Last Saturday night I was watching, for the tenth time, the DVD THE POST. And of course I was sitting there blowing my nose and wiping away my tears. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is the heroic story of The Washington Post newspaper editor Ben Bradley and publisher Kathryn Graham and their decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Now later the Post would be the paper that broke the story of Watergate and the crimes and corruption in the Nixon White House, but the Pentagon Papers came before that. The Pentagon Papers were released by Daniel Ellsberg (a whistle-blower) because he had seen first hand the war in Viet Nam and he had read the secret report that had been commissioned by Bob McNamara on the history of the Viet Nam war from 1947 to 1967. Ellsberg says in the movie that 10% of the war was to fight Communism and 20 % of the war was to help the people of Viet Nam so that meant 70% of the war was just so the U.S. could save face by not losing the war. Seventy per cent of the men dying in Viet Nam were dying for a president to save face and that covered Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. Not one of them would admit we were losing the conflict. The New York Times and the Washington Post defended the first freedom in the Bill of Rights which includes freedom of the press, “Congress shall make no law. . .abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” by taking their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The judges ruled 6 to 3 that the American people had the right to know. Justice Roberts said the newspapers exist for the right of the governed and not those who govern. It really was monumental.
Today we find the battle for freedom of the press continuing. Many of the big city newspapers are gone now, lost to news from the internet and a public that continues to read less and less. But freedom of the press is a liberty worth fighting for. Dictators go after the media when they take power and journalists in television and newspapers are the first to be attacked. The murder of journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi by the leaders of Saudi Arabia shows the long arm of tyranny. But it really has been good to see this basic American right being upheld in our own community’s discussions concerning the school bond issue. Long, impassioned pleas by both sides have given attention to the importance of truth and the freedom to express our opinion openly in our small community. Another issue that has received attention is the activity of the DEQ and the issue of oil waste disposal in Eastern Montana. Farmers and ranchers and the Northern Plains Resource Council have been given an opportunity to be heard at public hearings as well as expressing their opinions in a free and open press.
We must not ever take freedom of the press for granted. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, fighting the Nazi regime in his native Germany during World War II said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” To suppress a free press is to bring down a silence that destroys truth and a government in a democratic society made up of free men and women must never be afraid of the truth. One newspaper had on its masthead the words, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
Say “thank you” to the men and women of our local radio and tv stations and our newspaper who lift up the issues that are important to us right here. It is through their work we are heard.
Today I saw a t shirt that spoke truth to the question, “What is perception?” The shirt had an historic photo of Cochise and four Apache warriors. The caption read, “Fighting terrorism since 1492.” Absolute truth from a different perception. Who is right? Who is wrong?
The older I get the more I become aware of the dangers inherent in my perception of events and life around me. Perception is how you see something and whether you perceive it as dangerous, safe or loving or threatening. It is the ancient question, “What is truth?” Your perception is based on your personal history, how you were raised, how you were treated by the adults around you. Was it a safe environment or one in which you never knew what to expect. Perhaps life was always a question.
I am often amazed at family perceptions. My mother was the youngest of five. Her oldest sister was fifteen years older. The memories she shared of her parents were much different than the memories my mother had as the youngest, “the baby” of the family. After raising four older children my grandparents raised my mother in a much different way. She always said, “My oldest sister and I had different parents.”
Occasionally my brother and I share memories and sometimes I am dumfounded that we are discussing our presence at the same events. What I perceived and what he perceived were two entirely different scenarios.
We see this most vividly these days in society when a black man or woman sitting and waiting for a friend is perceived by the white waitress or shop keeper as dangerous or a threat. I have read that black parents raise their sons particularly to be aware of the perceptions of the white people around them. A hood pulled up, a pair of dark glasses while only a mode of dress is seen by others as something fearful.
When I was teaching at the high school years ago we had an exchange student from Germany. He had read a book on World War I and came to me asking why what he had learned in his school in Germany was so different from what was taught in U.S. schools. Sadly, I had to tell him, “The victors write the history.” Unfortunately, history is not truth — it is perception of what took place in the eyes of those who witnessed the events and sorting through history whether our country’s or our own is changed by each generation.
To only see a happening through the eyes of a single opinion is narrow-minded and parochial. To live in our multi-cultural society we have to see with new eyes — we have to have a new way of visioning in our world. Another time at the high school we had a student from Japan. When the teacher was done presenting the lesson, he would lay his head on his desk and sleep. Having visited schools in Japan I had seen this action in most classrooms and knew it as just a reaction to the end of the lesson for today. It didn’t mean disrespect. It simply meant the students had “turned off” for the day.
To travel in non-Western countries you must be totally alert to customs and behaviors of those around you. Watching the news you will see a female news reporter with a scarf over her head when reporting from a Muslim country. To those natives, it is a sign of disrespect for a woman to go uncovered. Reporters have learned that to get the story, they must present themselves so they are perceived as respectful in a country not their own and thus non-threatening.
Life is never going to totally align with my perceptions. To listen to racists and bigots and accept their way as truth shows ignorance, just as my perceptions of you have no knowledge of your background, of what you have been through in this life. An open mind to everything around us is vital to the peace of the world. Each one of us is not the be all or the end of all of what is right and good. Truth needs to be held up to the light of reason, weighing it against varying perceptions. We must be openminded and realize we filter everything through the lens of our own history. To be a citizen of the world requires open eyes and open ears and an open heart. And a constant prayer to the One who created us to show us the way.