Whos the Rat?
December 25, 2001
getting a little too unanimous around here. That always makes me
Everybody is crying out for the blood of John
Walker, or Lindh, or whatever his name is. Its an ugly, media-driven mob
fury. Headlines in the New York Post over news stories, not
editorials or opinion columns refer to him simply as the
Rat. Unbiased journalism.
What did the Rat actually do? He tried to shed
his identity. He changed his name, religion, and country. He took up arms to defend
his adopted country when it was attacked. It just happened that the invading
country was the one he was born in, something he could hardly have foreseen when
he went to Afghanistan.
This is treason? Well, he was still technically
a citizen of the invading country, because he hadnt done the formal
paperwork for renouncing his citizenship. On the other hand, the invading country
hadnt declared war, as its constitution requires.
More to the point, Walker is a lone eccentric.
If he gets away with what he has done, so what? Are thousands of
other young Americans going to follow his example and join the Taliban unless we
make an example of him?
The U.S. Government now believes the anthrax
mailings that killed several people and scared the whole country were probably
sent by one or more disgruntled former employees of the governments own
biological weapons program who had taken some of the lethal stuff home with
them. Under the cover of the 9/11 attacks and the consequent hysteria, the
perpetrator(s) knew the deaths would be ascribed to foreign terrorists; and
various propagandists were quick to blame Saddam Hussein and to demand that
Iraq be punished.
Now all this is far nastier, far more
treacherous, than anything Walker is accused of doing. Yet it has aroused far less
outrage. In fact, we should be angry that our own government was developing such
evil, inhuman, dangerous weapons in the first place. They can only be used to kill
innocent people; they are fearfully hard to control and, it now appears, easy to
steal. Is this what we mean by national defense?
If our rulers can create such
weapons secretly, we can stop pretending that we live in a
democracy, under popular control. It makes nonsense of all our
I remember how angry I was when Communist
propagandists accused this country of practicing germ warfare in
Korea. Now I have to wonder. Our government doesnt deny having a
biological weapons program; it cant be sure the anthrax that killed several
Americans wasnt home-brewed.
Nobody can keep track of all the things our
government does in the open, let alone guess what its doing behind closed
doors. But now and then we get disturbing intimations.
No wonder some foreigners regard this
country as the Great Satan. It could have been a wonderful country; so it used to
be, and in some respects it still is. But if it equates defense with
mass murder, the Great Satan will do as a rough approximation. In
that light, John Walker doesnt seem quite so goofy.
In fact, he seems old-fashioned, almost
chivalrous. He behaved straightforwardly. He fought like a man, as we used to say.
He didnt pretend to be loyal to this country while scheming to get it into
war, unlike some people I could name (who are now accusing him of treason, of
course). He proclaimed his convictions and was ready to die for them.
But hes a safe target. We can all vent
our patriotism on him. He has no friends. He doesnt own any media outlets.
And hes a godsend to a government that wants to portray war as melodrama
and to channel popular passions against supposed threats. Now all the government
has to do is find a charge that will stand up in court.
It may not be that easy. A similarly
defenseless woman, also the target of hate and hysteria, was once framed as the
semi-mythical Tokyo Rose, yet despite all the governments
enormous efforts (it spent a million dollars) to stack the evidence and exclude
defense witnesses, she was very nearly acquitted of all charges. In the end, she
was convicted on only one dubious count, out of eight leveled against her.
Anyway, it seems a bit harsh to call Walker a
rat. The epithet better fits those who carry germs.