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John W. Wydler

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John W. Wydler, New York Congressman
John W. Wydler, New York Congressman

John Waldemar Wydler (June 9, 1924 – August 4, 1987) was a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from New York.

Wydler was born in Brooklyn. He served in the United States Army Air Corps from 1942 until 1945. He graduated from Brown University in 1947 and Harvard University Law School in 1950. He served in the United States attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York from 1953 until 1959.[1] He was elected to Congress in 1962 and served from January 3, 1963 until January 3, 1981. He was a delegate to the 1968 Republican National Convention.[2]

On December 24, 1987, the U.S. Post Office at Garden City, New York was named in his honor. In addition, the John W. Wydler Government Documents Depository, Axinn Library, at Hofstra University, was also dedicated to him. Wydler is buried in the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, New York.

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welcome to books of our time brought to you by the massachusetts school of law and seen nationwide today we shall discuss a book entitled beautiful souls by eyal press the book is a study a series of case studies actually about why some people do the right and moral thing while most people don't the works author eyal press is with me to discuss his book and i'm lawrence r. velvel the dean of the massachusetts school of law eyal thank you from coming up from new york uh... for the show the book as i said is a series of case studies uh... and some of the points are made uh... you know repeatedly and other points are particular to a particular case but in any event why don't you very briefly in a sentence or two each describe the five case studies and how tell us after the after that how you came to focus on those particular five case studies each story in the book involves an individual who says no to something else which I will explain as we talk uh... but uh... the book opens with uh... the story of a a police captain named paul gruninger he's the only character in the book who's no longer living um... he was uh... swiss police captain in charge of a canton in north east switzerland uh... and in nineteen thirty eight he was given the order to enforce the law of the swiss government to bar refugees in particular jewish refugees from entering switzerland this was just at the time that nazi germany had taken over austria and these refugees were fleeing the german reich uh... gruninger the first character in the book uh disobeys this law although he is a police captain uh... the second story in the book uh... is about a serb named aleksandar jevtic uh... his nickname is acho uh... he his uh... an individual who says no not to the law but to group think uh... to group pressure and uh... in nineteen ninety-one in the middle of a war between serbia and croatia uh... ocho uh... who is a serb uh... risks his own life to spare hundreds of croats from mistreatment and abuse and possible death what he did is a serb officer told him go down the line and pick out all the people who are serbs and he went down the line and he uh... collected a bunch of croats to he made-up names for them right he pretended they were serbs uh... these croats um in the middle of this war uh... in a detention camp the third character in the book is an israeli named avner wishnitzer and he is uh... a uh... character who ends up actually saying no to himself that is to his earlier self uh... he goes from being and officer in the most elite unit in the israeli army to being a refusenick uh... meaning he selectively disobeys orders from his military commanders in particular the order to serve in the occupied territories which he has a kind of awakening about and feels is wrong the fourth character in the book is an american uh... her name is leyla wydler she was a broker at uh... a financial company and she was asked and told to sell a financial product she thought was being misleadingly advertised she turned out to be right about that uh... she lost her job for it she says no to greed and apathy which in in america i think are probably the forces that uh... create more conformity than anything else I just wanted to interject something they wanted her she was a broker for stanford they they wanted her to sell stanford's phony product that's right she the firm she she worked for happened to be the stanford financial group uh... in two thousand two she was told to sell certificates of deposit for stanford um... everyone was told the same thing these are great high yielding c_d_s and tell your clients they get great returns every year leyla asked to many questions she wanted to know how high yields and consistent returns go together uh... she asked enough questions that management fired her uh... and then she tried very hard to alert the s_e_c_ and the media to what was going on to no avail she failed at that uh... and then many years later the s_e_c_ contacted her and said miss wydler we'd like to talk to you about your former employer stanford uh... this was when it was revealed that they were running an eight billion dollar ponzi scheme um the final character in the book uh... is uh... darrel vandeveld uh he was uh... military prosecutor sent to quantanamo uh... believed very much in the mission that he was sent which was in his mind to uh prosecute the worst of the worst people with um... terrorists with the blood of u_s_ soldiers uh... on their hands he had served in iraq earned a bronze star uh but during his time in guantanamo he had a crisis of conscience he was asked to prosecute uh... a case uh... involving an attack on u_s_ soldiers and as he investigated the case and did his uh... his work to bring the case forward he he came to realize that the suspect that the uh... detainee uh... who had been fingered for the crime um... very likely didn't do it and furthermore was a minor uh... and furthermore had been mistreated and abused while in detention and held for years uh vandeveld ended up uh... testifying for the defense in this case and uh... it turned out the judge uh... throughout the case said that uh... exactly what vandeveld had suspected was was right and so in each of these stories uh... I tell i focus on an individual who at great risk at great personal risk sometimes for career purposes other times risks to one's life uh... ends up sticking to their principles and in a very dramatic and uh... and stubborn way there is a question that i would