Sunday, November 11, 2007

Joseph Heller: National Defense

I just stumbled across a short little essay by Joseph Heller from 1965 that has been titled, ‘This is called National Defense’:


I was a little more perturbed than the next fellow, I’d say, when I learned shortly after his assassination that Martin Luther King’s telephones had been tapped and his living quarters bugged, and that the recorded tapes thus obtained were played many times for the private entertainment of various F.B.I. officials and certain journalists friendly to the F.B.I., who, chortling, all added ribald comments of their own to the personal conversations on which they were eavesdropping so shamelessly.

This tapping and bugging of Martin Luther King was carried out by salaried government employes, with the knowledge and consent of some very distinguished people in high public office, not one of whom, it seems, has yet been executed for this trespass, or even imprisoned, discharged, demoted, or censured. This is called national defense.

I wish that all these gentlemen who so gallantly stand for such national defense would begin tapping and bugging each other’s telephones and living quarters and spitting in each other’s soup, and stop interfering with such decent people as Socrates, Martin Luther King, Eugene V. Debs, Galileo, Jesus Christ, and me.

I never express this disapproval aloud, of course. I would not dare mention it at the office or to my closest friend of even whisper it to my wife in the intimacy of our bedroom, because these courageous guardians of our freedom and safety might be bugging me already and would then start spitting in mine. This is called internal security.

I met an F.B.I. man once at a quiet dinner party who had close-cropped hair and obsessive hostility toward pornography and people who smoked marijuana. He looked like an astronaut.

So did his wife.


Reminds one of the East Germans, the STASI, in the film "The Lives of Others". When will governments stop spying on the private lives of their citizens? Can we avoid empowering people with observed "obsessive hostility toward pornography and people who smoked marijuana", clear cultural biases that are very political in nature, to violate the rights of others to impose a social order that is opposed to freedom and basic biological instincts...

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