What the Wikileaks affair reveals

The major newspapers in the West and various intelligence agencies are in an uproar because of the recent leak of secret data, including battle reports and strategic analysis, relating to the NATO war in and against Afghanistan. The internet site wikileaks, run specifically for this purpose by the elusive Australian Julian Assange, distributed the information to various major newspapers to assure the publication would go through. Wikileaks has a history of revelations of this kind, but this is the greatest transparency coup they have succeeded in committing so far.

The immediate response of the US government and the intelligence agencies was to attempt to charge him with endangering American and other forces and helping their enemies; they portrayed Assange on the basis of no particular information as an opponent of the war against Afghanistan. When these accusations did not diminish sympathy for and interest in the publications with the general public, they shifted gears and accused the publications on the one hand of endangering the Afghan people, and on the other hand of revealing nothing that was not already subject of discussion. This latter charge may to some degree be justified, but the response of ‘official America’ nonetheless misses the point. The great revelation of the Wikileaks affair is not the information about the greater and lesser combat struggles of NATO troops in Afghanistan, nor the fact that civilians are often casualty to them. This indeed was well known, and ought to be assumed in any case by anyone with a decent respect for the destructive power of war. It is also not the fact that the United States has sought to shore up flagging European support for the war ‘efforts’ by using the charisma of their leader and by devising propaganda strategies for individual countries, appealing to what nationalist sentiments may remain. This, too, ought to be assumed par for the course for imperialists.

The real revelation is the ease with which Assange has struck a blow against the culture of secret wars and of classified information of all the powers, great or small. The Afghan people do not suffer when
the war in their country is pulled out of the shadows – why should they? It only reveals them to be suffering from the war itself. Neither do the American people, or any other, suffer when their country’s secrets are laid bare. After all, who can lose by it but governments which have something to hide, governments which harbor secret plans against other nations or hide crimes they have committed? Secrecy suits the imperialists, the war-mongerers, the great powers and their Great Games. Most people justly do not like war, do not seek to enrich themselves at the expense of their neighbors, and do not desire to be shielded from whatever errors, disasters or crimes their governments might be responsible for. On the contrary: they want to know what their government is doing and what is happening, since they are most affected. When many are informed about the state of the world, many can act on it, and democracy prevails; when only few are in the know, few can act with effect, and tyranny reigns. The greatest guarantor of the safety of our rulers is secrecy; it allows them to scheme and connive against foreign peoples and their own people alike, to hide their failings, even hide their weaknesses and the possibility of overthrowing them, and it allows them all the while to present any decision they make as just and necessary under the prevailing conditions. The greatest guarantor of the safety of the people, however, is openness and transparency. The people have nothing to hide from themselves, nor does one people have anything to hide from another if their intentions are noble. Why then would they have need for secrets?

It is no coincidence that the struggle for democracy since the 18th century has also been a struggle against the Star Chambers, Privy Councils, secret treaties, Zimmermann telegrams, Tonkin Incidents and the entire sordid collection of murderous conspiracies that have so long carried the name of ‘great power diplomacy’. Their weapons have always been secrecy and ‘national security’. Ours have been the open trial, the publication of the laws, the Freedom of Information laws. Now in the time of the internet, it is a happy development that we can add another weapon to our arsenal in the struggle against the imperial culture of secrecy.

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