It felt like finding an old pair of shoes at the back of a closet -- dusty, unremembered and yet reminding me that, yes, indeed, there was such a thing as honest comfort and utility ... and I was so pleased to be reminded.
A TV program last night profiled Daniel Ellsberg, a man who, in 1971, leaked the "Pentagon Papers" to the New York Times among others. The papers themselves detailed the lies told by successive government administrations as a means of bolstering the Vietnam war in which 58,000 Americans and 2 million Vietnamese were killed.
Ellsberg was not a knee-jerk liberal. He came to his anti-war views with the kind of difficulty courageous men always face -- the willingness to examine his own support of the war. It sounded hard and yet in the end, after following the yellow brick road that led from Washington to the bodies in Vietnam, he decided to take the responsibility for his own principles ... talk about balls!
And once having released the papers, whose first salvo appeared in the New York Times, he was forced to see that the American public, having been informed ... forgot all about it and needed to be reminded again and again and again. A lesser man might have bowed to cynicism... let the assholes drown in their own ignorance! But Ellsberg kept going. President Nixon resigned and the war finally ended and the Supreme Court affirmed free speech and, not without doubt and difficulty, America was better off. Or anyway, I think so.
The program reminded me of what America can mean and what its population can accomplish. It made me proud in a way that American flag lapel pins never can; in a way that sound bites never can; in a way that whining, feel-good demagogues never can.
Are there any men or women of principle around today? I suppose there are. Certainly there are those who pretend to principle .... but how many are willing to put their own feet to the fire, to think things through, to admit the flaws in their own arguments, and to press forward after having actually wrestled and thought and then wrestled some more? How many are willing to act because, on balance, it's the principle that counts more than the elevation of self; because facts a more important than face?
And it's not just the high-profile, very public versions of this sort of courage I admire. The same principle applies to people who never make the news ... testing, examining closely, questioning the results of a particular belief or philosophy. And then acting with a willingness to correct their errors where necessary.
Anyway ... it made me feel good to see that TV show and to think there was the possibility of greatness with substance. There was a kind of deep relief that the old pair of shoes, however dusty in current circumstances, was available at the back of the closet.