You Believe This Shit? (reprise)

Further to my rant from a couple of months ago of the same name, I received a very heartening e-mail from a ranking serviceman yesterday.  He is, broadly speaking, in sympathy with the dynamic of Wikileaks (though he admits that there are those among his colleagues who are not) and implies he is far from the only one.  What’s even more interesting is what he says after that:

Statistically I’m safer deployed than I am living in my home country. I joined the Army and subsequently worked very hard for a commission in the idealistic and misguided hope that off the back of my sacrifice the world would be a better place. The military is full of bitter people like me who are fighting for a cause we believe in in archaic, outmoded, inflexible and immoral ways. Most of us, owing to our reasons for joining or ironically the values inculcated by our training, would happily die in the defence of the things we hold dear.

You were on the mark with that one.

I’ve rarely seen the human dynamic of soldiering I try to express in my work so cleanly laid out by someone who knows.

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40 responses to “You Believe This Shit? (reprise)”

  1. Jon

    No comment about the US’ response to the Wikileaks thing, that is a mess unto itself.

    However, as a Special Forces soldier, serving not so much in the defence of the things we hold dear but instead in a job I am good at and enjoy, I hold a very different opinion of Wikileaks. That is, fuck Wikileaks.

    They target the US as a big evil superpower who they have to reveal ‘the truth’ about. Granted we’ve done some shit, but there are worse things out there. Russia rolls into South Ossetia to crush an uprising against world outcry, tells everyone to fuck off. China crushing Tibet. China oppressing the Uighurs, brutally. All these HUMAN RIGHTS abuses and what does Wikileaks do? They release diplomatic cables, among which have Arab allies calling out for us to attack Iran in their defense.

    Fuck wikileaks, they have the power to do something good and they don’t.

    Your young officer reader (who I can tell is not SF) sounds very idealistic. I can’t blame him, I was too once. If he thinks the military is any different from anywhere else in the world, he is sorely mistaken. If anything the military fosters a culture of can-do, must-be-done stoic realism. Did you know that with the fuss about rising military suicide rates, our rates are just approaching the levels of regular society? And yet we work harder and longer than most.

    I also associate the bitterness bred from idealism to be a sign of immaturity, of youth. Misplaced anger. There will always be a large portion of people shitting up the system with their lack of effort or worse, misplaced good intentions. You just have to work around it. It’s tiring. But it’ll never change.

    I see a lot of bitter, childish resentment in Takeshi Kovacs. In Woken Furies it became tiring. There has to be a breaking point. Either he implodes or finds a way to deal with it. That much bitter becomes poison; I know firsthand. Or maybe I just don’t understand your character. In any case, I loved the series. Would enjoy another Kovacs novel, but if you end it there I would understand.

    I apologize for what is likely to be a disjointed mess of a post, I am horrible without an edit. I’m in the middle of packing up my house since I deploy tomorrow and needed a break. Later though I would be interested in your response, as I try to remain teachable.

  2. Ravs

    Hi Jon,

    Interesting post. It’s not often you see a post which shows both passion and humility. It’s not a disjointed mess at all.

    As for Wikileaks, there are a couple of things which may (or may not help) in terms of the facts on which your view of them is based.

    Wikileaks have not ‘targeted the US’ (although those leaks have received the most publicity), they have not passed any judgment on the morality of the US’s actions – they just released the information. That information was provided to them by others.

    Wikileaks disclosures are not confined to US government documents. They include documents about banks in Iceland and big businesses in Kenya (to name but two).

    The information is disclosed to them by a whistleblower, they fact check it (they say) and then give the person whom the whistle is blown the opportunity to respond (they say – we’ve seen that with the State Department letter).

    As to the fact that there are other countries out there doing worse, yes, for sure there are. But it comforts me that we can bring our leaders to account (in theory) whereas that is not possible in some other countries short of a revolution (and there’s a bit of that going around these days). If there is a spotlight that can’t be put out on the say so of a government official who has something to hide, it means that things are working the way they should.

    Please take care of yourself on duty.

    best

    Ravs

  3. Ravs

    ninja’d by Richard, lol!

  4. Ross

    RE: China and Russia.

    Wikileaks isn’t an effective tool for change in China. Nor, I suspect, in Russia.

    For wikileaks to be effective requires two things. They need information to be given to them from informed insiders to publish. And they need to be able to disseminate that information to somewhere it can do some good.

    The former is possible in the western world partly because whistle-blowing isn’t seen in a negative light here and partly because, frankly, an informant working within the US government (like, say Bradley Manning) doesn’t fear reprisal against his or her family. I have no doubt that if someone within the Chinese armed forces did what Manning did, he’d rapidly earn himself a nine millimetre retirement present, and those he cares about would be at the very least detained.

    So wikileaks doesn’t get Chinese documents to leak. They never will.

    Further to that, what would wikileaks do with dirt on the PRC government even if it fell into their lap? They can publish it on the web or via the associated press, sure. And be sure it will never, ever see the light of day in China. They cannot disseminate it anywhere but in the west. And, news flash, they’d be preaching to the choir here.

    Conversely, wikileaks can do some good by making elected officials in the United States government feel very, very nervous the next time they want to pull one over on the public. The way to keep power brokers on a leash is to let the constant threat of exposure curb their ambition, by making them feel as though their decisions will be scrutinized by the voting public.

