I just read Kurt Loder’s review of Snowden, Oliver Stone’s new film about Edward Snowden. Here are a couple of comments. I’ll try to go easy on context and explanation, to make the points briefly.
The first point concerns Loder’s comments about JFK, Stone’s film about Jim Garrison, a New Orleans prosecutor who investigated Kennedy’s assassination. Near the beginning of Loder’s review, he briefly compares JFK with Snowden:
Snowden is a bit like JFK, Stone’s gripping 1991 fever dream about the Kennedy assassination; unlike that movie, however, this one isn’t, you know, completely nuts. Where JFK was a riot of paranoid speculation, Snowden is rooted in well-known facts about Edward Snowden…
It’s interesting to suppose we have thoughtful people in our country who believe the story of Jim Garrison’s prosecution of Clay Shaw amounts to “a riot of paranoid speculation.” I admit parts of Stone’s film do come across as speculation, because he didn’t know what we know now. Stone did not develop a coherent motive for Kennedy’s killers. He shifts between storytelling, and a montage of apparently unlinked but suspicious events. He may have chosen gripping subject matter, but the narrative often slips away from him.
Nearly twenty years after Stone’s film, James Douglass published his account of Kennedy’s death, and an indictment of the people who killed the president: JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. Douglass is a thorough researcher and theologian who, after almost fifty years, told the truth about what happened in Dallas. In that book you learn that Jim Garrison was right. You learn that nothing about Garrison’s charges were paranoid speculation. They were true.
The second point concerns a comment Loder makes about Snowden:
Snowden decides to go rogue after being posted to Hawaii (to spy on the Chinese). In a tingling scene, we see him downloading the classified files to a computer chip (which he cleverly conceals in a Rubik’s Cube).
So we have another point of interest in our tour of twenty-first century American political culture. The way you write about Snowden – the words and voice you use – disclose a lot about your attitude toward the national government, its authority, and the way it behaves. One person has become a litmus test for judgments about government’s power. Here’s what I mean.
To “go rogue” means to become an outlaw: to act outside the law. Yet plainly, the outlaws in Snowden’s case are the people who decided the Constitution does not matter. They consider the Bill of Rights as so many impediments to their power. When you commit an act of civil disobedience against these criminals, you do not become an outlaw yourself. You become one of few steadfast heroes willing to stand for law, and all of our democratic traditions. On the other side, people who consider Snowden a criminal, think of themselves as patriots who do what’s necessary to protect their country from its enemies.
In Kennedy’s time, the people who killed Kennedy went rogue. They executed a sitting president in a coup d’etat. We no longer suggest this point of view hails from fever swamps. In Snowden’s time, his colleagues in the surveillance state went rogue. They decided to go after the person who exposed their crimes. Someday we will recognize who the traitors were, and who were the patriots who acted to protect their country.