come all kinds of information. And somebody would be held accountable for looking at it and warning about these things. Most of you know that before Pearl Harbor there were all manner of little things floating around—from the FBI, from the code breakers, from the people in the embassy in Tokyo, from the FBI. Where was the Japanese ambassador? And there was a little submarine in Honolulu harbor. Where was the Japanese fleet?
Does anybody know?
Oh, we lost track of the Japanese fleet.
That was not going to happen again. So therefore the Central Intelligence Agency. This agency would report directly to the president, not to the Pentagon. Truman knew that the Pentagon will always say that the Soviets were 12 feet tall. He knew they weren’t 12 feet tall. The State Department would say they were only 5 feet tall. So he needed people who had no agenda except to tell the truth. I know. Even out here in the West people would wince and say,
Right, right. An agency with no agenda. Give me a break.
You say that in Washington, they just stare in disbelief. But it was true. When we were hired, Sam Adams and I, we were told we could tell it like it is. And almost always we were able to do that. There were exceptions, but almost always we could do that. That’s what Truman wanted.
What happened? After World War II these very imaginative, very courageous people came home from the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services. They had worked miracles in Europe and in the Far East. They came home to well-deserved applause. And they said,
Thanks a lot for the applause, but should we hang around here? Do you still need us, or should we go back to our law firms or corporations, back to academe?
1947 was when this all was happening. The Soviets had overrun Eastern Europe, they were threatening Greece and Turkey, and even Italy and France were in some danger. The KGB was all around the world trying to overthrow governments. So the question answered itself: Of course we need you.
Okay, all’s fair in love and war, but then some idiot—maybe that’s the best word I can find—said,
We’re creating this secret agency for analysis. They’re going to have their own clandestine collection capability, because they need some spies to get the stuff they can’t get from the media, so let’s put them in with the analysts.
The legislation was changed by one sentence about inserted. It said,
The Director of Central Intelligence shall perform such other duties and tasks from time to time as the President of the United States shall direct.
This gives the president of the United States the capability to have his own personal Gestapo. All he needs is the right guy in charge of the intelligence community. If you don’t believe me, just look at what George Tenet and George Bush did together. Enhanced interrogation techniques? That comes from a German phrase, verschärfte Vernehmung. What’s the translation? Enhanced interrogation techniques. Where was it found? In the Gestapo handbook. What were these techniques? The same ones. That’s the background of how the CIA has a structural fault from the very beginning.
Why do I mention that? Because these swashbuckling guys who were going to overthrow governments were encouraged to do so by my hero, George Kennan. He was largely responsible for this hybrid. That was the 1947 National Security Act. It created the Defense Department and the Air Force and the National Security Council as well as the CIA, so it was a big deal. Anyhow, that gave these operators the means and the profile to get all the money to do whatever they were told.
One of the first things they were told was,
Hey, there’s this upstart in Iran, the guy who was actually elected by the Iranians. Get this. He doesn’t realize that the oil underneath the sands of Iran belongs to British Petroleum. He thinks that the Iranians should share more of the proceeds from this oil. So he threatened to, actually, did start, nationalizing the oil.
So what happened? Well, the British had been at this for a long time. Remember what my grandfather told me. So they took the fledgling CIA under their wing. This is six years into after its creation. This is what you do when you have an upstart Third World dictator—well, he was actually elected, but it doesn’t matter. This is what you have to do. So, MI6 and the CIA overthrew Mossadegh, who was Time Man of the Year in 1951, the only freely elected person in Persian history. Who did they bring in? The Shah, with his hated secret police, SAVAK, who were just as bad as the Gestapo. But he was on our side. And he didn’t like the Russians. If you didn’t like the Russians, it’s just like being against terrorists: It doesn’t matter what else you do, you have our support. That was 1953.
In 1954 the same thing happened in Guatemala, because the Guatemalans thought maybe United Fruit shouldn’t own so much of their land, maybe the peasants should have some.