    For wikileaks to matter, it must operate in a country where the government is democratic, where the press is uncensored, and where leaks cannot be plugged with brutality. It won’t work anywhere but in the free world.

  5. Freeman

    Awesome, Civilised discussion, thorough yet nuanced replies and lots of empathy…. Couldn’t ask for more….

    My own 2 cents (about what sometimes can be viewed as a Western beat up), i’ve heard simillar agruements about carbon emissions, that others are still going to polloute largescale and there for it is useless for us to take up the cost and burden intially. But our Nations are in the position to be Leaders and set examples for others in the action that we take, and via the impact of our courage to affect change. I think this is the same when it comes to Nation-states, Warfare and the abilities of the populace to demonstrate unhindered by polical repression and ugly opportunism used to make bold statements, sometimes entirely void of facts, in effort to be re-elected and continue the same-same fist-eating cycle.

    Then again, i could very well still be over-burdened by that very same Idealism of Youth mentioned earlier…

    I’ve had a shift of perspective recently, about that immediate future of our planet and our societies (that within the next 20-30 years) and have gained a fair dose of Optimism.

    ‎’We have to break up with the Industrial Revolution and finally form a proper relationship with the Information Age: one based on the continual growth of ideas rather than bank balances.’ – Mark Stevenson: An Optimist tour of the Future.

    I think we can, together, affect change that leaves a world far better than the one we have developed so far, But it is going to take the nuanced discussion of this nature en-mass, globally…. Organisations like WikiLeaks can offer a begining, create space at the table for dialouge to start, But we will have to mature the manner in which these deliberations continue, and only we, the people of our nations, can get this done and keep any degree of satisfaction alive on all side of the equation…

    Much Love – Freeman

  6. And

    “Wikileaks isn’t an effective tool for change in China. Nor, I suspect, in Russia.”

    That’s a statement I’d hesitate to make before seeing the full scope of the fallout from the middle east.

  7. Jon

    Appreciate the response. Great discussion going on here, I should visit more often.

    “But a problem arises with the west itself, because it constantly talks a good fight about democracy and human rights, but doesn’t habitually live up to its rhetoric.”

    I see your point. Well, shows how informed I am, I didn’t consider this angle with regard to Wikileaks. It makes me angry when I see the anti-US trash talk abroad, and yet Russia and China seem to literally get away with murder. Not that we are exclusive from inspection, or that the US doesn’t have a place in holding those two accountable, but nonetheless, aggravating. I fully encourage transparency. Better to facilitate honesty than ask for it. Or they get the stick.

    “If your service to your country has become, as you seem to suggest, no more than a cool job you’re good at, where does that leave us when we try to draw ethical or moral lines on the use of force?”

    That’s a good question. Allow me to clarify, as that’s the line I consider for whether or not I re-up – not how I perform my job. If I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it the best damned way I can. Having worked with and trained various foreign militaries over the years, the one thing we try to impart – besides how to properly kill – is to do ‘the right thing’. The right thing, generally, being what you’re ordered to do, so long as it is a lawful order. Know what a lawful order is. In our system, as you go on to explain, we have this luxury. Some of these third world soldiers don’t understand this or don’t want to, for a variety of reasons.

    Impressing “Army core values” upon NCOs in foreign militaries is huge. Most of these third world countries hardly have an NCO Corps. The officers boss everyone around and treat the men like servants. We go in and fix all that, establish a system. For those who don’t know, the officers tell the NCOs what they want, the NCOs make it happen. We explain the rules and how they actually apply to their job and daily life. Make them understand that the decisions they make have an immediate and lasting effect on the populace. We call them ‘second and third order of effects’. The whole honesty, integrity, loyalty thing just makes everything operate smoother. Amazing, huh?

    “if your job description suddenly shifts to supplying drugs to the streets of your own country’s cities”

    Well I’d tell ‘em to fuck off. I don’t need someone to tell me (not anymore, at least) what the right thing is. Oppressing the people (our unit’s motto is “De Opresso Liber”), supporting the drug trade, gunning down unarmed folks, well fuck all that. Those are actually easy situations. What would you do if a sniper was shooting at you and your men, wounding your men, and he was walking down the middle of the street surrounded by children? Would you shoot him? There’s no guarantee, no matter how good a shot you are, that you won’t hit some of the children. Now that’s a hard situation. Even if you shoot, you’re justified, but if you hit a kid there’s a potential international incident right there. You’ve killed a kid, your career is over (and effectively, your life) and you have to live with the fact that you killed a kid. Forever. Shitty, huh? I know that’s not quite the same issue you meant, but I’m sure you get what I’m saying.

    “how will you know whether to refuse the orders you are given?”
    It’s actually very clear, and not something I can easily explain, except that we know by a set of established priorities, how to deal with contingencies, etc. It is still just “a job” but that doesn’t stop us from being dedicated to professionalism. When I say ‘just a job’ I don’t associate it with all that crap they associate it with in movies, I don’t need it to define me as a person, I don’t need high-fives or big speeches to motivate me – I motivate myself, I and others like me are self-starters. There are actually quite a few of us. I hope that gives you some comfort.

