From author and former war correspondent Chris Hedges:
I have been to war. I have seen physical courage. But this kind of courage is not moral courage. Very few of even the bravest warriors have moral courage. For moral courage means to defy the crowd, to stand up as a solitary individual, to shun the intoxicating embrace of comradeship, to be disobedient to authority, even at the risk of your life, for a higher principle. And with moral courage comes persecution.
The American Army pilot Hugh Thompson had moral courage. He landed his helicopter between a platoon of U.S. soldiers and 10 terrified Vietnamese civilians during the My Lai massacre. He ordered his gunner to fire his M60 machine gun on the advancing U.S. soldiers if they began to shoot the villagers. And for this act of moral courage, Thompson, like Snowden, was hounded and reviled. Moral courage always looks like this. It is always defined by the state as treason—the Army attempted to cover up the massacre and court-martial Thompson. It is the courage to act and to speak the truth. Thompson had it. Daniel Ellsberg had it. Martin Luther King had it. What those in authority once said about them they say today about Snowden.
I’ll entertain the argument that if Snowden were truly morally courageous, he would return to the U.S. to stand trial. But I’ll also reject it, because since 9/11 the government has shown itself lacking in judgment and common sense, let alone adherence to the Constitution and the rule of law, on issues of national security. It has no business judging Snowden, and I give Snowden credit for having the smarts to recognize that fact.
That said, for all I know, Snowden is an absolute creep, if not a criminal, in other areas of his life. You know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters are the documented facts about our government’s malfeasance, committed in our name and with our tax dollars, that he has brought to light. Bruce Springsteen once said, “Trust the song, not the singer.” And while lots of critics have lambasted Snowden for demonstrably violating the conditions of his security clearance and arguably breaking the law (and have criticized journalist Glenn Greenwald for publishing the information Snowden obtained and also for his sometimes-obnoxious online behavior), no one has proved any of the factual assertions false that Snowden and Greenwald have brought to light.
I’ll say it again: They might be jackasses, but they are jackasses who are right.
Hedges probably also is right about what historians will say about Snowden. Hugh Thompson, his example, was, in his later years, brought to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to instruct future Army officers on ethics. It’s possible, if not likely, that some of the same officers criticizing Snowden today sat in Thompson’s classes. Pity, for them and the nation, that they didn’t listen.