That was the history of all this. It’s a very sad history. I just want you to know that the operations directorate has always been separate from the analysis directorate. It depended on the head of the intelligence community as to whether it did the right thing or the wrong thing. And the president, of course. One fellow that I served under directly, Bill Colby, must have learned from past mistakes, but he was the most courageous. When it came out that there was a whole bunch of abuses in the 1950s and 1960s, he defied Kissinger’s admonition not to tell the truth to Congress. He told the truth to Congress. He said,
Look, I’m a lawyer, and I respect the law. This is the law. I’m going to tell Congress about the abuses.
Those abuses included, of course, his predecessor, Richard Helms having instigated the coup in Chile in 1973. Helms was brought up on charges. He was going to be convicted. He pled nolo contendere. I guess that’s what they let white-collar people plead to sometimes.
And you know what, folks? He went back to CIA headquarters. He was already out of the CIA. He went back to CIA headquarters. I’ve never seen such a crowd in our mammoth cafeteria welcoming him, passing around the hat. And the $2,000 or $10,000, whatever, he had to pay was collected within the first hour. A couple of us analysts were peeking in from the shadows there. I said,
This really is two different and distinct agencies.
I thought what Colby did was exactly right, courageous. Of course, he got canned by Kissinger right after that. And he met a very suspicious death. And that’s another story.
That’s just by way of saying that the CIA has kind of a hybrid thing and that there are the Tom Fingars but there are also the Richard Helmses and the George Tenets. And every time I go to an airport and have to do all that charade, I think disrespectfully of George Tenet, because he had the power to share more information with the terrorism guy in the White House, Richard Clarke, and he had the power to speak out when he saw that Condoleezza Rice was not taking this seriously. As you know, they didn’t talk about al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden until one week before 9/11.
I think that the good news is what I call the Noah principle. I think more of us—Chris Hedges and others—are beginning to realize that we should follow the Noah principle. And that is, no more awards for predicting rain; awards only for building arks. What arks are we going to build? The situation is pretty critical, in my view. The powers that be have rolled up the wagons in a circle, and the National Defense Authorization Act is, I think, probably the most revealing thing. This is the one that allows somebody from—what is it called now?—Lewis McCord to come in here and take McGovern to an undisclosed location without charge or anything. But not forever. Just until there are no more terrorists. That reversed history since the Civil War, when southern whites were using the U.S. Army to bring in slavery again after Reconstruction. And now they can use the U.S. Army to do this.
Why did they do that?
As I watched that, I couldn’t believe it. Here is the Senate. I saw John McCain and Lindsey Graham and all of those people, and I thought, Well, they’re behind it. But you know what? When it came back from the White House, Carl Levin, the chair of the Armed Services Committee, was asked by one of the Democratic senators,
We didn’t include arresting American citizens. How did that get in there?
And Levin said,
Well, the White House put that in there.
As if to say the White House put it in and we couldn’t take it out? Isn’t that a telling thing? The White House put it in there. And everybody says,
Oh, the White House put it in there.
So it was the executive and the Congress. Why do you think they wanted to make a law that stringent, to use the Army against us? Martial law. What were they afraid of? Bear in mind, this was two years ago. What was going on?
You got it. I was interviewed about this right after it happened. I was sitting somewhere and thinking,
What’s changed over the last several months?
The only thing I could think of was Occupy. And I said,
They’re afraid of us.
Up until then we had thousands. But suppose there were tens of thousands. Suppose there were a hundred thousand surrounding the Congress and the White House and they couldn’t get home to their cocktails in Georgetown? Who were they going to call? They could call the park police. The park police were on our side. They let us camp out right in the middle of Washington. How about the capital police? The capital police, with all due respect, they’re good at operating those things that you have to walk through to make sure you don’t have a weapon on you, but not much else. The district police. Well, the district police are increasingly aware that they are part of the 99%. And small wonder that they realize that.
So suppose something really happens. Suppose the flag goes up. Suppose we are surrounded. Who can we call on? The U.S. Army. The generals, such as there are, are predominantly creatures of the system. They will do whatever advances their profile and career. I hate to say that, but it’s true.
