At first his commitment to an ethical standard puts him in opposition against his own countrymen. His high opinion of the liberties and standards that the USA represents force him to defend an enemy. As long as the truth is defended, how can he possibly go wrong? Where is the danger? And, if he sacrifices truth and the principles of his country, how are they any better than the enemy? The actions of the masses in America cause you to ask that question over and over again.
An exchange between Donovan and a CIA agent sums up this battle quite well:
Agent Hoffman: OK, well, listen, I understand attorney-client privilege. I understand all the legal gamesmanship, and I understand that's how you make your living, but I'm talking to you about something else, the security of your country. I'm sorry if the way I put it offends you, but we need to know what Abel is telling you. You understand me, Donovan? Don't go Boy Scout on me. We don't have a rule book here.
Donovan: You're Agent Hoffman, yeah?
Donovan: German extraction.
Hoffman: Yeah, so?
Donovan: My name's Donovan. Irish, both sides. Mother and father. I'm Irish and you're German. But what makes us both Americans? Just one thing. One. Only one. The rule book. We call it the Constitution, and we agree to the rules, and that's what makes us Americans. That's all that makes us Americans. So don't tell me there's no rule book.
Later, his commitment to truth and standards over and above any partisan compromise make him the perfect man for the difficult task of negotiating with the enemy. Once again, he does not let pragmatism or Cold War strategy influence his actions. He is in effect, standing above both the USA and the USSR. It is one man, and his gut and his principles, against the world. He ignores his handlers. He ignores the threats and the hard-ball dealing of the Russians and the Germans. He insists on doing what is right.
It is truly inspiring stuff. And it totally changed up my year-end list from last week.