One Minute of Film

The film was released in 1976. It was a success, based on a huge best-selling book. It was the story of how this nation came close to becoming what in fact it is today. Scary.

“All the President’s Men” presented the unedifying spectacle of an American president going bananas. That Mr. Nixon was subverting the entire US Constitution in order to maintain control of his office and his legacy at first was difficult to believe. “I am not a crook,” he croaked on television. But he was. And he had been able to persuade his staff that they, too, were not crooks, but instead guardians of democracy.

Few citizens could believe that a president of ours had been so close to such absolute power. This was what happened in other countries. Not ours.

Enterprising, fearless, articulate and naïve are words that were then used to describe the writing staff of The Washington Post. And when the film was completed and we saw Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman tracking down the biggest game in the world, with their editor, played by Jason Robards, breathing down their necks and asking for more and more verification of each part of the Republican scandal, our inclination to believe what our stars were doing was still shaky. No one could get away with what Nixon envisioned. No team of reporters — Robert Woodward, Carl Bernstein, and Edward Snowden — could get so incredibly lucky and live to tell the tale.

Ooops! Delete the reference to Snowden. He had not yet been born. It just seems he was.

One reason for thinking about Snowden is a particular one minute’s worth of film set in an underground garage in D.C., a face-off between Redford’s character and the informant later widely known as “Deep Throat.”

In near darkness, before dawn, “Deep Throat” seemed to be cracking up. He is warning the Post reporter that “they’re all in it. The FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, they’re all in it. Your life may very well be in danger right now.”

This man was off the rails. And he was scaring Redford’s character into believing his telephone was tapped, that he was under constant surveillance, that his apartment was thoroughly bugged.

Almost forty years later, we finally understand how “sane” Deep Throat really was, how close he was to the truth. More vividly than George Orwell’s “1984,” which, after all, was fiction, Edward Snowden’s whistle-blowing to the Guardian’s reporters about the US of A’s National Security Administration’s all-out assault on the civil liberties of American citizens – via telephone calls, emails, traffic on the Internet, credit cards, airplane tickets, books borrowed from local libraries – was no more unreal than Deep Throat’s panicked warnings to the Post reporters.

Under the not unreasonable guise of protecting the country from international terrorism, US governmental agencies were – every minute of every day – stepping over a line that had not been crossed since the Era of Richard Nixon.
Redford was right to be scared. And so are we.

What was forecast by Orwell in “1984” has come to pass and then a whole lot more. What was exposed by Edward Snowden confirmed everyone’s worst moments of paranoia. It was possible that the United States of America could lose what it had fought so hard to maintain for more than two hundred years: its independence, its freedom to think, write, feel, speak.

In our own age of political aggression, where to be out of step is to be out of the Party – any party – we are forcing citizens to make choices they do not want nor did they expect to have to make. Who defines security? Who defines war? Who defines love? And are we all ready to recognize an authority not our own that rules so many facets of what we had considered was America’s daily life? Was OUR daily life?

Having blown the opportunities to promote democracy and western civilization in Iraq and Afghanistan, are we ready again to do what that extraordinary group of men and women did who belonged to what is called the Greatest Generation? Can we ever again be united against any threat, whether it’s cyber or conventional? Can we ever again as a nation feel united in spirit, in goals, in defense?

No one knows, but in our current state of deep sectarian division over nearly every matter large and small that bobs to the surface of the great roiling waters that surround this country now, 24/7, all we have to believe in are ourselves and our history. On this seventieth anniversary of the invasion of Europe in 1944 during World War II, do we still have what it takes to survive as our best selves?


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