On the same day last week, the nation was a painful witness to high technology’s fork in the road.
In some remote hills of spacious Montana, federal agents picked up a bearded 53-year-old Harvard-educated math whiz named Ted Kaczynski on suspicion of being the elusive Unabomber. Law enforcement has been hunting for the Unabomber for nearly 20 years-or about the time bomb killings and injuries began as a protest to high technology’s dehumanizing impact on society.
A world away, on a mountainside in the port city of Dubrovnik in Croatia, lay the wreckage of an Air Force T-43A airplane and bodies of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and his staff, U.S. business executives and the flight crew. Thirty-five people in all.
Brown, the Clinton administration’s rainmaker, was en route with the entourage from Tuzla to Dubrovnik to scout infrastructure business opportunities for American firms in war-ravaged Bosnia. Brown, who gained a reputation snaring big clients for his law firm and bringing peace to the Democratic Party long enough to get Bill Clinton elected president in 1992, didn’t ask the angry skies over the Adriatic to make the rain that kept the plane from safely landing last Wednesday.
Similar to many other missions he made to sell U.S. telecommunications expertise to developing countries of the world, Brown and his party were making a sales call on Bosnia leaders to lend a hand in rebuilding their war-battered land. Walter Murphy of AT&T Corp. was along for the ride to assess what Bosnia needed in terms of telecommunications infrastructure.
Brown believed economic development was the diplomatic tool of the new world order and that America’s high technology know-how could be leveraged to make friends around the world, whether they lived in South Africa, the Middle East, Ireland, Latin America, Asia or Central Europe.
Vice President Al Gore, while Brown was still alive and under attack by Republicans, called him the best Commerce secretary in history.
For sure, Brown had his critics. His past business deals came under scrutiny (he was under investigation), and the agency he headed was atop the hit list of Republicans. They didn’t like, among other things, his high-tech programs.
Judicial Watch, a public interest group, said while it regrets the Brown tragedy it would pursue its suit against Commerce alleging Brown took certain U.S. businessmen on trade missions as payback for Clinton support.
We’ll let the law and history decide if Mr. Brown was clean.
In the meantime, we should remember Ron Brown as one who believed technology could aid the human condition, not maim it.