The CIA and the Morally Virtuous
William Colby thought of himself as a morally virtuous man. And he was in many ways. But why was he attracted to the CIA and willing to devote his life thereto? Beyond patriotism, what might have been his motivations?
How do the morally virtuous see the world? They see it as a series of battles that they must wage to become morally virtuous, to become courageous, to become sexually disciplined, to become temperate, etc. And, of course, how does the world appear to organizations like the CIA? As involving a series of battles, both overt and covert, that must be fought to make the world civilized, to make it peaceful, make it profitable, to ameliorate the human condition. To the morally virtuous, the way the CIA understands the world makes perfect sense. The personal and the political align.
There is a further attraction the CIA holds for the morally virtuous, viz., that they get to display their moral virtue, to demonstrate that they are in fact morally virtuous, and to demonstrate it in ways that will be praised, be honored by their fellow countrymen. And displaying one’s moral virtue plays a significant role in the psychology of the morally virtuous because it is through displaying their virtues that they are rewarded for the battles they have waged to become morally virtuous. Keeping one’s moral virtue hidden makes about as much sense as keeping a candle hidden under a basket. And, of course, it isn’t at all psychologically satisfying. “I am good” is so much more satisfying when someone says, “Yes, you are good.”
In this regard, it is a rather interesting, although not often remarked upon phenomenon that many of our CIA officials, especially those who are the top officials, are prominent, well-known, and appear to be not much opposed to such notoriety. In fact, they often seem to seek such notoriety, which might be thought strange for officers who are reputed to be “keeper of secrets.” Apparently, their prominence and their power are not to be kept secret. How many people don’t recognize the names Howard Hunt, George W.B. Bush, Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, William Colby, William J. Casey, George Tenet, John Brennan, Michael Hayden, or even James McCord or G. Gordon Liddy? But then this makes sense insofar as such notoriety, which usually involves considerable praise and honoring, may be seen as rewards for all those battles these people waged, allegedly on our behalf, which required repeated sacrifices.
Which leaves me with a question: In the final analysis, where does moral virtue lead?