like to ask which really has very little to do with the stories in the book per se i found it extremely striking early in the book when i think it's either in the prologue or a prologue or else in the uh... chapter on gruninger the swiss police officer you talk about a group of german soldiers who were uh... delegated to kill hundreds of thousands of jews the old story shoot 'em in the back of the neck and they fall into the pit and the officer who was commanding the soldiers to do this said that some of you older men if you don't wish to do this older men that was that was what struck me if you don't wish to do this you don't have to participate do you have any idea what caused this german officer who in my generation we crudely but referred to them as krauts which is the way we thought about them and i still do do you have any idea why he told the older people that they don't have to participate and then some didn't yeah i do i do open the book with that story and i actually went to the site of that particular incident that particular massacre that took place where an estimated twelve hundred jews in a village in um... poland were rounded up and killed all on one day uh... all by a battalion most of the soldiers in that battalion were not members of the nazi party they were not doing this out of ideological conviction so the mystery is well why did they do it uh... and uh... we I tell the story early in the book because i think we have uh... a general belief a sense that soldiers the low low ranking the rank-and-file soldiers in nazi germany in a totalitarian country like that really had no choice they were given their orders if they didn't follow their orders you know they would meet with the same fate as as the jews did as the victim's uh... and and there was really no space for descent now broadly speaking that's true uh... nazi germany obviously it was a totalitarian country but we have this extraordinary story uh... that historians have written about in which this uh... commander major trapp gathers the men and says if any of the old before any of the killing is done if any of you uh... do not want to participate uh... you do not have to participate and um... I tell the story because uh... it it brings across it drove home to me that even in situations of seemingly total conformity we find that there are some people who don't go along and that sometimes there are more choices than we assumed there wouldn't be um so in this case none of the soldiers who stepped forward and put their guns down uh... were shot or prosecuted or thrown in jail in fact there is no documented case of a german soldier refusing an border during that period uh... who is who is executed for it do you have any idea why the major said that the anecdote is is described at length in a book i described I mentioned called ordinary men by the historian christopher browning and um... according to browning's account um... he was horrified uh... um he was personally uh... troubled morally troubled uh... by what by the enterprise by the order by the mission that he was uh... overseeing and keep in mind this was at the beginning of the truly horrific killing that began it didn't begin instantly the initial uh... uh... idea of of of the nazis was to simply expel uh…the jews uh... the quote-unquote final solution and the horrific uh... systematic murder uh... begins a little later in the war and this is at that period so this is a battalion not mainly nazis and he is simply horrified that began with the einsatzgruppen in which they went into the ukraine so alright you point out that in your five uh... five case studies these are normal people not dislike uh... sometimes even dislikable people and not motivated particularly by any intellectual rationalizations or anything like that just normal individuals who found themselves in a certain situation and said I'm not going to do that maybe you could elaborate on on why you know how and why and in what ways these people were just normal blokes like you and me and the people in our audience that was a a very striking thing to me and and and i have to say uh... i i wrote the book in part uh... because um... i wrote it against uh... another popular perception which is that um... you know people who do the right thing in in these very stressful and risky situations who stand by their principles are you know in a sense the gandhi's or mandela's of the world these kind of larger than life saintly figures uh... people who uh we we put on a pedestal and think uh well every every generation or so one of those is born uh... but the rest of us are not uh... gandhi or mandela true enough uh... alas but what you find in studies of uh... individuals who hid jews during world war two uh... people like oskar schindler uh... people like the characters in my book is that these were not saintly figures uh these were disarmingly ordinary people um in the case of paul gruninger the swiss police captain i just mentioned um... who saves uh... hundreds possibly thousands of refugees before he is caught allowing them into switzerland against the law at the risk to his career uh you know no one who knew gruninger no one who uh... uh... who looks back on this case uh... sees him as this kind of heroic type uh... to the contrary he was he was an ordinary guy he um... he didn't stand out he seemed to be a rule follower and a rule enforcer uh I met his daughter and his daughter repeatedly described him to me as normal he was normal in terms of his politics he wasn't outspoken he wasn't uh... specially religious so there is this mystery that i begin the book with and i want to figure it out because you know these these people are not uh... uh... these heroic figures and further more i think i think in that sense um... the book should be both a challenge and an inspiration to readers because on the one hand when we put people up on pedestals it sort of uh... we think we're honoring them but at the same time we separate them from us you know they are these heroes and we are not and part of the message of the book is well you know these are flawed people just like you and me uh... so maybe we shouldn't separate their example from ourselves so much and also the standard they set the book in effect says that these people are idealists who just cannot believe what they're seeing so to speak cannot believe their institutions would do this kind of thing and think that they're acting in the finest traditions of and are saving the institutions on which they're blowing the whistle or to which they're dissenting and so forth uh... bottom line is in some way that may be