A friend mentioned over breakfast recently that there had been too many secrets in her marriage – on both of their parts. She is taking on enough guilt and sadness for both of them secretsand he seems to be incapable of taking any responsibility but sure seems capable of expressing a great deal of anger.  On the other hand I am entering into the discovery phase of what will either be a short term, grand, erotically charged passion or which will eventually become something of the former but also sentimental, tender and nourishing and because of both circumstances I am perhaps a little more aware of the need for transparency than usual.

Having just re-read Michael Ondaatje’s book The English Patient, listening to the magnificent soundtrack over and over again throughout, and then finding the link to watch the (multiple) award winning film online I was reminded of a rather appropriate line of poetry offered on a Englishscrap of paper tucked into the copy of Herodotus (c. 484-425 BCE) kept by the books’ fictionalized character of Count Laszlo de Almásy.

Betrayals during war are childlike compared with our betrayals during peace. New lovers are nervous and tender, but smash everything. For the heart is an organ of fire.

~ The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje

­­­­­­­­­If you haven’t seen The English Patient since it came out in 1996 (or, shockingly, if ever) nor read the book, then doing so NOW makes a great deal of sense. Ondaatje weaves the truly cooperative nature and passion of archaeological exploration and discovery against the political landscape offered by the years before and during WWII. With actions interpreted as betrayals and espionage by some of the ‘innocent’ characters and those actually engaged in the trade of secrets and reconnaissance held blameless.

Of course the headlines of late have cemented this for me.  I am struck by the distinct memory of President Barack Obama’s memorandum issued to his department heads based upon his promise:

“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this Presidency”

And, the words of John F. Kennedy, Jr. expressed when I was just a toddler:

“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings.”

And yet.

ericThere is the great current debate over whether Eric Snowden is a whistleblower or a traitor. There is the hypocrisy noted by scholars, civil liberties defenders, human rights protectors, Nobel Laureates, Allies of the United States and our ‘enemies’ alike, by, in fact, a global community and an awful lot of Americans too that the United States government is failing to live up to the standards to which it holds other nations.  Spying on our Allies impeaches our credibility even further.  How can we fail to understand that we, as Americans, have more to lose by restrictions to our liberties, to a lack of transparency, to secrets and spying, invasion of privacy imposed upon us by our own government than any potential duplication of 9/11? As someone who was asked to shuck all of my clothing by a TSA matron at Reagan National Airport in the summer of 2002 because of the metal supports pinkfound in my underwire bra, in the heels of my Manolo Blahniks and the chain at the hem of my Chanel jacket set off security maybe our paranoia is going too far.  (It should be pointed out that more Pakistani civilians have been killed by US drone strikes than the losses suffered as a result of the 9/11 attacks. And we are ridiculously naïve if we don’t understand these actions will create greater anger and increase potential reprisal attacks on Americans everywhere. But that is for brighter minds than mine to provide comment on.)

The fact that in the aftermath of Snowden’s disclosures that the United States government was indeed monitoring ALL communications of US citizens was ‘quickly’ addressed by Senator Rand Paul – making both James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence and Eric Snowden guilty of crimes.

In the wake of our global discussion over leaking secrets, spying and so forth, Army Private Bradley Manning’s court martial is ongoing.  And it should be noted that a Nobel Laureate has a very different perspective on his actions than, of course, the United States military does.  1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan-Maguire likens Bradley Manning to Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi and Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo both of whom were awarded the prize while persecuted and imprisoned in their home countries.  I love Corrigan-Macguire’s choice of words:

“Peace is more than simply the absence of war; it is the active creation of something better. …[Alfred] Nobel’s foresight is a reminder to us all that peace must be created, maintained, and advanced, and it is indeed possible for one individual to have an extraordinary impact.”

It remains to be seen what the history books will say of Eric Snowden and Bradley Manning but truth is often at odds with agenda.  It can be uncomfortable to live within once espoused but our humanity, our personal relationships, our own authenticity and integrity often demand that secrets not be kept.

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