Sunday, June 23: Contagion
A lot has happened since my last post. Right after I wrote that, I went to the session celebrating the 35th anniversary of Beacon Press publishing The Pentagon Papers.
Maybe it was the cumulative effect of everything I've been seeing and doing at General Assembly (GA), but I was overwhelmed listening to Daniel Ellsberg, Mike Gravel, and Robert West describe a time when people and institutions took great risks to stand up to a deceitful government and end an unjust war. My eyes kept misting up. I had to take a long walk afterward.
"Courage is contagious" Ellsberg said. He said he caught it from draft resistors who were willing to do more than just protest; they were willing to go to jail rather than to Vietnam or Canada. That seeded a question in his mind: "What can I do to end this war if I'm willing to go to prison for it?"
Interesting question, don't you think?
Mike Gravel, the senator who read the Papers into the Congressional Record (making them virtually impossible to suppress) told other stories of courage. After Ellsberg had smuggled 7,000 pages of documents to him, he needed his staff to help him go through them. ("I'm dyslexic" he said. "There's no way I could read all that.") He called his staffers up one-by-one and told them nothing other than to pack a bag and come to his home. At the doorway he told each one, "I have the Pentagon Papers. You can go home now, but if you come into this house, you're staying."
It reminded me of that moment in the movie 1776 when John Hancock says, "Step right up for your chance to commit treason." Every one of Gravel's staffers came in.
Beacon, they said, was the 36th publisher they had approached, and the only one to say yes.
These were old men by now, but the implications for my generation and our war are far too obvious. And the politics of our time seem so bizarre. Gravel (a Unitarian Universalist) is currently running a quixotic campaign for president. The other candidates are competing with each other to cast strong, tough images. (And Fred Thompson is near the top of the Republican polls based on nothing but a strong, tough image.) And yet, how many of these people can point to an event that truly tested their characters the way that the Pentagon Papers tested Gravel? Why is his candidacy the one we're supposed to be laughing at?
The questions running around in my mind seemed to call for a bigger audience than I have here, so after I got home from the Ware Lecture I wrote it up for the biggest liberal blog on the Internet, Daily Kos. I called the piece "Is There Courage in This Generation?"
Anyway, anybody can put stuff on Daily Kos, and most of it rolls off the bottom of the screen without anybody noticing. But this morning I discovered my article had been put on their front page, something that hasn't happened to one of my articles in more than a year. (My screen name there is Pericles.)
And I skipped right over to the Ware Lecture. More about that later. A lot has been happening.