    Like you said, “that best-of-breed status derives from systems in place” and I agree. There must be checks and some guys must know that the checks are there. Keep people honest. Like I said, I don’t need people to tell me what’s right, and I don’t need somebody looking over my shoulder. Not everyone is like me, however, but a lot of guys in my profession are. We know the guy next to us will keep us on the path, so to speak, should we falter. Some of us just want excellence.

    “…and a system of punishment for those who break the agreed rules. It takes idealism to make that work.”
    Well then I guess I’m idealist.

    Suicides. Maybe that stat I heard about has to do with active-duty personnel compared to civilian Americans, but I do wonder what ages are afflicted by that Vietnam Vet suicide rate. It is my understanding that elderly males (American?) are among the highest numbers of all suicides. Vietnam vets would be in their…60s? by now, not sure if that qualifies as elderly or not.

    About Kovacs. Well I’m glad I got it. It was towards the end of Broken Angels that I thought, ‘holy shit. he’s lost it.’ It was fascinating to watch, like a car accident. It makes him much more interesting instead of yet-another former-spec-ops super-badass. While I wanted to see some redemption for Kovacs (everyone loves to see others triumph insurmountable adversity, right?) I also didn’t because it felt like it’d cheapen the story, because in life people don’t usually change… well, I like the way the series ended. Really liked that last fight, felt perfect.

    To the other comments about Wikileaks functioning in a democracy, that does put it in perspective. I do realize that Wikileaks doesn’t only target the US, but… hundreds of thousands of documents? I know they only publish what they’re given, but damn. You guys know diplomacy is forever changed by this, right? How can any of these countries communicate with the US knowing their words, even benign, may come to light? Specifically the Arab countries asking for Iran’s…pacification. They’re probably terrified of that fallout right now.

    Also about that ‘nuclear bomb’ encoded thing Assange (whom I despise) talked about…well I’m really curious, and chaos is kinda fun, so I hope it gets out. Fuck it.

  8. And

    “You guys know diplomacy is forever changed by this, right? How can any of these countries communicate with the US knowing their words, even benign, may come to light? Specifically the Arab countries asking for Iran’s…pacification. They’re probably terrified of that fallout right now.”

    Is that really such a bad thing though? I find it hard to think of situations where national interest (as opposed to backroom deals) really truly requires diplomatic secrecy. And diplomatic secrecy isn’t without costs either – you can make a pretty good case that it was a significant cause for WWI.

    As far as the Arab leaders I think what we’ve really seen is that many more people have been exposed to just how corrupt and hypercritical they are – I do wonder if they’re really the people we want to be in bed with.

  9. Mirik

    I sure hope diplomacy is forever changed (doubt it). Society has no need for backroom deals in a democracy. It might make things worse, make it all more secret even. But this is a new generation, we want government 2.0. Democracy WITH accountability and transparency. Personally, I feel something will change for the better because of wikileaks. It certainly confronts us with the facts.

    Please also understand Europe is so much different from the US in culture. We are scares of the US, like we were of a school bully. They meddle in our parliaments (write out laws on behalf of interest groups or force us to cooperate in international dealings) and the sissy politicians we pick are pushed around like kids chosen for the baseball team even though they don’t know the rules and are sidelined so the big boys can play.

    The US is a scary chaotic unstable political entity in the world and that expression of what should be the most amaIng country in the world (by rights of great constitution and founders) has become the plaything of the new oligarchs and political demagogues who play into the fears of their poverty striken often not very uneducated (home schooled in reagonomics and alternate history where jesus visited montana), heavily religious, white majority. I’m freaking scared of most senators and representatives because their are allowed to spout hate filled, egregious lies and fantasies without repercussions! Only fringe media exposes their retarded ideology and industry funded agendas! Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, one of the most lowly despicable pandering liar, warmonger, homophobe, racist and historical revisionist there is now wants to be president! Hell yes I am scared!

    I am no scared of you, sir. Not of the soldiers of the US. I understand they are like me and try to do good in a hard situation (theirs thousand folds harder the my civilian one obviously), but I am scared of the entity that is the US. The crazy leaders, the deniers, birthers, truthers, beckians, palinista’s, the fundamentalists, the corporate lobbyists (how insane is it that money buys you the presidency in the US and that corporations can donate infinite amounts to get their way in both parties if they like???). I am scared of the unconstitutional authoritarianism that gives special interest groups so much power in washington where it’s citizens are ignored (wisconsin power play). Where the GOP is allowed to decry “we want deficit reduction” but at every turn obstruct taxing the (insanely) wealthy 1 % of Americans who own 30% of wealth, or the 10% above 100.00 who owns over 80% while the bottom 90% owns jack shit and has the representative power in washington that is proportionally less even than the assets they own, almost none in fact.

    It is haunted by people who want to oppose any energy policy that would let YOU be safe at home, by investing in green sustainable energy farmed at home, instead wanting to rely more and more and finite fossil resources in a world crumbling with the load we put on it. US person uses most energy of all, except for saudi arabia where they wipe their ass with oil and use it like water! But it’s not you, it’s the insanely wealthy that need to strap their belts and give the good example by consuming less, glorifying their excessive lifestyle, hummers, humongous houses, helicopters, private jets, guns, running jacuzi’s in every room. As long as all americans try to emulate their poisenous celebrities, their chosen gods (in europe too! Its all coming here as well, poisenous culture of nihilistic indulgence in immediate gratification by consuming), we will all fall down together.