some they didn't even realize they are idealists aren't they absolutely uh... the the uh... we tend to think of dissenters or uh... these sort of in whistleblowers uh... as rebellious types uh... the characters i wrote about are not rebellious tips uh they are as you say idealists so if we we return to gruninger briefly um... you know here's this normal guy um... why why does he do this well one of the important reasons one of the key factors is that paul gruninger was a swiss patriot um... he believed very much in this swiss tradition uh... the swiss ideal of letting of of of his country serving as a safe haven and a refuge for the persecuted which is very much part of swiss national identity gruninger as a consequence when he learns of this law to bar refugees in nineteen thirty eight he is remembers he's in a part of switzerland that borders the german right that borders austria he's watching refugees come across the border every day and he cannot square this with this tradition this swiss uh... uh... you know national uh value and so what he assumes is well I won't enforce this law and when the swiss people learn of this and when my superiors learn of this I'll be everyone will forgive me because they'll understand that i was doing the swiss thing uh in a sense so it's you can call it naiveté you can call it idealism a kind of wide-eyed belief in these traditions course one swiss uh... journalist i met who investigated gruninger's case said you know of course this is a myth that we have this open you know that we were always this safe haven but gruninger really believed it and because he believed it he acted on it of course he then realized when he was caught that the swiss that authorities and the people would not forgive him uh... he was fired he was uh... disgraced he uh... lived the rest of his days in penury he could not find a job so that idealism came crashing up against the reality uh unfortunately in his case and many of the others I tell uh... ultimately after he was dead he became a swiss hero didn't do him any good that's right 0:17:13.159,0:17:17.529 uh... he became a swiss hero in nineteen ninety-three uh when the when he was finally officially rehabilitated and as I I tell the story in the book of just how long that took the first plea the first public plea that I describe to rehabilitate this man came in nineteen sixty eight uh... he gruninger was still alive at that time now he had sort of lived out these difficult years but you know if he had been exonerated or uh... officially recognized then then he would have maybe lived out his last days with this heroic with this status not so uh... the uh... swiss authorities uh... denied this effort to rehabilitate him five separate efforts to rehabilitate him were all brushed aside and as I investigated this i thought well why is this why in the eighties uh... you know by which time most people in switzerland look back at this law with shame uh... you know at no there's no question in most people's minds that barring refugees from fleeing nazi germany was wrong by the eighties so why reject this effort to rehabilitate this guy and then it became very clear when I sort of dug in a little deeper if you recognize gruninger if you say well here was this guy and he did the right thing what does it say about everybody else what does it say about swiss neutrality about the the the the record of our country during this war during this period when there were moral choices to be made and unfortunately that's the the story in most of the chapters I tell is that uh the people who stand by their principles serve as very uncomfortable reminders to everyone else of what could have been done uh... and that makes it very hard for them to get the recognition they deserve what happened to the people who dissented blew the whistle call it call it what you will in fact a fellow for example in yugoslavia let's start there sevtich is that how you pronounce his name yevtich yes here again you have uh... as as you described uh... a guy who not only risks is job risks very much risks his life uh... uh... calling these croats by serbian names never thought about it just did it just did it very uh this this uh... this guy Acho didn't finish high school is is very much this kind of ordinary bloke but impulsively has uh... decides that that these men are desperate and they're in danger and he's going to help them well I 0:19:47.779,0:19:50.970 and this in a context of hundreds of years of hatred between his group and the group of which he was saving people and an absolutely bloody ethnic war uh... that turned his hometown of vukovar into rubble uh... and when i visited vukovar in two thousand eight it was seventeen years after the war between the serbs and croats in vukovar and just about every building still bore the scars of this war damaged train stations that had been you know uh... just demolished uh... old factories full of of bullet schrapnel and so forth so so seventeen years have passed and you would think well okay uh... this guy saved people from the other side and now vukovar is part of croatia so he must be a hero he must be a local hero uh... not the case uh... because vukovar at that time was as it was before the war still consisted of a uh... croats and serbs a mixed community well to the serbs this guy Acho was uh... if not a traitor someone who had you know they knew what he'd done uh during the war but he was someone who had crossed and helped the other side so they didn't like him for that reason and the croats uh... who you would think would be uh grateful to this man for having saved some of some croats during the war and helped them well they didn't like him because he was a serb and furthermore a serb who had done the right thing and in the minds of many croats the serbs were the bad guys during the war so how there couldn't be a serb who had done the right thing there couldn't be a serb who did the right thing so as a consequence this guy is a sort of uh... you no loner type uh he he has some friends uh he has there are a few of the men he saved who befriend him who come to who actually launched a campaign again to have him recognized but uh... this is not the general sentiment this problem about the palestinians and the territories and the settlers this is going on and on and on and wishnitzer was right in the middle of this yes uh... raised in a kibbutz and if you know something about israel and its traditions uh... you know that uh... if you were born and raised on a kibbutz and you're a young man you're supposed to not just go to the army which is universal in in israel uh... you're