December 5, 2010 Leave a comment
So, this entry is a new installment in a column that I write for Jefferson’s high school newspaper, The Outlook (anyone who can tell me why it was witty to spell column with a “k” gets a victory cookie). While I appreciate the outlet that the Outlook allows me to have for my writing (’cause it’s not like anyone actually reads the posts on this blog), they are notorious for strange editing that can impede the understanding of works as complicated as the ones I compose.
My new entry is rather lengthy for a column as well, so I am just assuming that I will be disappointed with the final product that appears in the newspaper. As such, I am going to take this opportunity to reprint the article in its entirety here, so that my actual message can come across for anyone who actually wants to know it. The content is about the Wikileaks saga of the past two weeks, and I suggest reading the New York Times’s “State’s Secrets” series about the recent releases before reading the commentary itself.
The Kolumn: Wikileaks
As the Julian Assange saga continues to unfold, I have found myself pondering more and more the role of information in a modern democratic society.
Julian Assange is the founder of a website entitled Wikileaks.org, a sort of “watchdog” website that collects classified or otherwise secret details about the workings of the US government and releases them to the public, usually in highly-publicized mass-releases of hundreds of thousands of documents. The most recent and devastating Wikileaks release occurred during the last three days of November, with the disclosure of upwards of a quarter of a million State Department communications with foreign officials.
Very few of them painted the United States in a favorable light. One set of cables reveals that the government bartered away prisoners from the notorious Guantanamo Bay; Slovenia was instructed to take one prisoner if the nation hoped to meet with the President at all. The government also seems to have committed acts suppressing human rights, such as during a German investigation into a botched Central Intelligence Agency operation; basically, US officials discouraged any investigation into the matter at all, even though a mistaken individual had been held by the CIA for months in an Afghan facility.
All of these releases are eye-opening and shocking in their own right, no doubt. What I have found more informative, however, is the reaction of the American mainstream media and the American people to this information. One would assume that Assuage and his website would be praised for promoting a level of openness that the government seems to be horribly neglecting.
Strangely enough, the opposite reaction seems to be occurring. Several news organizations (with Fox News leading the way, obviously) have labeled Assuage a “terrorist” and called for his arrest, and internet polls hosted by CNN and others have shown that a surprising amount of Americans actually agree with this notion.
First off, I would like to make clear that Assange should be considered a hero, not a terrorist. If exposing hypocrisy and demanding honesty is an illegal endeavor in twenty-first century America, then the American people could not call their government a “democracy.” Yes, his actions may jeopardize future diplomatic relations between the US and other foreign countries, but Assange was not the one committing rampant hypocrisy in the first place. The US government shot itself in the foot by having all of these secret dialogues; Assange was merely the messenger that brought the atrocities to light.
That being said, I am currently very perplexed as to why a person would not want to know if hypocrisy had become the culture of their government. The summary of that argument seems to be: if it is information that will jeopardize the objectives of the American government, then it is information that should not be shared.
I cannot even begin to explain how wrong this reasoning is. It is the worst form of patriotism: blind, unquestioning, naïve. It assumes that the government can do no wrong, and that what is best for the rulers is best for the ruled.
In fact, it is an argument that runs completely counter to the principles of a democratic society. Democracies differ from more tyrannical forms of organization due to their inclusion of the ruled in the ruling process. It requires an informed and questioning populace that can actively choose representatives who will embody the will of that population within the halls of the government.
Thomas Jefferson was correct in noting that “the ignorant can never be free”, and yet it seems that a sizable portion of the American population would rather be the former than the latter.
This is very concerning. A population that is uninformed of its government’s doings is not democratic; it’s totalitarian. The appeal of a democratic government comes from the power that it gives to every single citizen of the nation, and that power is manifested as information. If the American people have no desire for information, then they have no desire to have control over their own ruling institutions.
If America were truly democratic, the Assange would be showered with praise instead of threatened with arrest. As much as the media would prefer it to be, this is not a question of liberalism versus conservatism, or patriotism versus nonloyalty; any person who prefers this little idea called freedom should be praising Wikileaks, not condemning it.