    So i don’t hate the US. i love it’s potential and what it once was, but the beast escaped and it has consumed us all. I care for the world, hence for american sanity as our example, as our hero, now fading with the severe signs of alzheimers, descending into a rambling sarah palin speech in which paris is the capitol of britain and church and state are one as per new first amendment of the US constition sponsored by coca cola and cheerios, your benign corporate overlords in the global theocratic states of serfdom, formerly the USA.

    Fuck me, I love the US too much, I don’t want that to happen to the good people of that fair land where so much is possible and so much is created, it’s just not right that it will all be destroyed! that’s why I bloody care!

    Sadly i cant even say i’m exaggerating for effect. The US is disintegrating before my eyes on twitter and every other outlet that is not fox news…

    Thanks for the great discussion Jon! Great posts everyone.

    Forgive the atrocious spelling and lack of nuance here and there (most of the amazing folks fighting for sanity are also in the US, just ignored or vilified), you try typing in iphone in another language at 5 am at night! :-)

  10. lawn

    @Jon

    It is simultaneously fascinating and awesome that I get to read these posts from you.

    @Jon, And: Re Wikileaks’ effects on diplomacy:

    And this is one of the reasons why. Never thought of that. ‘And’, I’d think this is a problem that outweighs the governmental transparency gains–totally public diplomatic talks means having ‘governments’ like Iran’s getting to listen in. Maybe a compromise between security levels? Low-level diplomats get transparency while talks between, say, two heads of state don’t?

    Totally with the idea of wikileaks in general, just to make my own position clear. Also, have you guys heard that Bradley Manning has been charged with ‘giving intelligence to the enemy’, which may carry the death penalty? Aside from that, he’s been in solitary confinement for the past 10 months apparently.

    @Richard, Jon Re Kovacs

    I thought he did get some redemption in the end–that the whole ‘Woken Furies’ ending implied he’d let go of the past and was willing to just try everything again.

    @Mirik:

    It’s funny–every last American I’ve met has been a well-adjusted, well-rounded, sane and a generally reasonable person. Maybe it’s a statistical fluke. Maybe I should have waited for the full moon.

    The real problem with the US and its politics and to some degree the various social/political debates going on in it, as far as I can tell, is the removal of one particular news media law (which incidentally, the Canadian government tried to overturn in their own country recently). Basically, the Reagan government removed a law which bars news channels from lying–they removed the more stringent requirements of journalistic integrity. Thus we get Fox News, and misrepesentations of the size of the Tea Party, and constant and unending press about Sarah Palin’s election possibilities which then spur further constant and unending press about her election possibilities in a constant and unending positive feedback loop (which I would probably find hilarious if I lived on a different continent–preferably Australia, preferably away from major population centres), and possibly the miseducation of millions of otherwise sane people who are only at fault for never having heard of Reddit.

  11. Jared

    I don’t know enough to make even a qualified decision about Wikileaks.

    I’m not entirely sad to read that Assange is a jackass though. No matter how I feel about Wikileaks, he creeps me out.

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/03/01/assange-goes-off-deep-end-blaming-jews-and-guardian-in-private-eye/

    (Site name is ironic – tis left-wing blog, not right-wing crazy.)

  12. And

    “I’d think this is a problem that outweighs the governmental transparency gains–totally public diplomatic talks means having ‘governments’ like Iran’s getting to listen in. ”

    This is what I question though – does it really matter if Iran is listening? When it comes to diplomacy I think a good deal more truth would be a good thing but even assuming that’s open to question does anyone have as example of where it would cause real harm?

  13. Andrew

    That bit about military psychologists being alarmed that the suicide rate has approached that of the general population is a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it shows that the natural mental state of the military is pretty well balanced, which is always a reassuring bit of news when you consider the firepower at their disposal. On the other hand, it shows that at the moment, the suicide rate among the military has approached that of a population that includes bullied teens, the mentally or physically ill, and the incarcerated.

    Yikes.

  14. Mirik

    @Iawn: Well I agree. Like I said, we find the best, but also the worst in the US, which is why I care so much and fear so much the destruction of that which is so good.

    But like finds like. You and me are apparently not in the right neighbourhood and crowd to associate with the simpletons. Whereever they are, the simpletons are getting the air-time on FOX, like you said. Stupid creates stupid.

    I do know some pretty stupid Dutch people and our TV stations are comparatively high quality, so for certain some people are misinformed by other means (association with demagogues), but in a vacuum they would be neither. So something is wrong in the US for all these insane regulations to perish under corporate lackey and wrongheaded and sometimes simply retarded (actually of limited mental capacity) demagogues.

    @Jared: That article is discredited already. Is apparently ‘satirical’. Ironic too, since Assange was accused of being Jewish agent, etc. before by the same conspiracy nuts. Don’t listen to them would be the most informative.

  15. RBWalker

    On the subject of whistleblowers in general, you could argue that to leak intelligence to a site like wikileaks is a subversion of democratic principles in itself. (My that sounded pretentious, but hear me out).

    1) I think we agree that some stuff that liberal dmeocracies do shouldn’t be public knowledge (tactical data, sensitive diplomatic conversations, names of intelligence operatives, etc). You might not agree with my examples but unless we’re advocating total exposure, there must be some things that are secret from the general public.

