I find it interesting, though not surprising, that most discussions in the media about WikiLeaks focus on the suitable form of punishment for its editor-in-chief Julian Assange, rather than the nature of the diplomatic correspondence he and his organization have shared with the public. None of the documents were top secret—as they were either labeled secret, confidential or classified— and arguably they should be a part of the public domain. Some people are calling for the arrest and prosecution of Assange for espionage, and the branding of WikiLeaks as a terrorist organization. Rather than condemn Assange, we should commend him for doing all of us a great service.
Commenting on the good that can come from openness and transparency, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Well, today we find ourselves in a foul, germ-ridden place, where official misconduct is allowed to breed, infect the body politic and fester. Things are done in the name of the American people that would outrage them if they really knew the truth. And some past generations had the benefit of brave individuals to shine the light and clear up the stench, and they were all the better for it.
Without question, Noam Chomsky said it best in a recent interview with Democracy Now! “One of the major reasons for government secrecy is to protect the government from its own population,” Chomsky said. Of the similarity of WikiLeaks to the Pentagon Papers— a top secret history of the Vietnam War first published in the New York Times—Chomsky noted:
“But if you look at the Papers themselves, there are things that Americans should have known that the government didn’t want them to know. And as far as I can tell, from what I’ve seen here, pretty much the same is true. In fact, the current leaks are—what I’ve seen, at least—primarily interesting because of what they tell us about how the diplomatic service works.”
The Pentagon Papers revealed that the Johnson administration had lied about the Vietnam War, deliberately expanding the war in private while telling another story in public. In recent years America has been faced with two costly, deadly and seemingly useless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The latter is causing the nation to bleed $2.8 billion a week. And the military-industrial complex eats up half of the government’s discretionary spending when other nations prefer to spend their money on high-speed rail and green technology.
This comes at a time when Wall Street is awash with record profits, yet millions are chronically unemployed. Meanwhile, the gap between rich and poor, the highest since 1928, is turning the U.S. into a nation of serfs. This is why we must embrace the spirit of WikiLeaks in 2010 and beyond, to inform citizens of potentially disastrous government decision making while something can be done to avert catastrophe.
In 1906—65 years before the Pentagon Papers and over a century before WikiLeaks— Upton Sinclair applied his own brand of disinfectant called The Jungle. His novel depicted the harsh conditions of the meat-packing industry, of diseased animals and dead rats finding their way to the dinner table. Ultimately, the visceral public reaction to The Jungle led to government reform of the food industry. More importantly, Sinclair shed light on the plight of poor and working people, on racism and immigration, on wage slavery, and the greed and corruption of people at the top.
It was a book about an era when, like today, capitalism ran amok. Every generation might not get an Upton Sinclair to make things right, and some generations need one more than others. At a time when some in the media are far too eager to embed themselves in power rather than expose the powerful, the second decade of the twenty-first century desperately screams out for sunlight.
Julian Assange is Upton Sinclair exposing the rotten meat. The message is, don’t buy the rotten meat, or the rotten wars they’re trying to sell to you. No wonder Bank of America is worried that they could be next.
David A. Love
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