bureaucracybusters

“BRIDGE OF SPIES” TELLS UGLY TRUTHS ABOUT GOVERNMENT: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 21, 2016 at 12:01 am

“Bridge of Spies” vividly recaptures a now-forgotten time in American history.

It was the time of “the Cold War.”  A time when:

  • America was almost universally seen as “The Good Guy,” in contrast to “The Bad Guy” of the Soviet Union;
  • The United States and the Soviet Union held each other at bay with arsenals of nuclear weapons;
  • Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy terrorized the nation, accusing anyone who disagreed with him of being a Communist–and leaving ruined lives in his wake;
  • American TVs blared commercials warning that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had boasted: “We will bury you”; and
  • Children and teenagers were taught in school that they could survive a nuclear attack through “duck and cover” drills. They were instructed to keep their bathtubs filled with water for safe drinking, in the event of a Soviet nuclear strike.

Bert2.png (300×232)

Bert the Turtle teaches schoolchildren to “Duck and Cover”

Yet even in this poisonous atmosphere of fear and denunciation, some men stood out as heroes–simply by holding fast to their consciences.

One of these was a New York insurance attorney named James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks). Asked by the Justice Department to defend arrested Soviet spy Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) Donovan did what no one expected.

He gave Abel a truly vigorous defense, arguing that the evidence used to convict him was the legally-tainted product of an invalid search warrant.

Upon Abel’s conviction and sentencing to 45 years’ imprisonment, Donovan again shocked the political and legal communities by appealing the case to the Supreme Court.

Donovan argued that Constitutional protections should apply to everyone–including non-Americans–tried in American courts. To do less made a mockery of the very freedoms we claimed to champion.

He lost by a vote of 5-4. But the arguments he made would resurface 50 years later when al-Qaeda suspects were hauled into American courts.

James B. Donovan

In 1961, Donovan was again called upon to render service by a Federal agency–this time the CIA.  It wanted his help in negotiating the release of its spy, Francis Gary Powers, shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 while flying a high-altitude U-2 spy plane.

Throughout “Bridge of Spies,” audiences learn some unsettling truths about how the American government–and governments generally– actually operate.

The first three of these were outlined in Part one of this series:

Truth #1: Appearance counts for more than reality.

Truth #2: Individual conscience can wreck the best-laid plans of government.

Truth #3: High-ranking government officials will ask citizens to take risks they themselves refuse to take.

Now for the remaining truths revealed in this movie.

Truth #4: Appeals to fear often prevail when appeals to humanity are ignored.

After crossing into East Germany, Donovan enters into negotiations with Wolfgang Vogel, a lawyer representing the East German government.

Vogel offers to exchange Frederic Pryor, an American economics graduate student seized by the East German secret police, for Abel. Donovan replies this is a deal-breaker; the United States (which is never mentioned during the negotiations) wants Powers, not Pryor.

Nevertheless, Donovan is equally concerned for Pryor, and adds him to the list of hostages to be released in return for Abel.

Then a new complication arises: The East German government that holds Pryor threatens to pull out. claiming to be insulted because Donovan did not inform them that the USSR was a party to the negotiation.

His reasoned, legal arguments having failed, Donovan resorts to a threat. He conveys a warning to the president of East Germany:

Abel has not yet revealed any Soviet secrets. But if this deal fails, he may well do so to earn favors from the United States government. And, in that case, the Soviets will blame you–Erich Honecker, the president of East Germany–for the resulting damage.

Where arguments based on humanity have failed, this one–based on fear–works.  A prisoner-exchange is arranged.

Truth #5: Personal loyalty can supersede bureaucratic inventions.

On February 10, 1962, Donovan, Abel and several CIA agents arrive at the Glienicke Bridge, which connects East and West Germany. The Soviets have Powers, but not Pryor–who is to be released at Checkpoint Charlie, a crossing point between East and West Berlin.

    Glienicke Bridge, the “Bridge of Spies” 

The CIA agent in charge of the American delegation tells Abel he can cross into East Germany, even though Pryor has not been released.

But Abel has learned that Donovan has negotiated the release of not only Powers but Pryor. Out of loyalty to the man who has vigorously defended him, he waits on his side of the bridge until word arrives that Pryor has been released.

Then Abel crosses into East Germany while Powers crosses into the Western sector.

Donovan returns home. Before flying off to West Germany, he had told his wife he was going on a fishing trip in Scotland.

His wife and children learn the truth about the risks he ran and the success he attained only when a television newscast breaks the news:

Francis Gary Powers has been returned to the United States. And the man responsible is James Donovan, once the most reviled man in America for having defended a notorious Soviet spy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: