Friday, December 20, 2013

great minds, small minds column

Withdrawn from submission to the local newspaper as much as anything because I am tired of submitting things for free that receive no acknowledgment ... even of receipt:


It's one of those tasty quotes uttered with a smug and sometimes satisfied wink: "Great minds think alike. Small minds rarely differ."

Of course, definitions of "great" may vary and the difference between "great" and "small" is sometimes blurry and it is sometimes hard to know which great mind came up with the idea first, but it's nice to have a socially-lubricating quote handy at a cocktail party.

And when it comes to great/small minds, Japan's passage Dec. 8 of the State Secrets Act -- a bit of legislation so vague that journalists may be jailed for five years for reporting unapproved facts if they continue to raise health concerns about the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster of 2011 -- is a wonderful example.

The law seeks to impose harsher punishment on individuals or institutions divulging whatever is deemed a "state secret." To the best of my knowledge, there is no written list of what constitutes or is a state secret.

Those most likely to be affected by the Japanese law were not amused. Not only did news outlets rise up in wrath, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's popularity rating took a 13.9-point nose dive. Like any politician caught with his hand in the cookie jar, Abe was (sort of) contrite:

"With humility and sincerity, I must take the severe opinion from the public as a reprimand from the people. I now look back and think with regret that I should have spent more time to explain the bill carefully. ... But there have been no rules on designating, releasing, and preserving state secrets. That is where the real problem is."

Abe apologized, not for the legislation itself, but for his failure to package it properly. There is speculation that, in the face of public blowback, Abe will shift the national focus in another direction -- maybe to budget woes -- and only after the clamor has died away will he begin to tighten the State Secrets Act vise.

It is hard not to think that Japan's approval of the State Secrets Act met with anything other than applause in the political corridors of Washington. Recent news stories (think Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistle blower) make it clear that the administration, like Abe, is desperately seeking to rebrand and repackage governmental intrusion into public life.

If people could be made to understand properly (i.e. agree with such intrusions), then everything would be all right, right? The people who conceived of and constructed the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration, the Joint Special Operations Command, the drones, the street corner cameras and who knows what other largely-secret devices have fear on their side. Who knows what might happen if secrets were not secret? Things that go bump in the night are no joke.

Like any good Japanese or American politician, Abe spoke the cookie cutter words: “This law is designed to protect the safety of the people.”

"Great minds think alike ..." and if Japan can do it, why not America? But wait! Who thought of it first? Was it the Japanese or the Americans? Which is the cart and which the horse and who thought of it first?

"Great minds think alike. Small minds rarely differ." Are these great minds at work or small and frightening ones? And whose bright idea was it in the first place?

Even a poor historian like me can look back to earlier or contemporary examples of such greatness. Remember Stalin? Remember Hitler? Remember the Chinese or North Korean grip on their media today? Each and every one of them had or has "the safety of the people" in mind. Great minds, one and all: Just ask them if you doubt me.

Let's not call such minds "small." That may turn out to be a state secret and result in a lengthy jail term.

1 comment:

  1. I seem to recall Nixon blaming the press for his problems.