The Common Good

Wikileaks, Truth Tellers, and a Crisis of Conscience

I've been staying with friends over the summer as I make my way slowly to North Carolina for divinity school, and I have been enjoying a few luxuries that I'm not used to, like television. I finally get to watch Stewart and Colbert live before bed instead of on the Internet over a bowl of cereal, for example. One show I have been ironically interested in (as an avowed pacifist) has been the reality show Top Shot, where marksmen compete for a prize on teams.

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The other thing that has surprised me is just how overwhelming the news outlets can be. Nonstop news, really? The subject that has captured my attention most has been the release of 90,000 documents on the war in Afghanistan. Apparently this is seen as some watershed moment, revealing how poorly that particular conflict has been waged. (It's not like more than 70 combat veterans already made that case over two years ago. Where was the "24-hour news cycle" for that one?)

Obviously, I'm not happy with the talking points being associated with the Wikileaks fiasco, and not just because I am intimately familiar with the charges of aiding the enemies of America. Like the accusations that were once leveled against me by my commander, these indictments, as well as those of causing harm to or endangering our service members, reflects a misleading half-truth. They attempt to hastily redirect blame, or at least assign someone else a disproportionate amount of the responsibility.

It is safe to assume that PFC Manning, who is now incarcerated and facing numerous charges, is the same person who released these documents. We need to recognize that Manning did not simply wake up one morning and begin collecting data (nor can I find any evidence that he is profiting materially from his disclosure). He faced a crisis of conscience over knowing certain truths and being told to "shut up" about what he discovered. He is, by all intents and purposes, a whistleblower. There are laws in place to protect his actions, but since he is a service member, let's just go ahead and forget about that.

Here is what I don't get: What is empowering our enemies more -- the fact that the events being described are occurring (which, by the way, insurgents in Afghanistan don't need Manning to tell them), or that an American service member, charged with protecting our Constitutive principles, has wrestled the truth to the fore? What is being endangered more -- military members who are aware of and accept the great burden of martial conduct, or the political ambition of military brass and the reputation of a particular administration? This top-heavy defensive posturing is not without precedent of course. Wasn't a certain General 'allowed' to resign for conduct exponentially worse than that of a Lieutenant who eventually faced no less than two courts-martial?

All these diversionary tactics being employed by military pundits reminds me of a recent episode of Top Shot. In this particular episode, a couple of members of the blue team hatch a plan to oust two better-performing guys off the team. They gamble by cluing in another blue team member, whose principles are such that he informs the two who are being conspired against. The rest of the show follows the original conspirator, who compulsively accuses the whistleblower of being a "ratfink," completely ignoring the fact that the turmoil originated with himself, but we nonetheless watch as he grasps at straws to redirect attention, to deflect responsibility.

All the while, all I could think of is how one-sided and childish this guy was, which was not being helped by his peculiar choice of explicative. The most frustrating part of it all? The whistleblower loses in the end. In both cases.

portrait-logan-laituriLogan Laituri is an Army veteran with combatant service in Iraq during OIF II and experience with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Israel and the West Bank. He blogs sporadically and is a co-founder of Centurion's Guild.

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