Dorothy Parker, LCD Soundsystem, Paul Auster, Bob Dylan, John Coltrane, Jack Kerouac, Jimmy Hendrix, Billie Holiday, Muhammed Ali, MC5, Hunter S. Thompson, Blondie, Joel & Ethan Coen, Bruce Springsteen, Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Depp…
At times such as these, when America behaves more like a belligerent teenager than the Land of the Free/Home of the Brave, my friend and co-writer Mark Woff advises to take a minute out of your day to compile your own variation on the above list. The aim is to hopefully cheer you up a little and remind yourself that a nation responsible for nurturing such a list of talents can’t be completely beyond hope and redemption.
I feel it is important to keep this in mind when considering what looks to be about to become the case of USA v WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. The extent to which America is focusing on punishing the source of the information rather than addressing the more pressing concerns contained within it almost defies belief. Sure, diplomats, you got caught with your pants down. But worrying about the secrecy of a database that can be accessed by millions of people does appear to involve a certain amount of stable door slamming post-exit by horse.
Of greater importance to this writer are the fascinating insights into the cozy pillow talk between governments and corporations as they conspire to brutally stitch up their countries’ populations and of how just how relaxed they can be when lying about details some would find electorally embarrassing:
The leaks make it abundantly clear not just that the US-Anglo-European adventure in Afghanistan is doomed but, more important, that the American, British and other Nato governments privately admit that too.
The problem is that they cannot face their electorates – who also happen to be the taxpayers funding this folly – and tell them this. The leaked dispatches from the US ambassador to Afghanistan provide vivid confirmation that the Karzai regime is as corrupt and incompetent as the South Vietnamese regime in Saigon was when the US was propping it up in the 1970s. And they also make it clear that the US is as much a captive of that regime as it was in Vietnam
Also of lasting importance is the wider war being fought by WikiLeaks, alongside this particular battle, as it has far-ranging implications for the freedom of information on the internet. As Richard Wilson writes in his excellent article:
The very existence of Wikileaks also seemed to point towards a larger question – how durable is the scale of freedom that has developed on the internet in recent years? Will the net really lead to a permanent “redistribution of data” – the mass availability of information previously so jealously guarded by the media and political elites? Or will the current era come to be seen as a short-lived blip – an involuntarily loosening of controls that lasted only as long as it took for the elites to figure out the dynamics of the new technology, devise new systems for bringing it under control, and develop the political means to apply those systems worldwide?
However, none of these arguments should be taken to imply that Assange is himself beyond suspicion, at the very least as Justin McKeating argues, he is guilty of being a ‘great honking idiot’. While Modernity reminds us that governments are not above using indirect means such as court actions to target those they perceive as enemies, if there is a case to be answered on the charges, he should answer it. Perhaps I am displaying a naive believe in the rule of law, but if the case is dismissed, it is rendered redundant as a tool to smear Assange and the WikiLeaks project. Greater damage is done by declaring him to be innocent or above the law because of his actions in leaking the documents, even if, as noted by Katrin Axelsson of Women Against Rape, it does appear strange that he has been hunted across the globe for a crime with staggeringly low conviction rates in both Sweden and the UK.
To anyone with an acquaintance, either from memory or through the writing of Hunter S.Thompson and others, of those dark days at the end of the Sixties that saw a political class create the My Lai massacre, the Kent State shootings and the Watergate burglary, it must appear that this is all familiar territory, that America is indeed doomed to repeat its history having failed to learn the lessons the first time around. In such circumstances, we do well to remember that it is better to be a Daniel Ellsberg than a Richard Nixon.
The final word goes, as ever, to this man:
In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act
– George Orwell