On second thought, maybe Snowden isn't a traitor

Snowden is one of those people for whom the conjunction “and” is apt. Normally, I prefer the more emphatic “but” so I could say “Snowden did some good but he did a greater amount of damage.” Trouble is, I’m not sure of that. I am sure, though, that he has instigated a worthwhile debate. I am sure that police powers granted the government will be abused over time and that Snowden is an authentic whistleblower, appalled at what he saw on his computer screen and wishing, like Longfellow’s Paul Revere, to tell “every Middlesex village and farm” what our intelligence agencies were doing. Who do they think they are, Google?

But (and?) I am at a loss to say what should be done with Snowden. He broke the law, this is true. He has been chary with his information, but he cannot know all its ramifications and, anyway, the government can’t allow anyone to decide for himself what should be revealed. That, too, is true. So Snowden is, to my mind, a bit like John Brown, the zealot who intensely felt the inhumanity of slavery and broke the law in an attempt to end the practice. My analogy is not neat — Brown killed some people — but you get the point. I suppose Snowden needs to be punished but not as a traitor. He may have been technically disloyal to America but not, after some reflection, to American values.

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