Last week’s discussion was well attended despite the impending ice storm. Thanks to everybody for coming out. Here’s some of what went down.
“I am really surprised there isn’t more outrage from Americans over the Wikileaks releases,” said Joah. He meant the Apache helicopter video in particular. The soldiers in the video technically did follow the rules of engagement, but that’s just the point: war is by definition a suspension of the rules. War brings destruction, no matter how man tries to civilize it. “I believe,” said Trevor, “that video should be required viewing for every war supporter in the country.”
Iain piped in. “Diplomacy has required secrecy for thousands of years. It wasn’t just invented by Hillary Clinton. It goes back to the creation of the nation-state and even earlier. It is practically human nature. It is part of human culture. The really surprising thing was that more countries weren’t pissed off at the United States for allowing this info to leak.”
Is WL anti-statist? Are they anti-American?
“WL is for ‘us’,” said Russ. “It isn’t going to change anything in America.” In other words, these leaked documents are for the intellectual elite to mull over in their comfortable, wine-soaked evening discussions. Most Americans either don’t care or aren’t really aware of them.
“It is completely presumptuous and very arrogant for [Julian Assange] to think he knows better than career diplomats and foreign service personnel what ought and ought not to be classified,” said Pete. When questioned whether this wasn’t placing too much trust in the government, Pete emphasized the distinction between non-elected State Dept employees making careers in diplomacy, and unctuous politicians trying to get elected, blissfully unaware of the real workings of statecraft. “I would never trust an elected politician to make the right decision on any of this stuff,” he clarified. But things that can be revealed by these leaks, including the manner and method of US diplomacy, and the structure of the State Dept, are valuable and should be protected.
What about injured American pride? Isn’t there a sense of violation here, that our dirty American laundry has been hung out for the world to see? I think that is certainly part of the reason for the backlash against Wikileaks.
There must always be a balance between security and transparency. Between centralized power and democracy. Between honesty and lies. My own personal feeling is that, for too long, the balance has been skewed toward too much secrecy, and that a dose of exposure is necessary to right the balance. The media has been pathetic for at least a decade – and likely much longer – at acting as a check on government abuse of power. Wikileaks is upstaging them, and in the process showing them what is possible in investigative journalism based on primary source documents.
Jeremy said that we are entering a new era of transparency. Or perhaps a new era of journalism? Greg Mitchell, a writer at The Nation, has been live-blogging everything Wikileaks for nine weeks. He has also just put out a book, The Age of Wikileaks, which sounds like it’s about exactly this point.
Before the evening’s discussion split into its separate paths, Iain raised a question which I intend to explore in future posts: Can we stack the actions of Wikileaks, and the results of its releases, against the goals and ideals of the organization, and what will that show? It’s still early days, but I myself am looking forward to seeing how that question is answered.