Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

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  • Edward Snowden: Traitor or Hero?

    • Posted on Jul 07, 2013 by Scott Cawelti

    Google “traitor” and you come up with names that live in infamy:  Judas Iscariot, Brutus, Benedict Arnold, Tokyo Rose, Mata Hari, Vidkun Quisling, Kim Philby were convicted and either executed or punished with exile or infamy.

    Their crime?  Large-scale betrayal.  Let’s call it betrayal that damaged or destroyed more than friends and family.   After all, small-time betrayers—Russ Wasendorf and Mark Louviere locally, aren’t really traitors.  Their betrayals hurt themselves and those who trusted them, but no one calls them traitors. 

    Same with addicts who betray their vows to stay clean, and husbands and wives who betrayal their marital promises, captains of industry who betray their employees by sending all the work overseas, teachers who betray students’ trust, and so on.  Betrayal in fact seems quite like an ordinary human failing.

    Traitors, however, are more egregious and specialized betrayers.  Their actions 
    Google “traitor” and you come up with names that live in infamy:  Judas Iscariot, Brutus, Benedict Arnold, Tokyo Rose, Mata Hari, Vidkun Quisling, Kim Philby were convicted and either executed or punished with exile or infamy.

    Their crime?  Large-scale betrayal.  Let’s call it betrayal that damaged or destroyed more than friends and family.   After all, small-time betrayers—Russ Wasendorf and Mark Louviere locally, aren’t really traitors.  Their betrayals hurt themselves and those who trusted them, but no one calls them traitors. 

    Same with addicts who betray their vows to stay clean, and husbands and wives who betrayal their marital promises, captains of industry who betray their employees by sending all the work overseas, teachers who betray students’ trust, and so on.  Betrayal in fact seems quite like an ordinary human failing.

    Traitors, however, are more egregious and specialized betrayers.  Their actions damage a whole culture, hurting millions of innocents.  Spies. propagandists, saboteurs, and turncoats make wartime efforts difficult, causing death and suffering for their own side.  When caught, they suffer execution or permanent exile.   

    They’re widely despised for betraying causes that their country holds dear—though they might be treated as heroes by their country’s enemies.  In fact, if a traitor can find permanent asylum in those countries, they can live out their days in peace and comfort.  

    One country’s traitor is another’s friend, even hero.   All of our founding fathers were considered traitors by Britain, disloyal to the king.  So too with Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, heroes in the South, traitors in the North.  

    So traitorhood is a complex business.  

    Which brings me to Edward Snowden.  Traitor?  Hero, a.k.a. whistleblower? Large numbers of angry U.S. officials and citizens denounce him as a traitor.  Almost as many, depending on their location and politics, believe he’s a hero/whistleblower who at least started a national conversation about abuses of government surveillance.

    Pro-hero forces insist that Snowden exposed the National Security Agency’s vast and unexamined invasion of both personal and official privacy.   One of my favorite self-evident truths helps untie this knot:  Meaning is co-created.  

    That is, one single meaning or truth doesn’t reside anywhere without someone bringing their own meanings to it and making it their own. 

    Therefore, anti-government conservatives and pro-libertarians, not to mention non-U.S. citizens, find Snowden a hero. 

    So who is right?   Or rather, is either position more right than wrong without also examining preconceptions about the role and power of government? 

    This is an age-old question and itself gets answered differently depending on what you bring to it.   Absolutists will insist there’s a single right, where relativists will insist it depends. 

    Here’s an answer:  It depends on who’s right according to the emerging evidence.

    That is, Snowden betrayed his employment agreement with the government—his security clearance—and therefore must be punished. That’s a given.  

    Yet if he did it for the larger good, he might deserve hero status.  Call it justified betrayal.  In other words, let him off easily and begin examining what his exposure reveals about the NSA.  This might transform the NSA into a more effective operation, ultimately.   

    That’s what happened to Daniel Ellsburg, who exposed the government’s corrupt prosecution of the Vietnam war, and in fact who is now seen as a hero of the Vietnam era.  Look up “The Pentagon Papers” for the full story. 

    But suppose the NSA’s information did prevent terrorist attacks, and that ability is now severely compromised, thanks to Snowden.  Our government has said just that.

    This makes Snowden a traitor who has damaged national security, putting us at risk for more terrorist attacks.  

    At this point, we don’t yet know enough to judge Snowden.

    If you’re positive that Snowden is a traitor or a hero, you’re letting your preconceptions rule.

    One of these days, a reasonable person will be able to judge Snowden accurately, meaning either a Benedict Arnold who betrayed and damaged his own country.  Or a Daniel Ellsburg who performed brave and heroic service at considerable risk to himself.

    But not yet. 

               

     

    Go comment!
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    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
  • YouTube Video On Mark Family Murders from June 12, 2013

    • Posted on Jun 27, 2013 by Scott Cawelti
    Here's a YouTube link to that "Children of the Corn" episode of Investigation: Discovery's 'Most Likely to. . ."  series.  It was about the Mark family murders and is set in Cedar Falls/Waterloo.  First aired on Wednesday, June 12.   Worth a look.  

    YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNRhAkG7rX0

    Go comment!
    Posted in
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    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • Crime
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