National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden’s quest for refuge reminds me of a short story I read moons ago, “The Man Without a Country,” by Edward Everett Hale. Snowden for now is in Russia, a temporary stop he hopes. Hale wrote about a fictional Army lieutenant, Philip Nolan, who was being tried for treason for being too close to Aaron Burr, a former vice president of the United States, who, in real life, was also tried for treason but acquitted.
Nolan renounced his country during the trial and shouted out with anger, “I wish I may never hear of the United States again!” He should have been careful for what he wished. The judge sentenced him to spend the rest of his life aboard U.S. Navy warships, never permitting him to step on U.S. soil, and anyone in contact with him was forbidden to mention his country.
He still was treated per the privileges due his rank on board the ships he sailed and he was never confined to the brig. Even so, he gradually realized how much he missed home and his country. Nolan contacted sailors to get news of home and reportedly he once warned a sailor not to make the same mistake he had as he realized the value of the country he denounced. He missed it more than his friends or family, more than art or music or love or nature. Without it, he felt he was nothing. The day before he died, after 56 years on ships, he revealed his feelings to the fictional teller of his story. In his cabin, the narrator saw The Stars and Stripes draped around a picture of George Washington. Nolan had painted a bald eagle over his bed.
The plight of exiles and their conflicted emotions in later life are often the subject of works of fiction.
Snowden for now can only find refuge in those countries who count themselves as critics of the U.S., and most of those are autocratic, repressive, and hardly champions of freedom of the press or freedom of expression. The three countries he prefers for refuge, at the time of writing the column, could face regime changes in these days of democratic populist upheaval. Where he lands is likely to be only a temporary perch forcing him to sail from one safe place to another during his lifetime to avoid facing justice in the U.S. One thing is for sure, his blowing the whistle on his hosts would never be appreciated by those kinds of countries offering him refuge. He should be careful for what he wishes.
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