Once a squid was assigned the task of inking out passages in top secret documents scheduled for declassification. At first, it didn’t strike the squid as much of a task really. It had more than enough ink for the job and plenty of practice clouding the waters around it whenever circumstances called for concealment. In fact, those qualifications were precisely why it was given the assignment, the squid supposed. Nor were the first documents it was given very difficult to process. For the most part, as far as the squid could tell, all that was required of it was to black out everything following mention of the person who’d done or said whatever must be kept from the public’s eyes. These documents typically began with “The President,” after which all relevant text was to be obscured until the squid reached “Vice President,” after which the same expectations applied, then “Secretary of State,” “Secretary of Defense,” “Undersecretary” of one thing or another, and so forth, running through every cabinet department and every government agency all the way down to “the secret agent on which our nation’s security and democratic institutions depend, codenamed ‘Spitball’.” Or at other times, it might be the reverse, with long passages detailing actions taken or not taken being left completely intact while the identification of those involved was to be inked out. Feeling it was functioning below its pay grade, so to speak, in doing something that was practically effortless for it, the squid asked its superior one day for some clarification of its job description. “That should be crystal clear, shouldn’t it?” came the slightly irritated reply. “I’m just not certain what difference it makes whether I hide the name or the deed?” “I’m not at liberty to reveal that information without authorization from above.” “How far above?” “Why should it matter?” “It might help me see what my own role in all this is. You know, the rationale for what I’m doing.” “You need a rationale? Yours ‘not to reason why,’ as they say. You and every other squid, you’re expected to discharge your obligations, that’s all.” “My obligations to whom?” “Right up the line to the top. You believe in loyalty, don’t you?” “I thought my loyalty was to the common good.” “Up the line to the top or the common good, it’s the same thing.” “Haven’t there ever been cases when it wasn’t the same?” “Not that I’ve been told about. Look, my advice is just do your job and don’t ask questions if you want to survive around here long enough to earn promotion to the next level of invertebrates.” The squid took this advice as a veiled warning and returned to blackening documents for the rest of its career without ever questioning again what it was doing or why. Not once. At retirement, its superiors honored it with an attractive plaque for having risen to the highest level ever achieved without benefit of a backbone.
Copyright © 2005 by Geoffrey Grosshans