    2) The problem is now to decide how we square keeping this shit secret with democratic values like openness, accountability, etc

    3) The solution adopted is to create some body (I think in the UK its the JIC but I could be wrong) which decides how secret we classify something. As long as this body is itself appointed by a democratic institution and is held to certain standards, we can enforce some measure of accoutnability upon the secret stuff. Although its not a perfect system, it conveys some degree of legitimacy upon the govs decision to keep X classified.

    4) If a servant of the gov, and by extension the nation state, decides to them leak X, they are defying the legitimate decision of the democratic institution and by extension the people.

    Conclusion: Whistleblowing is bad.

    Now obviously because 3) is imperfect, there’ll be some leeway – if the government decides to murder a certain ethnic group in a secret camp then our hypothetical official in 4) can leak as much as he fucking wants and the argument doesn’t apply. But some of the stuff that falls out of wikileaks doesn’t seem to approach this category. Further questions about facillitating this kind of low level, unexciting intellignece and the morality of that are raised.

    Not saying I commit to any of this in entritiy, just putting it out there.

    THoughts, anyone?

  16. Freeman

    I think if we are going to keep a few things secret in our over-fed democracies, and frankly over-weight populace it should be the….

    1) Location of the Remote

    2) Keys to the Snack bar

    The diclosures of wikilieaks, via Private Manning, where made (sloppily we can agree atleast) from a HUGE host of material dumped enmass… It seems to me that the Collatoral Murder clip and subsequant investigations and reporting into it Discredit your 3rd and 4th points already. The trove of material online now will have one very interesting and probably beneficial outcome. Knowing the TRUE human tally to our endevour in safeguard some of our energy supplies.

    And i feel that alot of negativity about wikileaks is coming from what Jon succinctly put forward as appearing to be a Massive beat up of America, which i disagree with. The previous finacial documents released (to do with Sweden’s finacial instiutions and the Meta-Rich who utilise them) have been pretty shocking, and i think they are to become all the more shocking when the Bank of America logs are released, which may very well cause a swell of support behind the disclosures and the means-to-the-ends type of purpose they pursue (something i also don’t entirely agree with).

    And some of the turmoil in the Mid East and North Africa rumbling on at the moment has roots in the diplomatic cables, especially in Tunsia and Egypt. And while Egypts ‘Days of Rage’ were far less brutal than those underway in Lybia, i suspect many of us might agree that what comes out of this process, the uprising of an educated middle class uniting with lower classes (a nice traditional revolution in other words i guess), may be very positive for the region in the longer term. The Peoples of these countries are going to feel, to their bruised bones, that they really own their representative governments (should it so happen that other tyrants don’t just move the fuck into a vacant chair) and that level of activity in the strengthening of the regions fledgling democracies can only be a good thing. Hopefully these countries will under go not just a bolstering of basic human rights and public amenities but also a revalorisation in which the efforts to equalise wealth and re-distribute power can have even more positive knock on effects to other countires in the region.

    Information is Power. I am just not all that comfortable with that Power being in the hands of a few, very vested, interests, even should they be my own elected representatives.

    Thanks Everybody for the Quality of Content in this Reprisal of Richard’s.

    Much Love – Freeman

    p.s. can’t fucking wait for TDC and Crysis 2…. i’m so excited i think i just wet myself a litte… No, wait, that’s just Drool…….

  17. RBWalker

    @Freeman

    Agree with most of what you’re saying there. I suppose what I personally am beginning to think is that wikileaks itself is just a facillitator, and in the worst case (some of the examples you mention) its good that a whistleblower can get their material to the wider world more quickly. I think what’s beginning to happen is that institutions are becoming accountable to their own members with regards to secrecy, which is a good thing.

    However, I think there might be a rational basis for taking issues with the individual cases. For example, I read a document they nreleased regarding Chinese intervention in Costa Rica (interesting stuff), but part of me wonders why you would leak that – there doesn’t appear to be any injustices or crimes to expose, its just US intelligence witrh regards to Chinas interest in the region. Now there might not eb any harms to leaking it either, except that it constitutes a kind of betrayal of one’s organisation.It seems to me that there is a lot of ‘wikileaks is bad’ stuff going on in the media, whereas surely the argument should be about in what case it is right to leak something. (to make a personal judgement on what people should or should not know)

    I have yet to hear a decent argument against wikileaks itself (not claiming that one doesn’t exist, just that I haven’t heard it)

    Out of curiosity, is anyone advocating total transparancy with regards to diplomacy, intelligence, military practices? I can see the ethical argument but the practical considerations look to be a problem.

  18. ravs

    @ Richard

    Your post got me thinking. In this age of military spending cuts, perhaps a cheaper option to Naval enforcement would be for governments to give letters of Marque to privateers providing them with immunity from prosecution for capturing and selling off Japanese ‘research’ whaling vessels. As for the crew, the state pay a bounty for each one delivered up and put them in jail.

    Ahhh to dream.

    Ravs

  19. Freeman

    Reading a lot of Classic Space Operas recently and i came across an absolute gem of a quote that i thought was some-what relevant to the Discussion going on here….

