WASHINGTON, November 3, 2013 — Pity not Edward Snowden, author of “A Manifesto for the Truth” which runs in today’s Der Spiegel. As translated by Reuters, his article claims that “citizens have to fight against the suppression of information about affairs of essential importance for the public. Those who speak the truth are not committing a crime.”
You see his motivation? He did it for our benefit. Perhaps he fancies himself our next George Washington. At least he did not claim that his dissent is the highest form of patriotism, which is often falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson and which in any case, makes no friggin’ sense. Dissent is a higher form of patriotism than serving in combat for your country?
It apparently did not occur to him to go to the House or Senate Intelligence Committees. As partisan as our atmosphere is now in Washington, it’s unlikely that members of either committee wouldn’t work together if he had clear evidence. Perhaps he didn’t think it because he had his mind on the book and movie deals which I certainly hope are not forthcoming to him.
He’ll get what’s coming to him someday, but there’s a wonderful negative example here for our young ones. Some graduates, undoubtedly exhorted at commencement to carpe diem, carpe their diem to the nation’s capital in search of glory in the intelligence services. Be careful, kids.
Over the years, I’ve been approached fairly often to mentor former students or recent alumni of my alma maters. I do what I can. I flatter myself that some become like Lafayette to my Washington, Frodo to my Gandalf, Obi-Wan to my Yoda. Given that I teach coursework in corporate finance and capital markets, most of my students incline toward Wall Street. But occasionally, one will express interest in working for an intelligence agency, of which there are more than most people realize in Washington. I always commend their patriotism but I make absolutely clear: THINK TWICE!
I caution them to imagine their existence — working ungodly hours for subsistence wages and getting no recognition for their work. After a few years, their investment banker and management consulting friends are hovering around a quarter million a year. Some years after that, the first of their lawyer friends make partner. Meanwhile, they can’t even tell their families what they’re doing. They just get the privilege of saying that they work for the government, which fools absolutely no one in Washington.
While thinking of your country, which is of course honorable, also think a little of yourselves, which up to an extent is also honorable. Young men, your hormones are raging. Young women, I assume the same. My own twenties are just a blur to me now, but I vaguely recall being more occupied with cherchez les femmes and cherchez l’argent. However unsuccessful I was at both, I still believe I had my priorities in proper order.
I hope that our young Washingtonians would reserve some of their emotional reserves for similarly admirable cherchez’s of their own. Then, at a bare minimum, they could rightly claim to have made an effort in expanding our nation’s supply of human or financial capital. That would do far, far better for our country than anything Snowden ever did.
Michael Justin Lee from the faculty of finance and the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Maryland, teaches, speaks and writes at the intersection of finance and politics. He is the author of “The Chinese Way to Wealth and Prosperity” (McGraw-Hill, 2012). A veteran Chartered Financial Analyst, he served as Financial Markets Expert-in-Residence in the U.S. Department of Labor. He can be followed at www.michaeljustinlee.com
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