Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Blocked pipes are bound to burst

Hey, anyone remember Vietnam? All those disturbing images we’ve no doubt seen. Remember how courageous journalists, working on the ground, risking life and limb brought the war home to millions of Americans on the nightly news? And don’t forget, those very images helped shape public perception of the conflict and ultimately led to increased pressure on the government to end the war. Well, if you somehow missed all that, the Pentagon is very grateful.

After the last troops left Vietnam, Pentagon brass held various meetings to discuss what went wrong with public opinion of the war. Their conclusion: absolute freedom for journalists in American war zones undermined American military interests. I mean, how can a government control perceptions of unpopular ventures that hemorrhage tax-payer money and result in thousands of deaths? Simple, any journalists wishing to be embedded with U.S. troops are subject to strict regulations on what they can and cannot show or tell the American public. Whereas it was the good old American press that reported the massacre at Mai Lai, it took a third party to expose similar actions perpetrated by U.S., coalition and independently contracted troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. For anyone without a television, Internet access or ears, that third party is WikiLeaks.

Well known for releasing classified scientology documents, WikiLeaks made an international splash in April with the release of classified footage showing an American attack helicopter massacring over a dozen people, including two members of the Reuters news staff. Now, of course I’ve watched the footage, and to be honest, it wasn’t that surprising. It’s well known that war is anything but clear cut, especially when the enemy consists of various local insurgent cells. And yes, if you watch closely, the Reuters journalists were rolling with a pretty well armed crew. However, it was the way in which the pilots described the situation that had me most surprised.

Again, I get it, war sucks and if it came down to a “me or you” situation I’d always pick me. But actually seeing the reality that these pilots – both of which are no doubt around my own age – confront everyday and how they have chosen to deal with it made me question my own perceptions of the war as it no doubt did for countless Americans. This is the effect WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hoped the disclosure of the video would have and why, three months later, the site released the Afghanistan war logs to much international clamor.

Once again the pundits and experts were quick to lambast Assange and WikiLeaks for undermining national security, aiding “the terrorists” and otherwise ruining everything for everybody.

“The terrorists now know how our troops communicate! The mission is doomed!”

Well, I hate to break it to you and maybe this is me going out on a limb, but I’m pretty sure our enemies already know a lot about how our troops communicate, seeing as they are engaged in an active war with them. I will even go as far as to say that our enemies probably knew the information in the Afghanistan war logs way before Assange and his cadre got a hold of the information. Regardless, no one here at home seemed to care much either way until WikiLeaks followed up with the release of the Iraq war diaries three months later.

“Yeah, civilian deaths, whatever, that’s just war.” seemed to be the consensus.

So here we are again a month later, and WikiLeaks has dropped another information bomb on the American public in the form of 250,000 U.S. Embassy diplomatic cables.

“Kill the traitor!” shout government officials.

“The terrorists are going to kill us all as a direct result of this information!” scream panicked pundits.

“This will undermine all efforts at future diplomacy,” caution the political scientists.

The general consensus in some circles is that Assange has crossed a line this time. Exposing war as brutal might have been a slight annoyance to policymakers, but war is war, there’s no way around that fact. What these cables represent, however, is a level of hypocritical foreign and domestic policy that even the most paranoid conspiracy theorists couldn’t have foreseen. We are fighting two wars for freedom and democracy, but heaven forbid another country contests our actions – cough, Spain, cough.

Foreign policy aside, these cables and the international reaction surrounding them are unbelievably frightening. Since the end of the Vietnam War, our government has relied on increasing secrecy in order to pursue agendas which often stand in direct opposition to public opinion. If there was ever any doubt to this statement, these cables should serve as proof of our representative body’s true motives.

The information in the cables comes as a surprise, but what really surprises me is the lack of widespread outrage in light of the information released by WikiLeaks over the past year. Our government is pursuing destructive agendas around the globe in our name. Now that they have been called out, all they can say is, “You people are too stupid to know how important all of this is. We’ve had to keep it all a secret so that we can keep you safe.”

Uncomfortable, publically disclosed information ended the Vietnam War. The reporters weren’t crucified by the media, they didn’t face bogus criminal allegations and they certainly weren’t fired or charged with treason. They were telling it like it was and trusted that the American public would know what was in their best interest.

Max Calloway is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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    craisedDec 5, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Assange has done more for Democracy, as in the right of people to direct the actions of their government, than the entire Western world has done since WWII. That’s why the United States government is so pissed off: it despises the right of people to know what their government is up to with their tax dollars. It didn’t want Pakistanis to know of their government’s complicity in the drone strikes. It didn’t want to admit that the puppet government in Afghanistan was riddled with corruption, even though the State Department has been aware of this fact since the beginning. Just like it didn’t want it getting out that we have been systematically destroying democratic institutions, from Iran to Vietnam to Argentina to Palestine, because reality might upset some of it’s electorate.

    Sure, Assange is kind of a douchebag. You don’t think Patrick Henry was? Churchill? However, the marketing ploy of providing this narrative and stringing along the releases has kept this in the news far longer than the previous leaks. It’s unfortunate that the mass media, which is owned by corporations, has no self-interest in the truth anymore. But the last hole that can be exploited is the desire to keep their ratings up, and he has done well to exploit this weakness in the system.