Our grandfathers knew that it was wrong to divulge information that could hurt our forces–even if it was as “innocent” a matter as telling a neighbor when you expected your family member to come home. We’ve lost that perspective. I darsay we’ve even lost the sense of being a nation at war. We don’t have sacrifices to make, there is no draft, there is no rationing, there are few deaths (in comparison with our other wars). And so we think we can behave as if our actions have no consequences.
Thus people can discuss the release of classified documents to WikiLeaks without taking it seriously, as the release of classified information in time of war. Rod Dreher discusses the moral issues, but I don’t think even he gets it.
Rod quotes the New York Times, which says, “Most of the incident reports are marked ‘secret,’ a relatively low level of classification.” Relative, maybe. But few people in the military have that level of clearance. I do, but the majority of soldiers in my battalion do not. Even fewer have a “top secret” clearance–I don’t. To obtain a “secret” clearance, you are subject to a significant background check.You make promises not to divulge information you have access to.
Rod says, “the document dump was a moral act, insofar as it allows the citizenry to measure the chances of American success against the government’s word.” Really? For whom? For WikiLeaks as a “neutral” dumpster? For the New York Times? You cannot argue it was moral for the person who did it–they betrayed the trust placed in them. They committed treason.
On the other hand, what if a similar organization had, during the Battle of Britain, dumped discouraging British military reports that were pessimistic about the nation’s ability to hold out against the Luftwaffe. Would that truth-telling have been a moral act? It seems to me that it clearly would not have been. Could the difference, then, be the stakes?
So, must a battle be raging and the information leaked be directly related to that battle for its release to be immoral? How many deaths must result for the consequences to break the back of the moral camel?
I don’t think the morality of the act can be determined by the number of people affected–the morality lies in the trust placed by the nation in the people who had access to it.
Yes, WikiLeaks changes the espionage game. It allows spies and traitors to dump information into the public realm–but the fact is the same, it still gives information to the enemy in the time of war. That others besides the enemy also have access to the information is irrelevant. And make no mistake–this will affect soldiers on the ground. It paints a target on their backs.
But let’s say for a moment that the person who released the info was in fact trying to save American lives. Let us argue that he was committing an act of “civil disobedience” to draw attention to dangerous policies–even crimes. Then, I think, he (or she) needs to come forward and justify the act–and accept the consequences.