Civil Disobedience, Thoreau, Anti-Iraq War Tax Resisters, Mary McCarthy ©

On income tax day, I was wandering about and discovered a post that brought me joy.  Steven Josselson, of Troubled Times: An Online Journal of Policy and Politics, offered a commentary that I found invigorating.  It stimulated my mind.

The topic was, “Refusing to Pay Taxes: Civil Disobedience and the Iraq war.”  I read. Then I began pondering the actions of these “defiant” peace protesters.  Many of the persons discussed in this essay were not willing to contribute their tax obligation to a country engaged in war; yet, they were willing to give their funds to charities.  These individuals consciously choose to donate their tax duties to organizations that embody a civic-minded philosophy.  However, society labels them civilly disobedient.  I wonder.

Since that day, my mind has been absorbed in the idea of Civil Disobedience.  Today, I think of the dismissed Central Intelligence agent, Mary McCarthy.  I read the papers, listen to the news, and I ponder.  Is the phrase a misnomer?  When we peacefully act in accordance with the founding principles of our forefathers, are we civilly disobedient or caring and concerned citizens?  I believe we are the latter.

Currently Mary McCarthy, a senior intelligence officer once assigned to the White House, is in the battle of a lifetime.

This Central Intelligence agent, and analyst, was recently released from her post and accused of leaking classified information on the rumored CIA prisons.  Mrs. McCarthy was given a lie detector test, failed, and then confessed.  On Thursday, April 21, 2006, McCarthy was escorted by agents from her CIA offices, This woman was publicly humiliated, while only a week earlier, Washington Post reporter, Dana Priest was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her reports on the prisons.

The dichotomy is fascinating. Mrs. Mary McCarthy is also accused of civil disobedience. Dana Priest is praised for disclosing the same information.  Some think McCarthy and her disclosures are treasonous.  Yet, they think the public has a right to know and they applaud Ms. Priest.  I question these cross-judgments.  Why would one woman be scorned as “civilly disobedient,” and the other praised as socially dutiful?  How do we define the term “civil disobedience?”

I feel certain some would consider both women wrong; others might think them each saintly.  Even the phrase civil disobedience can be defined as a good or bad. I think this needs to be discussed.  I am asking for discourse.  I pose my belief. When acted upon peacefully, with intentions to better the system, not abolish it, I consider the phrase my definition of “principled lessons in civics.” I think the apathetic disobedient

I believe if we truly care about our country, we participate, peacefully.  We communicate and ask for a dialogue, or present circumstances that create one.  I think citizens have a right and duty to improve our nation. We must commit to excellence.  We must work towards a peaceful union.  I think if we follow our “leaders” blindly, then we are not acting as responsible, concerned citizens.  We are merely compliant and not publicly minded.

Our government is meant to be a body that represents us, not decides for us.  Sadly, in recent decades the “government” is seen as a separate entity.  People in today’s world often consider themselves pawns, not powerful or vital.  They no longer see themselves as the solution; they think of themselves as helpless.  I struggle with this reality.

I believe that as individuals, and as part of a greater group we need to reflect, to act with intent, so that we might grow greater.  To this vision, I am inviting you dear reader to join me in a discussion of Civil disobedience.  To facilitate this dialogue, I am offering some thoughts of my own.  Please feel free to comment.

In reference to Central Intelligence agent Mary McCarthy, what were her motivations and might they possibly have been more honorable than those of the President?  Does this woman not have a history of caring?  Does she contemplate the causes and effects of American actions, specifically aggressive assaults?  It seems from her co-workers, she does.

In a New York Times article, “Colleagues Say C.I.A. Analyst Played by the Rules,” By David S. Cloud, Mrs. McCarthy is said to be quite a cordial worker.  She is comprehensive in her investigations and states her concerns openly.  She is known to be thorough and appreciates the same.  Her posture favors humanitarian efforts and not those that are hasty, unthinking, or knee-jerk.

“We’re talking about a person with great integrity, who played by the book and, as far as I know, never deviated from the rules,” said Steven Simon.  Mr. Simon was a Security Council aide in the Clinton administration.  He worked closely with Mary McCarthy while serving the former President and he trusts that Mrs. McCarthy is honorable.

According to former government officials, in 1998, Mrs. McCarhty warned former President Bill Clinton that the plan to militarily strike a suspected chemical weapons factory in Sudan relied on inconclusive intelligence. Mary O. McCarthy, a senior intelligence officer has long stood for informed decisions.  She frowned upon aggressive attacks that she believed did not promote a civil stance.  One former co-worker attributes this to her disdain for clandestine agenda.

“She was always of the view that she would rather not get her hands dirty with covert action” says Michael Scheuer, a former C.I.A. official. Scheuer also served during the Clinton years.  He claims to have been in meetings with Ms. McCarthy when she voiced her misgivings.  Mr. Scheuer recalls that McCarthy had strong suspicions about the intelligence on Al Qaeda.  She expressed her doubts to Mr. Clinton; she wondered whether chemical weapons were being produced in these Sudanese factories and thought it better to be certain before attacking.

