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In the story, which was written 150 years ago to drum up support for the Union Army in the Civil War, fictional Army lieutenant Philip Nolan, while on trial as an accomplice to the treasonous Aaron Burr, says, "I wish I may never hear of the United States again!"
The judge grants his wish and he is forced to travel the high seas on Naval vessels the rest of his life, under strict orders that no one is to mention the United States to him or give him any news from home.
Over time, he not only comes to regret his earlier feelings, he becomes somewhat of a super patriot. He begs people to tell him about his country, to no avail, until an officer relents and tells him what has happened at home on the last day of Nolan’s life.
As I said, it’s a sentimental story with a clear political objective in mind. Never mind how hard it would be to impose such a sentence on anyone in the information age, I doubt Snowden would come to regret his actions.
However, he may find himself a man without a country.
Snowden apparently sees himself as a loyalist to human rights and principles of openness above nationality. It’s a new sort of dissident; a type of fanatic that, like all forms of fanaticism, ignores larger loyalties and rejects imperfections that would compromise ideals.
It seems to be a form of narcissism, or self-actualization writ large.
At the very least, he didn’t think things through very well.
That is, if Russian President Vladimir Putin is to be believed. He said Monday he would accept Snowden’s offer of asylum only if he would stop criticizing the United States. But he still won’t extradite Snowden to the U.S.
A cynic might say Russia got what it wanted out of Snowden in exchange for a promise not to extradite him, but that Putin sees him as a toxic liability for future relations with the U.S.
Now Snowden has issued a statement condemning Obama for revoking his passport, lobbying Ecuador not to accept him and leaving him, essentially, stateless. The U.S. is using citizenship as a weapon, he said.
Well … what did he expect, exactly?
One cannot exist in this world without a nation. There are limits to life in the limbo of an international airport.
Give Snowden credit for opening an important dialog about national security vs. freedom and liberty. We all needed to know what the National Security Agency was gathering on us.
But such disclosures don’t come without consequences. Nor do disclosures about what the United States is collecting on other nations.
The United States isn’t a perfect country. It has struggled to live up to its ideals from the beginning. But it still compares pretty favorably to just about any place else, and at least people here have the freedom and means to get involved and make changes.
There aren’t many decent countries on earth that would take Snowden right now. He could certainly try to pariah states — Somalia, North Korea, Iran. But residency in those places seems like an awful booby prize for standing on principle above loyalty to country.
Maybe he should just take Putin up on his offer, go work in a factory in Volgograd and keep his mouth shut forever.
Otherwise, he may truly be the man without a country — the embodiment of a fictional character designed as a warning against disloyalty.
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Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist of the Deseret News. He has nearly 40 years experience as a reporter, editor and editorial writer in Oklahoma, New York City, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. He also has been an adjunct journalism professor at Brigham Young and Weber State universities.