supposed to go to the top unit you're supposed to really uh... serve your country and and and excel and uh... avner does this he gets into uh... sayerat matkal which is known simply as the unit in israel it's like a combination of our seals and uh... correct uh delta force and you know you name it yes it's very select uh he serves there for three and a half years six months longer than he's required to very patriotic guy very idealistic after he leaves he's still on reserve duty still goes to his unit on occasion uh but he is invited by his sister to see a film uh... to see a lecture and he goes to the lecture and he sees some slides that show some palestinians in a part of the west bank who are being harassed by settlers by jewish settlers and avner's not sure what to make of this because he it doesn't it's not something he immediately uh... thinks well oh that's terrible he he's just bothered by it he decides to go there uh... and and for the first time in his life he uh... talks to palestinians who he realizes are just as afraid of him and afraid of israelis as some of these israelis he knows are afraid of of palestinians uh and this visit begins an awakening in him in which he gradually loses uh... the conviction that what the army is doing in the west bank is protecting israel he comes to believe that actually what the army is doing is both a moral stain on the army an army he believes is a moral army and uh... in the long term uh... guarantees uh... conflict and war between the two sides um... so he decides he he wants to continue serving in the army but he will not serve in the occupied territories uh... and he ends up signing a letter to then prime minister ariel sharon saying uh... i will not serve in the territories uh... and he goes from being uh... this hero to being what's called uh…a refusenik uh…in israel and and really feeling ostracized uh the last character in the book uh just to bring the story home we began and and we talked about how long it took the swiss uh to recognize paul gruninger well the the last character in the book leyla wydler she is not to a uh she's an american broker she's not facing war she's not in the middle of an ethnic conflict uh... but she is in the middle of a fraud uh... and she senses that a financial fraud is being perpetrated by the com by the company she's been hired by she gets fired as i mentioned she writes to the s_e_c_ and she writes to the media to the washington post and other newspapers sending them financial reports and write and in a letter she says you know this is right after the enron scandal two thousand three she says I fear another major scandal is is happening uh you know i would like uh... someone to call attention to this so investors money can be saved no one responds she goes to arbitration she's forced to pay back the bonus that stanford gave her she's ostracized from the industry uh she goes through a couple of years of hell and it only two thousand nine six years later when uh stanford's uh... ponzi scheme finally implodes is she finally given some recognition uh... that yes indeed this was true uh for those of us who have had any occasion to follow madoff and and or stanford uh... the s_e_c_ new that stanford was a ponzi scheme in the early two thousands there were memos that said well this is probably a ponzi scheme but somebody else has jurisdiction so we're going to ignore it that's right 0:26:01.410,0:26:03.450 you know anybody it's enough to make me a right wing rock ribbed republican it's a the government is a disaster some of the time you're you're right in fact the memos said things like um... describe the returns at stanford as uh... absolutely ludicrous and said you know probably ponzi scheme or maybe ponzi scheme years before uh... any anyone acted on it the government failed uh... but let's not lets not isolate the government because the industry regulation uh... finra and and and so forth they also failed so allowing this industry to self police itself is is is a guarantee and a recipe and the media failed because i think and the media failed because people were telling them the media that's something's wrong that's right and and and one thing i really do wanna uh... drive home in the book um... is that when we read about these stories of people like leyla wydler who took the risk and suffered the consequences of speaking out we can ask ourselves two questions one is well what what would i've done in that situation would i've been courageous enough and a lot of people if they're being honest say well you know maybe not maybe i would have worried about my job but there's another question which is um what would i have done if i heard about leyla wydler if i heard about that that there was some kind of ponzi scheme going on and the thing that i think we're all responsible for is paying attention to these voices these people who take risks rather than instinctively turning away or or being apathetic because if more people had taken these warnings seriously there were insiders who were saying this both with madoff and with stanford and indeed with some of the housing uh... uh... you know shenanigans that were going on so it's one one message of the book is really that the responsibility begins by by paying attention and that doesn't take a hero to do that it takes a citizen i will come back to that before we go on briefly vanderveld he was um... removed from he wanted to go back to service but he was uh... not sent back to iraq or afghanistan um and uh... he was also made to feel like he had betrayed his country which uh... for darrel vanderveld was was a particularly difficult feeling to to to process to to even know what to do with as as he put it because this is a guy as i said earned a bronze star in iraq went to guantanamo feeling that he was avenging the deaths uh... that he had seen of of members of his unit in iraq which suffered very heavy casualties due to IUDs and other things um... so he it just brought home once again to me just uh... something about what i find so moving about these people is that because they are idealists they really have no that that accusation of betrayal is particularly devastating you know if you're a rebel if you don't care you know you might even welcome it yeah right i betrayed well you know that's that's what some people do but you know you do you do say i can't believe you're wrong i can't believe you could be wrong that all these people the ones you write about all the others there must be at least one person on their side one person who believes them because if you're truly standing all alone completely all alone