Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

July 2013

Anthropologists believe that the outsider in society is both dangerous and in danger, and I eventually learned this truth in a small but painful way when I came, very unexpectedly, to live in a traditional Greek village, where I formed an Australian community of one. The outsider is dangerous because in questioning matters s/he does not understand, a threat is perceived and the status quo, which may have existed for centuries, is seen as being threatened, if not undermined. It then follows that the outsider is inevitably in danger, because society, and often small societies are the most vicious and punitive, will usually act to crush him/her as swiftly and as effectively as possible.

 

The Old Testament book of Leviticus documents the custom of the scapegoat, in which a goat was chosen by lot, and then driven out to perish in the wilderness. The idea was that the hapless animal bore all the Jewish nation’s iniquities, so that when it died, the nation became free and guiltless again, at least until the next time. Countless goats have died, but the concept never has.

Every era and country has its scapegoat, and outsiders are most often chosen. America’s current one is Bradley Manning, the young private who passed US military documents to Wikileaks, and who has since been accused of ‘aiding the enemy.’ Manning’s early life was difficult: he is diminutive in size, was not certain of his sexuality, and was bullied at school. He will doubtless soon be joined or succeeded in scapegoat-hood by another whistleblower, Edward Snowden, who exiled himself first to Hong Kong after deciding to reveal some of the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance secrets. Both Manning and Snowden have been highly selective in deciding which secrets to reveal, but this fact is most often ignored. As is the idea that the truth shall set you free. Manning has waited three years for his case to be heard, and has spent long periods in solitary confinement, while Snowden initially holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room, hardly daring to leave it. As I write, it is thought that he is similarly unable to leave the transit lounge at Moscow Airport.

In 1894 Alfred Dreyfus, an Alsatian Jewish officer in the French Army, was convicted of treason, having been accused of passing French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris. He was the only Jewish officer at the General Staff HQ, and had already protested against the low exam marks he had been given by an anti-Semitic superior. When the treason came to light, Dreyfus, having been found guilty, was dishonoured in a public ceremony, during which he was stripped of his rank and his sword broken. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and spent nearly five years on Devil’s Island in French Guiana. The French Army top brass apparently considered it unthinkable that one of their own might be a traitor, and two years later, when the real culprit was revealed to be one Ferdinand Esterhazy, a closed military court hearing acquitted him, and an elaborate cover-up took place. The whole issue, which dragged on until Dreyfus’s complete exoneration in 1906, divided French society drastically, as its anti-Semitism was revealed: was Dreyfus a traitor or a victim?

Of course the Manning and Dreyfus cases are very different. But the military mentality does not seem to have changed much. Labelled in the press as a ‘trial,’ Manning’s ordeal is instead a court martial, which in practical terms means that media access is restricted, the defence counsel has been muzzled, and significant documents are barred from discussion in court. There appears to be no opportunity for Manning or his lawyers to air the soldier’s dilemma: what is to be done when orders or information run contrary to the individual conscience?  So American public opinion, like the French one of so long ago, is divided: is Manning a hero or a traitor?

Long, long ago Socrates stated that the unexamined life is not worth living. Much later eighteenth century Irish –English statesman Edmund Burke remarked that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil was for good men to do nothing.

More than ever these days, it seems to me, good people examine their lives, and often decide to do something rather than nothing. And then, almost inevitably, they suffer.

:

  

Gillian Bouras

 

Eureka Street

Gillian occasionally writes for

Eureka Street

(Type 'Bouras' into their search bar to find all her articles.)

 
Gillian Bouras 2018 CreativityGames.net