    “All we could be sure of was that many men, working in simillar fields, were stamping their results SECRET because that was the easy way – not only to keep the work out of Russian hands, but to keep the workers in the clear if their own government should investigate them. How can you apply scientific method to a problem when you’re forbidden to see the data” ‎

    James Blish: Cities in Flight; Book One: They Shall Have Stars

    It is one of many in the first few chapters that are just immediately amusing on their own as they are hilariously poingiant to current geo-politics…

    Wish i’d come to Blish earlier in my Sci-Fi meanderings…

    Freeman

  20. knz

    The wiki dump seemed like a great buildup and ended rather anti-climactic. I live in the USA and, like many others, kind of knew this was going on and felt like it was made into a media shitstorm with reporters asking the wrong questions, eg – “Did Julian really rape that girl?” Business as usual.

    The last I heard anything about this before I completely stopped caring, was when I saw the headlines on some prominous news page “Future wiki dump contains info for possible Al-qeada attacks in America.”

    This was after he met with authorities so I believe that there were threats made on his life and ones close by(thats how it works) if he doesn’t play the game, like everyone else.

    The only info that would interest me is hard evidence for the grey men and co.

  21. RBWalker

    @Richard:

    I think I pretty much agree. Perhaps one calculable good of wikileaks is that it means if you have information about secret prsions or whatever, you don’t have to try and find a journalist you trust enough (bearing in mind that your institution has probably left you with a deep distrust of journalists in general) you can just submit it to a secure server and watch the fireworks.

    I suppose what I was getting at is that wikileaks is just a facilitator – and it seems that people who have a problem with it seem to miss that. I can’t see a real qualatitive difference between wikileaks and other forms of journalism.

    That aside, I do wonder about the individual moral choice of leakign some things. I’m not a US citizen, but from what I gather, I reckon the CRS stuff should probably be in the public domain, or at least most of it.
    But if I worked at the CRS, would the fact that the data belongs in the public domain (in my view) justify me leaking it? Surely the right thing to do would be to keep it classified but to support the democratic efforts to have the CRS archives released to the public?

    To summarise, leaking a document seems to express a personal moral value judgement, and my worry is that people shouldn’t impose that judgement against the group as a whole. I think that abuses of government power, even minor ones, are special cases and justify a leak. But I am not sure that documents about the economic situation in south korea qualify.

    I suppose what I’m really getting it is that yes, wikileaks is fine. Yes, whistleblowing is fine in certain situations. But reading some of the documents on that site I feel that the person who leaked them might have just been jumping on the bandwagon. And while that might not have any obvious consequences, I can’t help wonder if it is still wrong in itself.

  22. ravs

    @RB Walker,

    The answer to your question is to have a robust jury system. If a whistleblower breaks the law by making disclosures of classified information, then they should be arrested and tried. It is then up to the Jury to decide whether they should convict. If in their opinion the information is vital to the public interest to disclose, they should acquit regardless of what directions they get from the judge.

    This has happened in the UK in the Clive Ponting trial (if you don’t know the facts, google will provide) and, in my eyes, vindicated the system of jury trials for this sort of offence. Sure it’s a bit hit and miss, depends on who the jury are, how likely they are to be swayed by the Judge, among two factors, but at the moment, it’s all we have.

  23. Dave Harrison

    @RB Walker. One argument against wikileaks approach is their lack of sensetivity to certain bits of frankly very worrying dats being released into the world’s press. Now I can only think of a couple of examples that seem rather small to us safe as houses fairly peacful and civilised nations, but its a whole world of difference if you are the translator or villiage head-man in e.g. Helmand that has been aiding ISAF to combat Terry Taliban. I have been informed by mate’s that have got back from the last couple of Op Herricks that a number of family members of translators have been threatened, gone missing or even found murdered. I suspect the anti-Taliban villiage head-men have suffered similar…

    What value to free-speech, democratic accountability and the rule of law did publishing those documents without the names being properly redacted? I am aware that a major fuss was kicked up by a number of serving british soldiers durring the pull out from Basra regarding the (lack) of protection/asylum offered to local translators and their families, a number of whom were murdered before they could claim said asylum in the west.

    I believe profoundly in the words of Alan Moore “People should not fear their governments, Governments should fear their people”(points for those that identify the source). The majority of information should be publicly available regarding domestic issues. But on the other hand, the internation scene is a lot more complicated. Secrets need to be kept to protect our friends from embaressment (as in the case of a number of Arab states indicating they would morally support military intervention against Iran providing Israel was kept out of it). Frankly we need to keep allies and friends onside. Their are people out there that want to do us as liberal democrassies harm. Maybe not as many as some of the more bat-faced loons might believe but they DO exist. From those enemies there will be those that will not under any circumstances apply reason or goodwill to any dialogue. As such diplomacy is effectively a tissue of lies and they will take anything they can get to harm our cause or benefit theirs.

  24. Freeman

    @Dave

    “Secrets need to be kept to protect our friends from embaressment” …

    No, sorry, can’t agree with that. The embaressment of Tyrants is perfectly fine with me, if it helps motivate the dispossesed of those nation get to their feet and fight back it is a (hopefully and eventually) benefical thing.

    Also, many members of the Australian political landscape have been very embarresed by wiki-revelations as to how close they are tied to the American Political landscape. One minister told American counter parts of a plan to over-throw the democratically elected Prime Minister 18 months before it happened, which was only about 9 months after he had taken office on the back of a popular mandate about climate change, asylum seekers, indigineous rights and reconcillation and confronting Australian Mining companies over Super Profits…

    One of those Mining Executives has also been embaressed by wikileaks, after spending little over $20 million on advertising, and ending up with the scalp of a Prime Minister, he was quoted in diplomatic cables to American counter-parts as saying he was only “nominally Australian”… He hasn’t been seen in the media or public since… and it has forced a lot of Australians to review their oppinions of the Mining tax, which in it’s reduced form will have the Australian Federal Government miss out on over $60 Billion dollars in royalties over 10 years….