against government a large organization social social convention oh man that's bad that's that's true and and and actually um you know in each story of the each story in the book is about an individual but as as you read into the story you discover there's a co-conspirator or or more than one sometimes um... i didn't know that going in in the case of uh... acho the serb you know i won't i won't know ruin the suspense but but I I was amazed to discover that in fact uh... there were people very close to him in that community who uh... not only supported what he did uh... but actually had helped him when he was vulnerable um... in the case of um... uh... paul gruninger uh... you had uh... another person in the same area of switzerland in st. gallen an official who certainly knew what gruninger was doing we have clear evidence of that and clearly approved it or did not uh... disapprove it so you had these co-conspirators and and it it does you're right raise raised a very important point which is that um... you know in that story I tell in the beginning of the book when the commander says well if any of the older men uh... don't want to participate in this massacre please step forward put your gun down well one person does so and then another half-dozen and what does that teach us well it becomes a lot easier when some when even one person comes forward to say no i'm not gonna do this there's sort of a a contagion uh... small contagious effect that can occur you talk and you've talked here about group pressure social solidarity this last example is reverse social solidarity when you get right down to it uh these are uh you know you might might explain this for example in terms of vanderveld 'cause it's a very contemporary thing and in terms of the israeli defense forces uh... 'cause in both of these the highest stakes are involved as a human and military and matter and as a matter national survival in israel's case and a lot of people here have claimed it's a matter of national survival in our case uh... ex explain the way that social pressure operates in these situations uh... for example for for an israeli soldier uh... at age eighteen uh you know you're uh... just beginning to develop a sense of identity and for someone like avner as for many uh... eighteen-year-old israelis um the uh feeling of uh... contributing to your society is uh... hinges on this notion of military service and if you don't do it then what are you you're outside of the consensus you are you know you are in a sense uh... left alone uh in the case of uh... darrel vanderveld this intense loyalty he felt to the men he served with uh... and this fear he had that uh in following his conscience he might be perceived to be betraying them even if he didn't feel he was betraying them the fear that you are betraying uh... the group that you have a loyalty to can be so powerful that it just shuts down uh... conscience and i don't think that's particular to israelis I don't think it's particular to americans i think it's human uh... we are social animals uh... we need to feel part of some community in some form and uh... that's why uh it can overwhelm uh... the impulse one has to go on one's own and I think closely related to that is the sense that since nobody else seems to see anything wrong here and this would be particularly true in the case of wydler I must be nuts that's right 0:33:36.730,0:33:40.269 well one of yes and this was a very striking thing in the in the chapter i i wrote about the whistleblower leyla wydler in the financial industry and i i i interviewed a couple of other uh... people at stanford who after her uh... also blew the whistle and also um... said something or resigned or or got fired uh... and one thing that kept coming up they thought they knew they were onto something and yet they also a part of them thought maybe i'm crazy am I am I just seeing things here because you know the industry regular regulators say it's fine you know the uh... all kinds of uh... media outlets say they're fine alan stanford is on forbes list of you know the hundred wealthiest people in the world uh... he's on c_n_n_ being asked you know is it fun to be a billionaire maybe I'm maybe I'm the crazy one not bad um that's right and and so uh... and and the reason i think that sentiment comes up among the whistle blowers is because unlike in the other chapters where people are in war where they can see the dramatic stakes in front of them for the financial industry workers you're you're talking about paper you're pushing you know product you're selling percentages reports it all looks fine and you're very far from seeing know a person who's just lost all their savings you don't see that in front of you so it really requires a great deal of imagination and uh... and and you have to follow your suspicion and trust your gut and leyla and these other people do trust their guts but along the way they are sometimes prone to thinking well maybe I'm making maybe i'm not seeing straight and indeed one of the uh... wives of of a guy who worked at stanford when he said Im I'm I'm you know i don't think this is right she said to him you know i think are you nuts you know they they were from their own family members being asked were they nuts the question of physical or bureaucratic distance from the victim is a most important question and i would say it's in major part because of something you just mentioned lack of imagination that's right 0:35:56.909,0:35:58.950 i think that that's one of the most important uh... factors leading these ordinary people to act again if we if we look at paul gruninger i mentioned his swiss patriotism uh... but there was something else about gruninger that distinguished him um he made what the authorities in switzerland considered a big mistake he let the refugees come directly to his to police headquarters to his office in st. gallen in this area of switzerland he saw them he heard them he saw their faces he went to the border he saw how they were you know people were wading through and trying arriving in despair and because he was in direct contact with it he told his daughter who i interviewed uh... i simply couldn't do anything else now the fact of the matter is sure he could have done something else he could have stopped going to those places he could have stopped thinking about these people but it's very clear from psychological experiments that have been done and also from the record that we have of of human history that when people are put in direct physical proximity to the people who may be harmed by their acts they have a much harder time carrying