I’ll get to the title at the end, so hold off your anger for bit as I explain what’s behind my thinking on this matter.
As Americans I think it is easy to take for granted our right of free press. Enshrined in the first amendment alongside freedom of religion and the freedom to assemble the rights of free speech and press in many ways define what being an American is. These rights do not by any means imply that the government has to tell us everything or even anything. But they do mean that we can say what it is we wish to say, this is a powerful and largely irritating right we simply could not exist without.
Think about it, what we are doing right here and now cannot be done all over the world. Every step in the process of creating one of these blog posts (from reading a provocative news article to anonymously posting our own opinion online) is somehow restricted in most of the world.
In much of Latin America journalists have survived fighting their governments for a free press only to be restricted by organized crime syndicates attempting (and often succeeding) in scaring journalists into self-executed censorship.
The Blogfather of Iran, Hossein Derakhshan, was sentenced a month ago to 20 years in jail for his past criticisms of the government, allegedly supporting Iran’s enemies and insulting Islam. Despite his more recent turn to defending the Ahmadinejad government the blogger was nabbed by authorities in 2008 and is unlikely to be released any time soon.
In China, freedom of press is enshrined in the constitution, but never does a news story or book goes to press without the censor’s hand touching it. Recently a former defense official asked a provoking question:
How would Marx have coped with the restrictions on civil liberties evident in China today? He would have needed government permission to publish his Communist Manifesto, and this would have been refused.“You say our capitalist system will disappear!” Mr Xin imagined priggish 19th-century English censors exclaiming. “You can’t say that!”
Freedom of speech is irksome, especially if someone you disagree with has a loud and/or irritating voice. (à mon avis, Christine O’Donnell)
Or if the message is offensive and reprehensible (for example, the Westboro Baptist Church folks, they’re downright despicable and I’m quite ashamed to share a species with them)
But regardless, in this country freedom of speech has become one of our core and defining values, something we seek to hold on to. We criticize other parts of the world for not being able to stand up to our standard. But freedom of speech has to, for lack of a better pun, find its own voice. You cannot tell someone to speak freely, that would rather defeat the purpose. We also cannot instruct others as to what is right to say. This means accepting criticism from around the world, grateful for the saying though maybe irritated by the words.
In countries with oppressive regimes the sound of dissidents on paper or on the Internet is the prelude to dissidents on the street, or so such regimes seem to feel. So perhaps it is best for us (and by association the world as well) to challenge governments to stand before the flames of public opinion and like us, be forged in surviving.
This cartoon comes from CagleCartoons.com and is attributed to Paresh Nath, The Khaleej Times, UAE. So, I’m not the only one struck by how not new this piece of news is.
This is of course, about Wikileaks. I browsed through the documents for a few minutes and didn’t see much that I hadn’t already heard or read elsewhere. Civilians die in wars (really?!) Militaries purposefully downplay “advanced interrogation” (wow, never knew that!) The government doesn’t tell us everything (WHAT?!)
To be serious, I don’t know enough about what the Wikileaks leaked to get upset by it. I agree with the previous poster – RoareeTheLion – that aside from embarrassment the leaks do not change the game in Iraq. These leaks pale in comparison to the Pentagon Papers, which did contain information the public previous had not known. Though, like the Pentagon papers, these leaks are now part of the record of a long, complex conflict. They make historians happy and soldiers less so. But unlike the Pentagon Papers I do not see students in 2050 buying copies of “The Wikileaks” in a History of the Iraq War survey course. They simply aren’t that important in the grand scheme.
Get mad at the New York Times for dedicating a page to the Wikileaks if it makes you feel better. But they are doing their job, displaying information for the public to peruse. Freedom of press allows them to do it and perhaps they should. If anyone is to be the target of anger find the guy who leaked the documents first, Bradley Manning, and yell at him a bit. He did steal classified documents, that's not right by any measure. But even then, I do not see what is so radical about the information in the leaks and I find claims that they endanger American soldiers to be overblown. Everything I’ve read so far that comes from Wikileaks merely puts in military jargon information already publicized or speculated in one format or another.
So chill out.
Such an event anywhere else in the world would have been riotous. Even though the pieces of information confirmed and restated by Wikileaks are decidedly not things to thump our chests in pride over, the banality of the whole affair is. This is why I'm proud of the Wikileaks leak, I'm proud of the fact that such information can be shared and while enrages some for this and that reason, people are not burning down the Pentagon or storming the steps of Congress (despite the fact no one is there at the moment).
Hate the Wikileaks, but be proud of your nation and its values. I am.