    Then of course their is the Itallian Prime Minister’s embrassment over his relationship with the Lybian Dictator….

    While the Redactions have been sloppy, and i’m guessing thats why they have been slow in releasing anything substantial since, you can’t say that everyone of us in our Western Enclaves hasn’t got their fair share of blood on their hands over our actions in Afganistan and Iraq, regardless of whether we supported those wars or not…..

  25. Mirik

    Deeply in bed with Freeman on this one. Though I may be ignorant of some specific instant (and ignore the obvious nuclear launch codes or troop strategies), I see no reasons at all that preventing emberrassment (from what? Conspiring, being morally corrupted, warmongering or greedy and/or insane?) by keeping the people in the dark is helping us decide any better or protecting us in any which way.

    To me, the only thing that enables is for politicians to enable special interests to be in cohoots with these emberrassing parties without scrutiny. Hence, if you are soing something that requires secrecy it must, almost by definition, be unsavory to someone or at least enable and even aid/encourage such behavior. Hence the philosophy at wikileaks for transparency.

    I asked in the last discussion, but I have yet not seen convincing evidence of talk that could not be done without secrecy, it’s mostly talk that was only done because it was secret and reprehensible from what I see or talk that needed no secrecy because it was benign.

    Also important to note the cables are not ALL released in one huge dump, they are carefully edited and published, so far 2000 or so of the 200.000 have been published, not the whole thing.

    Secondly the cables are not from yesterday, so by that notion they can impossibly be distorting some time sensitive plan, just reveal it in retrospect, after the fact. I think this is a downside, talks should be done in full light of day. I feel political caste is alienating itself behind this veil of secrecy and elite power, they need to speak for us, say things we support hence stuff we would want to be known and would be proud of in public. If they are not capable, which obviously all govs so far haven’t been, because they will be cabal-izing their power and searching for ways to obscure it’s use, wd should elect others that do us proud.

    I don’t feel comfortable that a representative elected by our citizens can get it into it’s head to pretend he or she has mandate to talk with dictators and criminals from other nations in anything but scornful tone of dissaproval. Fuck diplomacy, people will not stop untipp the pressure is on. I am ashamed of the inaction our governments have shown towards Libya and other oil states, just to quench their thirst for cheap oil over the lives of millions, while enriching a small elite family of literally insane megalomaniacs.

    Now I have met people or limited intellect, empathy and knowledge that would support the torture of other for personal gain. They are legion, US is full of them, they are called fundamentalist capitalists. They like notions of social darwinism (misnomer if there ever was one), the strong shall rise, the weak shall work.

    But obviously one needs no superior intellect to manifest a world of empathy ane understanding that fascilitates a world without too much religious, conspiratorial and nationalistic conflict. How? By being open and honost and giving the right example. Tapping parties on the head or excluding them from the party if they don’t want to recipricate (evolutionary game theory, prisoner’s dillemma-style etc).

    That ought to foster cooperation, not competition, compassion, not egotism, etc.

    I’m no expert or exceptionally brainy lad myself, but I realize this much. Noone will trust you when people know you have secrets or are secretive and uncooperative. It’s just not a basis of trust.

    So I return to my question, what need is there for secrecy, when you wish to be represented by a morap government that expresses the sentiments of the citizens of the state and NOT the special interests of government/personal power, the corporate lobby or blatant self-interest at the cost of innocents from mentally unstable despots (that they put in powee under those secrecy laws as well, earlier).

    I understand all the points made above by the eloquent commenters, but I simply don’t see how secrecy is defendable anymore in the face of a near 100 year non-stop streak of radical abuse by private, personal and utterly malicious agendas through government.

    Therefore I think every single situation can be made better by direct world-wide scrutiny and direct accountability. And I admit I may be ahead of my time ans culture on this matter, (or sadly behind…?) and we will need cultural change as well to fascilitate the education of people to comprehend matters of state. Hell, even the scrutiny of 1 reporter would be enough to make a representative accountable in retrospect of action or utterance. Hell if I know what is to be the ideal form.

    Seems there is a task for government to outpace wikileaks and make it obsolete instead of moan like the power hungy fossils that see their power over special interests waning that they probably are. Resistant to change and accountability, as always.

    Glad to hear thoughts. As always forgive the typingerrors, i blame the Iphone it was done on and the late hour it was done at!

  26. Freeman

    @Mirik; Beds Warm, Company is Welcome, Feel free to stay the night…

    I’ve posted it before, so just scroll up and take a peek, Re: Secrecy, Mark Stevenson’s statements on the Industrail Revolution vs. the Information Age are not just poingiant, but should be heeded by EVERYONE, Especially those living in Safe, Rich, Western Enclaves…..

    We NEED to change the way we do “business as usual” because only we, the peoples of our Nation States, will suffer as consequence of inaction…..

  27. Mirik

    Will comment later after reading more.

    But quick newsflash; Crowley, secretary of state was pressured to resign after saying the treatment of Bradley Manning was “counterproductive & stupid” on twitter.