through with those acts if you are distanced and it can be a psychological distance it can be you know oh these aren't really people these are just jews or um you know uh... kind of ideological distance i'm i'm not really shooting at a person i'm shooting at the enemy or i'm shooting at commies or whatever you want to substitute for that it becomes easier because you you have a layer of psychological separation from the act in gruninger's case he sees these people directly and he doesn't see them as jews he sees them as human beings uh... as people who are in desperate need of help and in the case of uh... uh... acho the serb uh again he sees these guys in this detention camp uh... as human beings not as uh... croats or as uh you know his ancient ethnic enemy so a persistent theme of of the book is that um... we uh... we live in a world where unfortunately we can achieve this distance very easily uh... in bureaucratic organizations through training that distances us and conditions us to act without thinking we need to fight that because uh... if you are close enough in proximity and you actually see that someone actually will be harmed and it's a person it becomes much harder to follow through on that action yeah so many people simply shrug their shoulders you know what can i do i can't stand against the machine that's uh... you know I I wrestled this with this a little bit as as as an author in telling these stories because i would be lying if if i presented um as sometimes hollywood films do presented the person who goes against the grain uh... whistle-blower who decides to do the right thing as uh... the person who uh... gets you know the reward at the end uh I talk about uh... the film erin brockovich which is a very good good movie I enjoyed it but it tells a story that unfortunately uh... doesn't match reality this uh... young uh woman who uh... who ends up in a in a sense exposing and blowing the whistle on a big companies poisoning of the water uh... what's her reward she gets a million dollar check and she rides into the sunset well actual whistleblowers in the united states despite the laws we have protecting them tend to lose their jobs they tend to lose their homes many of them uh watch their families break apart they suffer years of psychological problems and feeling ostracized this is the unfortunate reality and it does uh... you know i can understand why people might read these stories and say well gee if this if this is the result why in the world uh... would anyone uh... become such a person i hope that's not the conclusion they come they come away with and and there is another side to it but that's certainly a risk the university of michigan sends its graduates an e-mailed magazine once every couple of weeks I just got the latest one and lo and behold it turns out that raoul wallenberg attended the university of michigan they came from the rockefellers of sweden but his father objected to all that high fallutin' uh... stuff uh... the uh... that was engaged in by the wealthy of europe so he said him to uh... michigan in the united states well wallenberg of course uh... you know saved hundreds of thousands of jews apparently he didn't ride off into the sunset the russians got him and they killed him and the russians have never admitted it but right of course that's what they did you know so i mean you're playing with your life sometimes and a lot there were people who knew about bernie madoff uh... what's his name harry markopolos who claimed has claimed from the day he came into the public eye that he was afraid of being rubbed out which is not an an insane kind of fear givin the stakes that were involved no maybe now that we know what was going on so it seems insane but gosh i wouldn't have thought it was necessarily insane uh... at that time so this has happened but let me ask you a question that you alluded to do there when when people know this well why why would anybody blow the whistle well um i think that uh... the stories in the book the uh... the fact that um... human nature we we've had so many books written in the last half century and rightly so about conformity about evil about people uh... in a sense stooping to the worst inhumanity uh... and understandably so because we've seen from after world war two one case after another in rwanda in you know cambodia in uh... in the balkans uh where group think did take hold where people did uh... uh... commit mass atrocities and and so forth but there's another side of the story there's another uh... side of humanity and uh... and it's the side of humanity that is represented by this guy aleksander jevtic who uh... is not a particular sophisticated guy uh... but feels an impulse feels an instinct to empathize with people who are in trouble uh... and i feel that uh... one lesson of the book is that uh... you know often it's less important what you've read about and what you think your values are in the abstract than the crucible of experience than than uh... being exposed to human suffering and feeling like you know i i really can't uh turn turn the other turn away from this in this particular moment uh... it may be risky uh... but i'm gonna do it anyway sometimes it helps in in in acho's case uh... not to think too much you know if you start calculating the risks than the odds aren't good but there's another side to it uh... and that's the the question of facing yourself uh... at the end of the day and you know these these different characters um from leyla wydler to avner wishnitzer on down to darrel vanderveld um they go through a process of uh... looking inside of and you know the 0:43:53.960,0:43:56.969 the conscience is often referred to as the inner voice uh... and ask themselves well what can I live with can i live with being a person who believes uh... in these values and has acted on these values up until this point but stops now uh... and in each case they decide they're more afraid to be untrue to themselves then they are to face the consequences of you know being uh... disloyal to their boss or fired from their company or whatever it is and that's um... that empathy i think is is a natural trait and it is in all people you describe them as inner directed people a nineteen fifties idea that's right yes and and and and they um and and they they look inside themselves and one very important um aspect of this that that I think gets overlooked when we think of people who are whistleblowers or people who are conscientious objectors we often think of them as people who uh... in a sense put themselves put the individual before the group they they act on their own