And the people who populate the so-called volunteer Army. It’s a poverty draft, folks. And that is a shame on our country. These are mostly people from towns in this country of less than 50,000 people and from the inner city. They have no prospect of a job or of a good education. It’s a poverty draft. And it’s been ingrained in them to do what they’re told. Witness that terrible WikiLeaks collateral murder video. I showed that earlier today. Every time I see it it turns my stomach, because it’s not only the Iraqis who are being brutalized, it’s the fellows in those helicopters as well.
So what are we going to do? I’ve found in talking around the country that Americans have a peculiar hesitancy. It’s understandable. Who likes to be laughed at? We don’t like to start something that doesn’t have a reasonable prospect of success. Who wants to hear,
McGovern, what did you think you were doing standing up there and turning your back when Hillary Clinton was speaking? What was that all about? So you got beat up. What was that all about?
I don’t know why I did it, but I thought it was the right thing to do. We’re not supposed to worry about being successful. We’re supposed to be what? Faithful. The good is worth doing because it’s good. If we’re all worried about whether we’re going to achieve success, we ain’t gonna do nothing. It’s as Camus said:
You can always remain silent.
That’s, of course, what the Germans did in the 1930s.
The other thing, when I got up and beat up by the goons at Hillary Clinton’s speech—this was at George Washington University. For folks who don’t know. All I did was—maybe I’ll just explain in my own defense. I spent some time in the Soviet Union. And it used to be that when a Soviet leader made a speech, there would be stormy applause. And in Pravda the next day every third paragraph would say, “Stormy applause, everyone stands.” Well, Hillary Clinton walks into this big auditorium—I got somebody to get me an invitation—and stormy applause, everyone stands. I’m thinking “Stormy applause, everyone stands.” And then the president of GW University comes in. He made her out to be Mother Teresa. So I’m holding my nose and thinking,
McGovern, what are you going to do?
Luckily, I had my Veterans for Peace shirt on underneath. So there was plenty of time. So I took off my outer shirt, I turned my back, and I just stood there. And all she could see—and she was close—was “veteransforpeace.org.” But what the cameras could see was me standing there as she’s talking right behind me. And they could see “Veterans for Peace,” the whole logo. I had done that before in a church. I’m a Catholic, and I don’t like the fact that the women are subordinated and I couldn’t just sit where I used to sit, so I used to stand for the service. I did that for four and a half years in my parish. I finally had to leave. So I did what I did then at Holy Trinity. I looked right at the wall, picked a little place out on the wall. This is going to work, this will be good. The cameras were on me. And I hear Hillary Clinton talking about the necessity to have freedom of expression. It’s really important. In Iran. She doesn’t miss a syllable. She just keeps going on.
Then all of a sudden I see this guy come down with—he looked like a Redskins reject, about 300 pounds. He comes down. And I thought, I don’t know what’s going to happen now. Before I could figure anything out, some another guy grabs me from the back. They lift me up and carry me over three women between me and the aisle, take me out, bang my head against the door frame on the way out, and do other brutal things. Meanwhile, Hillary doesn’t miss a beat, not a syllable. And it’s all recorded. It’s kind of interesting. Some of the footage did get out.
Why do I say this? I say this because I see some people around here that have the same color hair I do. When that happened to me, the first report came out of Fox News, and it was pretty so-so. It said, “An elderly gentleman”—that hurt.
An elderly gentleman was thought to have a sign secreted beneath the seat, or it was felt that he might be willing to shout something out at the Secretary of State. So he was escorted out of the theater.
“Escorted out of the theatre.” Right.
But when the pictures came out of what happened to me, people care about old people getting beat up. That’s why I mentioned this. Young people, Ah, they have it coming. Young people, they can take it. But 71-year-old people—and I’m even older now, if you can believe it—we have an advantage. I say this not jocularly. I say this in real seriousness. We have an advantage. People care if we get beat up. I don’t think they’re going to kill us. But if you’re willing to take a stand on these things, you’re going to get a lot more reaction, a lot more resonance by virtue of your being an old guy like me.
And when one of my Veterans for Peace added that,
Yes, and he’s got cancer
—luckily I had just gone into remission—Hillary Clinton had over 500,000 emails and telephone calls just by virtue of what I did. The cancer brought it up to 800,000. I kid you not.
