Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Government's Secret Disservice

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Government's Secret Disservice

Article excerpt

When, a few months ago, the U.S. Air Force revealed that in 1947 it had conducted a somewhat offbeat research project in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico, a large cohort of Americans felt both vindicated and dissatisfied. This cohort consisted of people who are convinced that many so-called unidentified objects sighted in the skies over the years, UFOs, were intentionally directed to Earth and were probably piloted by "people" from other planets. They were dissatisfied because they refused to believe the Air Force's explanation of the event.

Dead serious in their beliefs, the UFO fans gathered in force to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the landings of large weather balloons the Air Force launched for research purposes. But many others found humor in the occasion, some perhaps recalling comedian Jonathan Winter's hilarious skit mocking an extraterrestrial landing. Still others asked why it had taken the Air Force so long to come clean, as it were. The Cold War has been over for quite a while; the secret maneuvers seemed pretty routine and could hardly have given comfort to an enemy.

So, it seems, the brouhaha with its comic overtones raised a more significant issue -- our government's obsession with secrecy. As long-classified documents and explanations of activities trickle out of Coventry, it is usually their unremarkableness that is most striking. How often, we wonder, has secrecy become an end in itself? Or how often in the dim, dark past has the protection of some bureaucrat's posterior been considered of paramount importance?

Some declassified revelations, however, have been truly shocking. When, for example, Hazel O'Leary the now unfortunately defrocked Secretary of Energy unearthed a year or two ago the World War II-era government experiment that deliberately exposed human guinea pigs to venereal disease, there was genuine outrage, as there should have been. Again the question was, "Why only now are we being told of this malfeasance?"

In another ghastly government experiment, some victims of disease were allowed to die without treatment as others undergoing treatment were matched in a macabre race against the first group. So shocking was this disclosure that President Clinton felt it appropriate to apologize to the victims on behalf of the United States.

Our various governmental bodies, of course, are not alone in sweeping dirt, both their own and that of others, under carpets. Other domestic institutions play this game, too. …

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