However, the strike took place just as they were planned.  Ms. McCarthy’s qualms did not stop the retaliatory aggression against Al Qaeda.  After all, Americans want revenge and two American embassies were bombed in East Africa. Nevertheless, this earlier incident, and the current discussion of McCarthy leaks as they pertain to what some consider American abuse, do demonstrate that this woman is willing to dispute intelligence data and the methods sanctioned by her “superiors.”  She can and does question authority.  Is this wrong?

Is it not the manner in which we, as a people, as part of a republic choose to defy, challenge, or confront the circumstances that matters.  Can we register our complaints with compassion?  Can we communicate carefully in our attempt to reconcile our conscious and still be civilly obedient?  I think so.  I offer this component to the dialogue.

In the Christian Science Monitor article, “When the Tax Man cometh, they don’t answer the bell,” many tax resisters were interviewed.  Some, I think were merely manipulating a system that they disdained.  Others, such as Mrs. Ruth Benn of Brooklyn, New York are my heroes.  Mrs. Benn did not hide her actions or beliefs; she stated these proudly.  In a letter to the Internal Revenue Services, submitted with her 1040 form, she explained why she was not enclosing a check and where her funds were sent.

This lovely and thoughtful woman filed her 1040 on time.  She communicated her concerns stating, “I do not want my tax dollars to be used for killing and war.”  That sentiment for me is truly civil.  Apparently, an approximate 10,000 other Americans did the same; they too withheld their tax payments.  They also object to this less than sanctioned war.

There were those persons that did not pay their taxes for religious reasons, others because they conscientiously object to war.  Numerous individual were motivated by “personal politics.”  However, these individuals chose, in good conscious to donate the duty-bound capital to charities.  They wished to commit to causes that were indeed working towards a greater good.

Philosophically, this practice works well for me.  I do not understand those that think killing, maiming, and aggressively attacking those that disagree with them promotes a sense of community.  Nor do I comprehend how reactive behaviors such as these can be considered egalitarian or democratic.  For me, when the government dictates deeds that are counter to the common good, then it is not being civil, polite, or acting for the common good.

I do struggle however, with the reactive stance of those that hide and purposely avoid paying their taxes. Those that do not communicate their reasoning and rationalize that they need not, I consider less than ethical and aware.  I believe, as John Donne did, that “No man [woman, child, or being] is an island.” if we are to exist well together, we must work collectively and support each other.

When our countrymen in Congress do not represent us, we must stand and be counted. After all, this government was founded on the principles of civil consciousness.  We are a government “of, by, and for” the people.  If we are to truly be the United States of America, we must work as “us.”

Is a signature on a social security card similar to that on a professional contract? When we sign either, do we lose our right to question indignities imposed by a warring government?

When we know of activities that go against the grain of what is commonly considered for the common good and civilized, then, I believe we must speak. We need to take a stand respectfully.  Participating in practices that promote man’s inhumanity to man for me is not glorious; speaking against them is.  If questioning behaviors that glorify killing and maiming is considered legally disobedient, then I am willing to advocate defiance.

I strongly suspect Mary McCarthy and Ruth Benn felt they were obeying a higher authority than that of the Bush Band, one that is benevolent and not hiding behind the phrase “compassionate conservative.”  They did not think themselves disobedient.  I believe they thought they had an obligation to goodness, grace, and to their community.  If this is true, then I support them.  I even think them courageous.  And you, what do you think?

The following references may help you to decide . . .
Troubled Times: An online journal of policy and politics
When the Tax Man cometh, they don’t answer the bell By Chris Gaylord. The Christian Science Monitor. April 14, 2006
Henry David Thoreau: Civil Disobedience
C.I.A. Employee Fired for Alleged Leak, By David Johnston and Scott Shane, New York Times. April 21, 2006
CIA Fires Employee for Alleged Leak By Katherine Shrader, Associated Press
Colleagues Say C.I.A. Analyst Played by the Rules By David S. Cloud. New York Times. April 23, 2006
CIA Officer Is Fired for Media Leaks By Dafna Linzer. Washington Post Saturday, April 22, 2006
CIA Leaker Shown Door
NBC: CIA officer fired after admitting leak By Robert Windrem and Andrea Mitchell, NBC News. April 21, 2006
Dana Priest: 2006 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Category of Beat Reporting
Peace.protest.net: An eye for an eye will only leave the world blind. – Mahatma Gandhi
Please listen to this eloquent link . . . Altruism may be alive and well, even within the CIA.
All Things Considered, April 24, 2006 · NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr says that most government officials who leak confidential information think of themselves as true whistle-blowers. They are motivated by a desire to serve the public interest.