uh... for their own uh... you could almost say self-interested or selfish uh... ideals but look at the consequences of their actions the people who benefit from these selfish acts are the rest of us if if we're listening if we're paying attention or the people they help and so forth whereas the conformists who supposedly act for society can end up going along and creating a ruinous situation where everybody is harmed um... let's think of a recent scandal in penn state imagine the people at that university the number of people who today wish out of loyalty to the university that they love that they had said something or they if they knew something if they saw something that someone there had acted or spoken up before this all happened um... now the fact is uh nobody did and as far as we know so far maybe a story will come out eventually that that someone did try to speak out of course some victims and victims' families did but no one in a sufficient position of authority did the right thing in that case the consequence has been terrible for the institution to which everyone thought they were being loyal by not speaking out um... and so we need to see this in in in that kind of light that that someone like a darrel vanderveld who is you know acting for himself um... is actually acting for an ideal that we all have a stake in I think you've touched on something that i have heard nothing about in the news media maybe I've just missed it and it's my strongest impression from the penn state debacle and i think your book goes far to prove it is that when you when people cover things up and hide the truth in order to protest something they value highly they're gonna end up creating a worse disaster than if they had revealed the truth immediately so that people could put a stop to what was going on and when you talk about the nazis when you talk about uh... yugoslavia when you talk about uh penn state when you talk about the stanford uh uh business i don't see how those all those things do anything but support the point that i just made and that i think you made which is you just now the question becomes though here's a question a lot of people wrestle with alright we hear from dissenters and whistleblowers everyday much of it is wrong how how do we separate out what is valuable and should be pursued from what is wrong well that that's a very legitimate question and i should say uh... we haven't touched on it yet but i should say that uh... the fact of the matter is i've written a book about acts conscience now conscience is this uh as i said this inner voice it isn't necessarily admirable a person can act on conscience um... to to uh... shout out a racist slogan uh... because they are they believe uh... a certain racial group is inferior in accordance with their inner voice their conscience i happen to think that's reprehensible but the person who uh... has uh... has acted that way has been quote-unquote true to their inner belief it's not necessarily the case that a person who steps out of line and breaks the law or refuses to enforce it or disobeys an order is doing it for admirable purposes um... courage can be immoral uh... as well as moral a whistle-blower can be uh... right on and and and trying to expose a fraud and a whistleblower can also be a little unhinged and and wasting the time of an agency uh so it's not as simple as every time the the lone dissenter shouts we should all take that as the truth clearly not that said i do conclude the book by belief by by saying and i repeat a point made by cass sunstein the legal scholar uh... he wrote a book called why societies need dissent we need dissent uh... and we need it uh... because we are prone to group think we are prone to um... information cascades that lead us all to think everything's just fine because the because because everyone else already said its fine um... look at the financial crash of two thousand eight how many people who should have known better didn't say anything in time when there might have been something done about it um I talk in the book about the um... gulf oil spill uh... there were workers who knew that there were problems on that rig and safety uh... problems and uh... and so forth but they were afraid uh... to come forward uh... we need to create uh... a society where those who speak out have some mechanism to both be protected from retaliation so that they're silenced and also to have their voices heard and it's true you're right uh... we can't hear you know there are some voices who will speak out who probably don't deserve uh... the attention uh... but in my experience from from having written this book i think we need more we need to do more listening to the dissenters among us and not less one attempt to accomplish what you're speaking of the federal whistleblower act is more than is more than an abysmal failure it is beyond belief a failure it doesn't work for anybody the depressing truth i learned reporting the the chapter on whistleblowers is that uh... we've had many fine uh... nicely worded laws protecting whistleblowers from retaliation pass and almost none of them have done anything to protect whistleblowers uh... i talk about uh... i mentioned enron earlier well after the enron and other debacles uh the accounting scandals of two thousand two there was a very nice uh... law passed sarbanes-oxley uh... protection that uh... we thought protected workers in the corporate world who reported fraud from retaliation well i cite a study in the wall street journal reported seven or eight years later that something like seventeen out of twelve hundred cases of retaliation the worker actually got protection uh so why does this happen well i think partly it's because um there is an effort immediately after these laws uh... are passed to water them down uh... or to not protect the people in in the case of sarbanes-oxley the bush administration appointed judges to a government uh... uh... agency that basically didn't seemed to be seemed to be doing everything possible to gut that law this will probably bring it down on my head but uh... i would say the legal profession is in significant respects uh... responsible for this uh... lawyers who are attempting to protect the worst evil doers judges who buy their arguments I mean it's just it's just morally criminal if you ask me and it's the legal system that we're stuck with well it's you know the legal side of of this whole question is um both an important one and a disheartening uh... one both in in in i mentioned the whistleblower context but the law be the law also plays a very significant role in other chapters in my