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Who’s the Rat?

December 25, 2001

Things are getting a little too unanimous around here. That always makes me suspicious.

Everybody is crying out for the blood of John Walker, or Lindh, or whatever his name is. It’s 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 hadn’t done the formal paperwork for renouncing his citizenship. On the other hand, the invading country hadn’t 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 government’s 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?

[Breaker quote: Second thoughts 
on John Walker]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 patriotic slogans.

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 doesn’t deny having a biological weapons program; it can’t be sure the anthrax that killed several Americans wasn’t home-brewed.

Nobody can keep track of all the things our government does in the open, let alone guess what it’s 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 doesn’t 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 didn’t 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 he’s a safe target. We can all vent our patriotism on him. He has no friends. He doesn’t own any media outlets. And he’s 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 government’s 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.

Joseph Sobran

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Copyright © 2001 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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