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This is a man who has betrayed his country. He should man up and come back to the U. S…. The fact is, he has damaged his country very significantly. I find it sad and disgraceful. ~ John Kerry

We hear Secretary of State John Kerry tell Edward Snowden to “man up,” and come back to the United States to face prosecution for revealing that the NSA does not adhere to the plain language of the Constitution. Is that the best response our top foreign affairs official can come up with: a taunt and a charge of treason? The U. S. government goes absolutely nuts a year ago trying to track Snowden down. Snowden makes the feds look bad, real bad, like the super-confident, villainous, but inept crooks that Jason Bourne evades when he makes them trip over themselves trying to catch him. When the feds encounter a real Jason Bourne – who’s a computer tech, not an assassin! – the best it can do is call across the ocean, man up, you betrayed your country. Sometimes you want to tell these guys, keep your mouth shut. Every time you say something, you make it worse. We already know you are compulsive law breakers who hide behind official procedures and secret barriers. Must you issue empty challenges to flaunt your weakness and incompetence as well?

Secretary of State John Kerry

If we’re talking about manning up to face criminal charges, I wonder why Kerry does not issue the same challenge to Clapper, Alexander, and the rest of the crew over at NSA. That would be something to see: the whole intelligence establishment trooping down to Leavenworth to join Bradley Manning in solitary confinement so they can man up as well. As it is, Chelsea Manning is at another facility now to undergo hormone therapy, but I imagine Leavenworth is good enough for these men. It probably has a good locker room. Let’s see how masculine these spies feel when the guards let them out of their eight by eight cells for one hour a day to walk around the yard.

It’s an interesting phrase, man up. Does that mean by going to Russia, Edward Snowden has chosen to woman down? We used to see the phrase in television shows like Friends, where one brother tells another he should man up and apologize to his girl friend. I haven’t seen a secretary of state apply it to a person charged with espionage. When did going into exile to keep from being thrown into solitary for the rest of your life become an unmanly thing to do? Does the rest of the world see Snowden as someone who decided to woman down?

I wonder if President Rose in Hunger Games would challenge Katniss Everdeen in public to woman up. She’s the heroine of the revolution, a sort of Joan of Arc figure for the poor people in the provinces. President Rose travels all the way to her house to caution her against any more provocative heroics. She understands what is at stake: the government will come after her sister and her mother if she doesn’t cooperate. At least no one from Washington has threatened to go after Snowden’s father and girlfriend, though I expect they have both had to deal with some unwelcome visits, and pressure to help get Snowden back. When everything else has failed, the secretary of state tells Snowden to man up. Snowden must want to reply, how reckless do you think I am?

Especially interesting is to hear Kerry talk in this vein after his experience in Vietnam, his experience in the resistance against the Vietnam war back in the States, and his experience as a presidential candidate in 2004. First, I admire Kerry for the stand he took when he came back from Vietnam. The Swift boat people charged him with cowardice and mendacity for medals he won as a leader in combat. For those lies, the people who ran that campaign against him will go down in the annals of U. S. politics as authors of one of the dirtiest presidential campaigns in recent memory. They did not even acknowledge in public that their real complaint against Kerry was his leadership of war resisters back home.

Having endured that kind of trashing, Kerry knows what it’s like to take an unpopular stand. Is he less a man because the feds did not throw him into prison back in 1971? Did he woman down because lying jerks working for the Republicans Swift boated him in 2004? That’s a sensitive question, because in fact his defenders do wish he had spoken more forcefully against his detractors during the campaign. The root fault lies with the Swift boaters, though, not with the candidate. He chose to ignore the charges as beneath contempt, and that was not an unmanly thing to do.

We have to ask, then, why Kerry thinks civil disobedience requires punishment to make the act complete. What theory of civil disobedience is that? Is there a yin and yang for outlaws, that requires people like Snowden to wind up in jail, to elevate their act and lend it significance? Snowden is not Jesus on the cross. He does not have to suffer at the hands of tyrants to infuse meaning into his disclosure of official lawlessness. John Kerry should man down – that is, simply tone down – and, if he likes, reply quietly to Snowden’s arguments about constitutionality and privacy. Kerry says Snowden should make those arguments in court, here in the country that has charged him as a spy. An interview with Brian Williams in Moscow does not score well with Kerry, or with other rabid law enforcers in Washington who call Snowden a traitor.

Here’s a final observation on Snowden’s choice of exile over prosecution and imprisonment. Washington set the model for treatment of civil disobedience with the Manning case. It kept him in solitary confinement for three years before it tried him. The trial itself was not quite secret, but the feds preferred to keep the event off the media’s front pages if they could. They wanted to put him away, but not stir up excess noise among Manning’s supporters.

What opportunity did Manning have to defend his action during this semi-secret proceeding? Near the beginning of the trial, Manning submitted a written statement. Because the verdict was foregone, the trial is essentially a sentencing hearing. The reporting on Manning’s statement indicates some lawyering strategy in the background. Manning suggests he was a naive, low-level and well intentioned intelligence analyst who did not realize the damage he might cause. As a strong statement against our government’s conduct of war in Iraq, and its conduct of diplomacy and military operations worldwide, it came across as rather muted. Rather than defend his own actions to expose our govenrment’s conduct, Manning chose to lay some soft covers over his truly significant act of disobedience. That’s where the trial strategy comes in: the cautious attorney advises not to present a statement that provokes the court to deliver a life sentence without parole. He reminds Manning that your statement glitters for a moment, then you spend an extra twenty years in prison for it. In the event, Manning received thirty-five years confinement for his heroism.

Consonant with the gender issue that Kerry introduced with his public challenge to Snowden to man up, we should acknowledge Chelsea Manning’s desire to change gender. I believe that if the feds had not hauled Manning into solitary confinement for three years, Bradley Manning would still be Bradley Manning, living as a gay man. Life took another turn for him. He has undergone a lot of suffering for his country. After the way our government treated Manning – as a traitor to be locked away, without a voice, for as long as possible – Edward Snowden made the correct choice. He can make his case more effectively from abroad. If he ever steps onto U. S. soil again, his right of free speech is gone.

Let’s return at the end to Kerry’s suggestion that turning yourself in counts as manning up. Chelsea Manning did not turn herself in. Adrian Lamo, a friend Manning trusted, turned her in. Edward Snowden did not turn himself in. Sarah Harrison from Wikileaks, the organization that published Manning’s documents, helped Snowden reach Moscow. For the U. S. government, and for others who mistakenly support its policies and activities, Adrian Lamo is an asset. The feds regard the other three as contemptible traitors. For the rest of us, who have to figure out a way to resist unchecked power, we know the heroes in this quartet: Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Sarah Harrison. They stand courageously against people who betray our Constitution. Their courage is not masculine or feminine. The cowardice of people who lie and hide behind shrouds of secrecy is not masculine or feminine, either. Virtue does not know any gender, and neither does vice.