COME HOME, EDWARD SNOWDEN,
TODAY’S “PHILIP NOLAN,” THE MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY
In 1863, Edward Everett Hale penned a short story, A Man Without A Country, that
so captured the imaginations of readers throughout the world that for many
years, there was widespread belief that “Philip Nolan” was based upon a real person. Actually, until Ed Snowden came along, “Nolan”
had been an imaginary character of pure fiction. During the course of a dramatized
court-martial, the young American naval lieutenant said, “Damn the United
States, etc.” This was his sentence:
"WASHINGTON (with a date, which have been late in 1807).
"SIR,--You will receive from Lieutenant Neale the person of Philip Nolan, late a Lieutenant in
the United States Army.
"This person on his
trial by court-martial expressed with an oath the wish that he might 'never
hear of the United States again.'
"The Court sentenced him to have his wish fulfilled.
"For the present, the execution of the order is intrusted by the President to this Department.
"You will take the prisoner on board your ship, and keep him there with such precautions as shall
prevent his escape.
"You will provide him with such quarters, rations, and clothing as would be proper for an officer of
his late rank, if he were a passenger on your vessel on the business of his
"The gentlemen on board will make any arrangements agreeable to themselves regarding his society.
He is to be exposed to no indignity of any kind, nor is he ever unnecessarily
to be reminded that he is a prisoner.
"But under no circumstances is he ever to hear of his country or to see any information
regarding it, and you will specially caution all the officers under your
command to take care, that, in the various indulgences which may be granted,
this rule, in which his punishment is involved, shall not be broken.
"It is the intention of the Government that he shall never again see the country which he has
disowned. Before the end of your cruise you will receive orders which will give
effect to this intention.
"W. SOUTHARD, for the Secretary of the Navy."
In the course of his peregrinations aboard
ships at sea, Nolan was shielded and denied any knowledge of his late
country. However, at one point, he is
handed what he might have read as a commentary on his condition.
From Sir Walter Scott’s “The Lay of the Last
Minstrel,” these verses brought tears to his eyes.
Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonored , and unsung.
Sir Walter Scott, From “The Lay of the Last Minstrel,” 1805.
Nolan lived a life of the
deepest regret, but his punishment was largely unremitting. About a century later, the glamorous, blond English
classical actress, Coral Browne, was touring Russia with The Royal Shakespeare
Company. The incident of her meeting the
British spy (mole) Guy Burgess, who had defected to the Soviet Union, was
portrayed in 1983, in a John Schlesinger movie, “An Englishman Abroad,” written
by Alan Bennett, and co-starred Alan Bates, as Guy Burgess, along with Ms.
Browne. As told by a critic of the time:
“Coral Browne wound up in Burgess' Moscow apartment because he went to one of the Hamlet
performances. As usual, he was drunk. He found his way to her dressing room by
accident and proceeded to vomit in her basin. She was not amused and hadn't the
slightest idea who he was. When she had to leave for the second act, Burgess
managed to steal her soap, cigarettes and face powder before leaving. "One
should have asked," he tells her later. "One is such a coward."
But later he slipped a note under the door asking her to lunch and to bring a
tape measure. Burgess wanted gossip from London, but Browne didn't know anyone
in his upper-class circles. He wants to be taken seriously, but seems merely
charmingly superficial. Burgess is a self-destructive, self-aware drunk, yet
also a proud Englishman. More than anything else, he wants Browne to take his
measurements and order some suits for him from his Savile Row tailor when she
returns to London. She agrees, but only because she sees no reason why anyone,
even a traitor, shouldn't have a suit if he wants. At the end of this marvelous
one hour program, most of which is spent with Burgess and Browne talking to
each other, we see Guy Burgess jauntily walking over a Moscow bridge wearing a
perfectly tailored suit, hand-crafted leather shoes on his feet, a well-cut
topcoat over his shoulders and holding up a black umbrella to ward of the
beginning snow. Passing him are the comrades in their drab clothing and fur
hats, some curious about this unusual creature in their midst. Guy Burgess has
become a very well-dressed Englishman...well, English traitor...abroad.”
Like Ms. Browne, it is impossible
for any of us not to sympathize with Burgess, whose assigned Soviet lover
deserted him, and with whom no Muscovites, least of all “cold warriors” on
their side would have any social contact.
However, our tear ducts are likely to relax, when we realize that
Burgess is in a Hell of his own making.
Before attempting to seek refuge in
Russia or anywhere else, it seems to me that Mr. Snowden needs some informed
American legal advice. [Not the
self-aggrandizing and self-serving advice that seems to be coming from Julian
Assange, into whose nest Mr. Snowden might well avoid stepping and thus beckoning
comparison to that bird of a feather.] He also needs to read the above-cited short
story and to learn more about any country he begs for asylum, especially
Russia, by seeing the movie described, and also by learning how many Russian
emigres would have preferred to live in the United States, regardless of Russia’s
incumbent form of government, yes, despite the putative fall of Communism.
It has been observed that the best
society would be that one in which a stranger to the planet would choose to
live – NOT KNOWING WHAT HIS STATION IN LIFE WOULD BE. It is plainly better to be the Sultan of one’s
time zone than just about anything else.
If, on the other hand, you might
turn out to be, in that land, a rich man, a poor man, a beggar man or a convicted
thief – and you could not choose your status, what country would you prefer? And if you could find that better place than
America [and shoot bullets through me, I could] would they want the like of
you? Would they want to risk the
displeasure of the United States by harboring you? You are young. Are you ready for the life of the fictional
Philip Nolan or the real Guy Burgess?
You have already performed a public
service by alerting Americans to the rapid erosions of their First, Fourth and
Fifth Amendment rights. Surely that must
mean you have feelings for your own people.
Are you ready to quit on yourself and on the rest of us? Come home, Edward, Edward. Edward, come home.
Harvard Hollenberg is a writer and an appellate attorney in New York City. Let nothing herein be construed as actual
legal advice; for that Mr. Snowden needs to consult a lawyer with an active
international law and civil liberties law practice. Just avoid professors.
© Copyright Harvard Hollenberg 2013. All rights reserved.