We can kind of have our principles and we can stand on our principles, but if there’s nothing for which you’re willing to suffer for those principles—and I don’t mean necessarily physically—if you’re not willing to put those principles into play where you could get hurt, where your compassion would mean actually suffering with or suffering because of—like what Ed Snowden did—then your principles, they’re really nice to have, aren’t they, but there’s something lacking there, it seems to me.
The prospect of success? I think we’ve dealt with that. Are there enough of us? Cesar Chávez always used to say, There are enough of us, but without action nothing is going to happen. Op-eds are really nice, speeches are really nice, but if you don’t get out there, nothing’s going to happen. And it’s getting kind of late. I think that probably the next year or two are going to be key. So I think we need to play a role. We have to recognize our responsibility. We have to be prophetic. We have to go back to the vision of the Founders.
I’ve learned a little bit about the prophets at this place where I work, at the ecumenical Church of the Saviour. I just want to see how Biblically literate this crowd is. Isaiah. Who knows that Isaiah walked around at least two years stark naked? Raise your hands. There are a couple people here. It’s right in the Bible. The question is, What was he doing? The smart exegetes, the people who study really hard, say it’s not clear—and they say this without any humor; usually exegetes don’t have a lot of humor—they say it’s not clear that he was always naked, just during liturgical services. That may be good exegesis, but it doesn’t get the man off the hook. So what was he saying? I think what he was saying was,
Look, I’m stripped of my garments here. You say, Oh, isn’t that awful. You are stripped of the vision with which Yahweh blessed you, a vision of justice and shalom, and that is far worse than being physically naked.
I don’t think we’re stripped of that vision, but I think it kind of needs repair and needs some courage. And it needs it quickly. Martin Luther King famously said,
There is such a thing as too late.
I’ll finish just by quoting a German you may not have heard of. He was a contemporary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran minister who tried to wake up the church there and couldn’t. His name was Albrecht Haushofer. And he was a geologist, at the University of Berlin, and he had tenure. Some of you may not know what tenure means, but it means a lot. It meant a lot in Berlin and it means a lot here now. How did he get tenure? By keeping his mouth shut. He also had a conscience. And as he watched his Jewish friends and other friends being wrapped up, sent away, he gathered a following around himself and spoke out against what was going on. It was really quite significant that they saw this fellow finally speaking out. So he was wrapped up by the Gestapo and put in another prison, separate from Bonhoeffer, and was condemned to be shot. Bonhoeffer was hanged. Those were the two executions.
But the Germans, being very meticulous, insisted that you sign a confession before they would shoot you or hang you. Haushofer wasn’t about to do that. He refused to do it, and as the Allies approached, they shot him and he fell down. As they picked him up, out of his pocket fell a little Zettel, a little piece of paper. On it the title was Schuld, Guilt. It was his confession. And it was written in the form of a sonnet. It’s not very long, but what it said was,
Yes, I’m guilty, but it’s not what you’re thinking. I should have earlier recognized my duty. I should have more sharply called evil evil. I put off my judgment for too long. I did warn, but not enough. And today I recognize what I was guilty of.
So there is such a thing as too late. A lot of you recognize that and are out there doing your thing already. But we need all of us in this battle, and we need to be able to stick our necks out. And the last thing I’ll say is that I do not have anything against necks. I’ve been accused of having a lot against necks. But I think necks are very nice. They’re convenient connections between head and torso. I’d hate to be without a neck. But if there is nothing for which you will risk that neck, then it becomes your idol. And necks are not deserving of idol worship. I don’t have to tell most of you this, but I’ll say it anyway. Be willing to stick your necks out. Be willing to do whatever is necessary to demonstrate that we want to be loyal to our Founders’ vision. If we have to strip ourselves naked, that’s one thing. But we probably won’t have to do that. Whatever we need to do, we do it, without worrying whether it’s going to be successful or not. But let’s just try to do the good because it’s worth doing and leave the rest in the hands of the coming generation. I know that I can be with my nine grandchildren in a much more comfortable way if I know that I’m doing what I can to make their future a little better.
Thanks very much for listening.
For information about obtaining CDs, MP3s, or transcripts of this or other programs, please contact:
P.O. Box 551
Boulder, CO 80306-0551