Even if you don’t regularly keep up with the news, it would still be pretty difficult to have not heard about the recent WikiLeaks fiasco. Hundreds of thousands of documents have been released, on everything from personal assessments of foreign leaders to the names of informants. To those who are opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and, in general, American foreign policy, this is seen as a victory of the “people” over a corrupt government.
In retrospect, however, what did it accomplish? Did it expose abuse like the Abu-Ghraib torture? Did it show how the government blatantly misled the public such as with the “Pentagon Papers” during the Vietnam War? Did it in any way aid soldiers who are risking their lives every day for us? The truth is that the recent leaks are light on exposing supposed corruption and heavy on simply embarrassing the U.S. and foreign governments.
More seriously, the leaked cables may cause immense damage to U.S. soft power by showing private and, quite honestly, irrelevant evaluations of foreign leaders and diplomats (soft power being what the U.S. uses in place of violence).
It exposed thousands of American informants, people who were helping the U.S. Now that their identities are known, not only are they not nearly as valuable, but many are in legitimate fear for their life. And, though the investigation is ongoing, it is believed that it was an American soldier who helped WikiLeaks gain access to all of these documents. Why? Perhaps he had some grand vision that we are simply incapable of comprehending now, perhaps he simply wanted the fame — personally, I believe it’s a lot simpler than that.
I think he wanted to mess with “the man.” I think out of some misguided ideal stemming from our culture’s admiration of civil disobedience, he not only believed that he did the right thing morally, but thought that somehow the release of all of these documents which don’t record abuse or corruption would end the war and help America, that’s the opposite of the reality of the situation — raising the costs of the war and isolating America diplomatically.
Not too long ago, riots across Greece erupted in the wake of their debt crises and further fueled open defiance of government.
Yet despite the violence and deaths that resulted, the riots were looked upon fairly positively. While America is by no means at that point, I believe more and more Americans believe the First Amendment means that they have a moral obligation to report anything the government doesn’t want you to know, no matter its contents or the costs of doing so.
Unfortunately, this misguided form of civic duty has real consequences, as the current WikiLeaks fiasco is showing.
We should not completely censor ourselves out of fear for the effects , but people need to remember why you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. And though the repercussions aren’t always as obvious in different situations, there are times when what you say and report on can cause just as much, if not more, damage.
I fear that if we, as a society, can’t learn this and how to differentiate between civic duty and simply fighting windmills for the sake of it, then WikiLeaks is far from the last of such security leaks.
As for the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, his motivations are clear enough. His statements asking for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s resignation and the countering of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ accusation of his leaks spilling “hypothetical blood” while Iraq and Afghanistan are actually covered in blood. His statement that “Secretary Gates has overseen the killings of thousands of children and adults in these two countries,” shows that he is a man who is self-righteous enough to make these claims, and deluded enough to actually believe them.