book those that where i describe for example the responsibility of soldiers uh... what happens when a soldier is given an unjust order um and they think it's unjust uh... do they have uh... duty to disobey that order um from what i understand from what i uh... learned uh the idea that a soldier is indeed uh... that it is indeed the responsibility of a soldier not to carry forward with an im a manifestly illegal order an unjust order is a very new thing um... and it hasn't been clearly worked out in courts uh despite all of the international human rights accords we have uh... you say that it stems from a fellow named lasso oppenheim I gather a german writer of the uh... of the nineteen hundreds who established the principal that uh... soldier uh you know is excused if he's following orders that's about what it comes down to that's right that was the the so-called superior orders defense was pretty much accepted from what i understand it was it was part of the u_s_ military code the british military code all western countries kind of had this idea that if a soldier got orders to do something they are not responsible then we had world war two and the nuremberg trials and we had the case of well how are we gonna hold uh... nazis responsible for what they did and the codes were revised so now it is recognized that you can't simply invoke superior orders that sometimes you get an order that is manifestly illegal but there's still a lot legally and morally to work out you know that was one of the reasons i expect why lot of people took umbrage against the nuremberg trials not necessarily not even at all because they wanted to protect nazis but because they said you're invoking a new law which didn't exist before to which my answer is so what well right I mean maybe maybe the the the lesson to be drawn from that is that the... previous law and the legal regime was a flawed one um... well worse than fraud it was an immoral turned out to be to be an immoral regime and and yet that immorality was used as the defense I was just following orders gimme a break now you know who knows what that's gonna mean for our country in the next ten or fifteen or twenty years because there's been a strong movement to say that whatever we did if you disagree with it you must nonetheless reckon with the fact that people were doing what they were ordered to do from the very highest levels that's right let's let's take the example of uh... officially sanctioned torture during the bush era no uh... no one has been held accountable prosecuted uh... and one reason for that is that uh... uh... people say those who uh... defend the the lack of accountability say well but this was what was sanctioned by the government so why was anyone uh... why can anyone be held accountable i do believe that the people at the top hold the most responsibility and we should we should you know clearly recognize that when people get orders there is a lot of pressure to follow them but should that exonerate everyone of of of accountability i don't think so you know this is a kind of a problem which arises throughout history in that uh... people say well everybody else thought this was the right thing to do and i couldn't stand against it and i was just carrying out my duty well there comes a time when and i i i i would say when you have a greater responsibility than merely to carry out your duty as you see you know what is said to be your duty and i think the greatest example of that in american history and this will win me no plaudits believe me it's robert e lee robert e lee should never have gone with the south he should never have fought against the union but the uh... argument was well he is a southerner it's his family other members of his family his cousin samuel uh samuel lee i think was a union admiral and these tragic things occur and i think a lot of people simply make the wrong decision about it let me ask you one other thing that just really fascinated me sort of changes the subject for the last fifty seconds sure you you say that what causes people to do the right thing is what i think you call imagined empathy or empathy of the imagination and and you say that this started in roughly the seventeen hundreds because of the spread of novels which is attributable of course to printing and guttenberg and to the fact that people became more au curant with I guess as they traveled throughout europe art and they saw human being talk about that just a little bit what a difference these things made in the way people see other people well i'm borrowing there from the historian lynn hunt but um... I do i do i don't think it's a coincidence that um... novels that depict the lives of of individuals and went into the interiors of their lives became mass and and a very popular in the same at the same time that campaigns were launched to ban torture that human rights started to be to filter into the discourse of western civilization this is what lynn hunt describes i think there's something to me very convincing about that because i think that our greatest weapon for good or bad uh... is the imagination the power to imagine ourselves in the shoes of another person who is suffering now unfortunately we can also imagine that you know whole races of people are less than us and this is the the dark side of imagination my book is about the uh... in a sense that the more uh... enlightened aspect of the human imagination well eyal thank you for being with us thank you very much 0:59:21.879,0:59:25.479 I understand that your next book is going to be about people who were perhaps even in the very same situations and did not blow the whistle and who went along well i'm i'm I'm in the early stages I'll say uh... write that book thank you that's important that's important 'cause that's a descriptor of more people's situations than the current book and that's very important anyhow thank you very much for being with us thank you to the audience thank you and be with us again


  1. ^ "RETIRED REP. JOHN W. WYDLER, NEW YORK REPUBLICAN, DIES AT 63". Washington Post. 1987-08-07. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-09-27.
  2. ^ "WYDLER, John Waldemar - Biographical Information". Retrieved 2017-09-27.


External links

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Seymour Halpern
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 4th congressional district

Succeeded by
Norman F. Lent
Preceded by
Norman F. Lent
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
Raymond J. McGrath

This page was last edited on 18 August 2020, at 21:46
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