CIA agent's `short life' merits more respect Eric...


January 12, 2002

CIA agent's `short life' merits more respect

Eric Weinberger's column on the life and death of Johnny Michael Spann is apparently an attempt to reinforce the stereotype of the unsophisticated and overzealous CIA agent ("Reading into the short life of a CIA agent," Opinion

Commentary, Dec. 24). But the author presents us instead with another stereotype: the Ivy League egghead, complete with a condescending outlook and a disdain for those whose backgrounds are different from his own.

According to Mr. Weinberger, Mr. Spann could not be other than a naive and simple-minded tool of the CIA. After all, he grew up in Alabama, majored in criminal justice and served in the Marine Corps before joining the CIA.

How could this "sheltered existence" have prepared Mr. Spann for interrogating Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan?

Mr. Weinberger graciously acknowledges that his viewpoint will not be shared by "home-grown" patriots who are sheltered from realities that can be perceived only in locations such as Harvard Yard.

But Mr. Weinberger might avail himself of his faculty privilege of at least auditing a course in logic. Such a course would enlighten him as to the fallacy of proceeding on the basis of his own prejudice while attempting to legitimize his conclusions with references to the writings of Graham Greene.

If Mr. Spann's death was in any way the result of improper planning and execution by government agencies, those errors should be exposed and corrected.

However, there can be no legitimate purpose in denigrating his heroism and sacrifice, much less in inflicting pain upon his family and friends.

Paul B. Lang Timonium

During a seven-year stint in the U.S. Foreign Service, I had the privilege of serving overseas with the men and women of the CIA. Based on my experience, I find Eric Weinberger's characterization of CIA officer Johnny Michael Spann, who "by necessity had a sheltered, indoctrinated American life, not quite expected to know his way among the Pashtuns," inaccurate and guilty of a most insulting brand of intellectual arrogance.

Throughout my service in Asia, I found my colleagues in the CIA exceptional individuals: well-trained in history, economics and politics; brilliant linguists who could operate at or near native fluency (in Chinese, in our instance), and possessed with impressive abilities to manage the complexities of America's foreign policy.

There will be no idolatry or sanctification of Mr. Spann, no made-for-TV movies for Mr. Weinberger to criticize. Instead, there will be but one gold star placed in the lobby of the CIA headquarters to recall Mr. Spann's sacrifice.

Perhaps by the light of that star Mr. Weinberger might reflect on what Owen Harries calls "the difficulty intellectuals have in distinguishing between the state of their mind and the state of the world."

Eric A. Shimp Arlington, Va.

Did atheist's taunt show courage or closed mind?

I would like to answer Crispin Sartwell's question: "How can anyone possibly believe in God?" (Opinion Commentary, Jan. 3).

As soon as men realized that death is inevitable, they asked questions about our provenance, our purpose, our fate.

Gods were needed because only gods can answer without the need of a proof. Therefore, according to the intellect and what they like to hear, men created, borrowed, imported, adapted, renamed and discarded many gods.

Yet from the incantations of a Hindu temple, to the drum beating in the jungle, to the diminutive figure who prays at the feet of a crucifix inside a cold, semi-lit and majestic cathedral, the spiritual experience is identical.

It makes no difference if God has six arms, is the top of a totem poll or is an old man with a beard. There is no such thing as a false god or idol. To the worshipper, the object of worship is always without the slightest doubt a true God, doing what gods are supposed to do: listen, renew hopes, incite fear.

We believe because we need to, not because we have to.

Peter C. Sotiriou Baltimore

On behalf of agnostics, atheists and secular humanists, thank you for publishing Crispin Sartwell's column on the illogical premises of the religions of the world.

Religions gain an enormous following by easing the mental suffering people endure when comtemplating what happens after death.

But at this pivotal point in history, it has become clear that mankind is jeopardized by belief systems that promote images of a glorious afterlife.

Modern humans should chose to lead an ethical existence because of the benefits that come to them, their family and the people of the world in this life.

Christine Miller Baltimore

Crispin Sartwell's criticism of the minister who glories in the inscrutable blessings bestowed on her in contrast to the man whose suicide occasioned her funeral oration is well justified on pastoral and theological grounds. The sweeping conclusions that he draws from this incident, however, are worthy of a sophomore in his or her first philosophy class.

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