    In his resignation letter he said: “Exercise of power must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values”.

    Fuckers kicked out the only conscionable dude they had in office.

  28. Jon

    I don’t see that quote as anything other than common bloody sense. Saying it doesn’t mean he abides by it. His twitter comment was anything but prudent, meaning he doesn’t practice what he preaches.

    The very fact that he got on twitter, of all things, and made such a comment shows he has so very little situational awareness and tact that he does not belong in his position. Regardless of what he personally or professionally believes, you just can’t say things like that. He ‘self selected’ and we’re better off without someone so incognizant.

    By the way Crowley is the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. Even more damning…his entire job is to communicate with the public.

  29. Duncan Watson

    BS Jon, he deliberately said what he did knowing it would cause problems. But considering the treatment of Manning is unconstitutional and against Marine regs as well, his silence would be even more damning. There is nothing wrong with officials speaking truth. I find issues with you believing that it is his job to hide and cover up known illegal and immoral actions without comment.

  30. Freeman

    “By the beginning of the twenty-first century it was no longer realistically possible to see any difference between the rival cultures, although their outward forms of government continued to be called by different names. Both were police states in which the individual citizen had lost all right to juridical defense, and both operated under a totally controlled economy. In the West, the official term for this form of public policy was “anti-Communism”: in the East is was called “anti-Fascism,” and both terms were heavily laden with mob emotion.” – James Blish: Cities in Flight; Book Two: A Life for the Stars

    Thought it, once again, some what relevant to the reprisal…

    (But the third book in that compilation is, sadly, not worth reading)

  31. travis

    “BS Jon, he deliberately said ”

    Really? What’s your source for that? Or do you just ‘know’ people’s motives?

    Moreover this is an argument which SUPPORTS Jon’s position.

  32. Meins

    I really don’t see how the leak of diplomatic cables is going to result in any long term gain for anyone. Sure, right now it’s giving news outlets some juicy information on U.S foreign policy, but this will only last until the current data dump dries up. After that the only information diplomatic cables will contain is politically correct garbage. Which will be of no use to anyone, including policy makers in Washington.

  33. Paul

    Hi Richard. I’ve been meaning to dig into some of your works but I’ve been a little lazy. Just wanted to say I loved what you did with the Crysis 2 story. I know some are speaking ill of it, but I think they’re just too simple to appreciate subtletly and appropriately throttled exposition.

    Since everyone’s on about Wikileaks, I thought I’d offer my two cents. I think Jon was absolutely right about diplomacy being irreversibly affected by these leaks. I don’t think that’s as good as people seem to think. Every person and just about everything relies upon secrets to function. Not just warfighting. Capitalism, stock markets and most forms of competition need secrets. What state would you all be in now if you couldn’t filter the thoughts that came out of your own mouth?

    I use this analogy. You throw a neighbourhood party and one of your nosy, less scrupulous neighbours (Mr Nosy) goes digging through your wife’s bedroom and takes her diary. In this diary she’s made a few catty comments about the residents in your street. She’s made a comment in there about your loud and obnoxious neighbour who she jokes must be a psychotic war criminal because of the fact that he’s always screaming at his wife. Mr Nosy passes it to the narcissistic Mr Knows-it-all who is also at the party.

    Mr Knows-it-all decides to stick selected pages from the diary to lamp posts along the entire length of the street. Mr War Criminal stumbles home in a drunken stupor and comes across the entry that refers to him in a derogatory manner. Mr War Criminal kicks down your front door and murders your family with an axe.

    Would you vocally defend the right of Mr Nosy to share your wife’s innermost secrets?

    There’s nothing harmless about releasing this sort of information. People will and probably have died as a result of those kinds of releases. Are you going to call them necessary casualties? Try telling that to the families.

    At least a nation that keeps secrets has a serious degree of interest in the security of a large group of citizens. Many of which comprise that actual government. Wikileaks is a smaller group of intellectuals with limited situational awareness and far less oversight.

    While it would be thrilling to watch the next Bernie Madoff topple as the result of a leak, where will they draw the line? The mere fact that they feed things to the public in a piece-meal fashion reaks of manipulation. Aside from their own egos, who’s interests do they really have at heart? How and when would you know if they’d been compromised by outside influences?

  34. Tobes

    Hi all,
    So, I’m a bit behind the times on this one and probably spend too much time with my head in the sand;

    But, as they (British Government) curb our freedoms, deny our (mostly) peaceful voices of protest and invade our privacy and eavesdrop on our communications- all in the name of ‘The War on Terror'; they soothe us with the mantra.

    ‘If you have done nothing wrong then you have nothing to hide and therefore nothing to worry about’.

    Apologies if this irony has already been pointed out (head in sand again)

    Its been great to read all the posts, nice to see some educated dialogue in at least one form of media.
    @Richard- love the books, and thanks for making me think. Though I’m amazed they haven’t yet arrested you for ‘incitement to riot and publication of seditious materials': particularly after Broken Angels.
    Keep up the good work.

  35. Liam

    Just a quick note, This is a great thread, with good points all around. (I missed Adrian, so I’ll let that one go through to the keeper/catcher)

    I just wanted to say how pleasant and surprising to find such intelligent well thought out points on an SF Writers Blog. If only the news did this…..

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