Two ways exist of looking at WikiLeaks, the site that publicizes secret military documents and videos. The first is held self-interestedly by the Pentagon and by Fox News, the voice of an angry lower-middle class without too much education. These believe that Wikileakers are traitors, haters of America, who give aid and comfort to the enemy and endanger the lives of Our Boys.
Implicit in the Foxian view is a vague idea that the leaks give away important — well, stuff. You know, maybe frequencies of something or other, or locations of ambushes or, well, things. Important things. The Taliban will use this information to kill American soldiers. The notion is vague, as are those who hold it, but emotionally potent.
The other view, held usually by people who have some experience of Washington, is that the Pentagon is worried not about the divulging of tactical secrets, but about public relations. WikiLeaks doesn't endanger soldiers, insists this way of looking at things, but the war itself, and all the juiceful contracts and promotions and so on entailed by wars.
Which is obvious if you look at what the military (the president, remember, is commander-in-chief) actually does. Remember the military's frantic efforts to suppress the photos of torture at Abu Ghraib, photos of prisoners lying in pools of blood while grinning girl soldiers play with them? These had zero tactical importance. They did however threaten to arouse the Pentagon's worst enemy.
The American public.
In recent decades the military has almost achieved its wettest dream, the separation of wars from the American population. The fielding of a small volunteer army prevents the riots on campus that helped to end the adventure in Asia long ago. Embedding reporters with combat units pretty much prevents coverage that might upset people. The media for whatever reasons are now complicit, declining to air what really happens on the ground. All of this allows ghastly behavior, which is what wars always produce, to go forward with little opposition.
Ah, but leaks, YouTube, holes in the wall of silence — these pose real threats to the flow of contracts.
If you don't think that contracts — money — have a great deal to do with wars, reflect that all those hundreds of billions of dollars end up in pockets, and those pockets do not belong to soldiers. Makers of body armor, boots, ammunition, helicopters, on and on, are rolling in gravy. All this half-watched loot flows in cataracts at the price of at most sixty dead American kids a month (and lots of brain-damaged droolers, but what the hey). A bargain. Afghans don't count.
Note that the Pentagon's orchestrated screaming has not been about technical data that might in fact get GIs killed, but about revelation of the ugly things the US is doing to people. Consider the footage of an American helicopter gunship killing pedestrians in a city street, and apparently having just a swell time doing it. This didn't reveal military secrets. But it showed the gunship crew as the butchers they are. Bad juju for the military. PR is all.
The pattern holds. Remember when the White House furiously suppressed video of torture? The Taliban would have garnered no tactically devastating details. But men screaming, choking, crying, bleeding, begging — even the patriotic might gag.
Why are the fun and games at Guantanamo kept secret? Watching a man die under torture does not make it easier for the Taliban to ambush Marines. In no way would it endanger American forces. But it would endanger the war. The golden goose.
Then there was the photo of the hideously wounded and dying GI that was (miraculously) published in the New York Times. SAD Robert Gates (Secretary of Alleged Defense) said that the publication was irresponsible. Oh? How so? The Taliban could have gotten no militarily useful pointers from seeing an expanse of red gushing meat (the leg looked to have been nearly severed). But people in Kansas might look and think twice about the war.
The whole profitable circus rides on keeping things abstract. The war isn't children looking at their entrails in brief puzzlement as they bleed to death. (Just what do you think happens when you bomb a village?) No. It is about Islamo-fascism, the Gates of Vienna, national security, the War on Terror, and it is done with precision weapons that kill only the evil ones.
Remember when Bush II forbade the photographing of coffins coming back into Dover AFB (I think it was)? That lamentable president said the prohibition was to protect the privacy of the dead. (The inside of an anonymous coffin isn't private?) Those photos contained no military information — but they could have made the public think. Bad. Very bad.
The Taliban can keep the war going, which is fine for the military, but they can't end it. The American public could. No more contracts.
Can you think of a single instance in which the information to be revealed was of military value? The detailed workings of an IED detector? The name of a Talibani secretly working with the US? The date and place of an attack by a team of Special Forces? Or is the suppression always aimed at keeping Americans in the dark?
There is of course a great deal to hide in any war, but particularly in one such as that in Afghanistan. In any guerrilla war, the soldiers quickly come to hate the locals. In Afghanistan, as in Viet Nam, virtually no American speaks the language, the intelligence outfits are clueless, the troops don't really care who they kill, and pilots bomb according to their own or some intel weenie's guess as to who they see on the ground. Atrocities, intended or not, occur daily. All of this has to be lied about, concealed, papered over. Concealed from the American public, I mean. The Afghans already know about it.
It works. A decade into the war, Fox cheerleads onward, interviewing former CIA thisses and military thats, generating a warm glow of togetherness aimed perhaps more at liberals than at the Islamo-whatevers. The Wickileakers are putting Our Boys in danger as they risk their lives for Freedom and Democracy.
Next to sex, the strongest human instinct seems to be to form groups and hate other groups. I have long suspected that the bulk of humanity has more glands than neurons. It never changes. I need a drink.
July 31, 2010
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. His latest book is Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle. Visit his blog.
Copyright © 2010 Fred Reed