What IF China had a WikiLeaks?

Earlier this week, Tom Friedman had a column in which he “couldn’t help but wonder: What if China had a WikiLeaker…?”

It was a good column as far as it went, because it highlighted the way self-destructive American partisan gridlock prevents us as a nation from facing the future wisely and pragmatically — unlike the Chinese. So it was that he imagined a leaked Chinese diplomatic message that said in part:

Things are going well here for China. America remains a deeply politically polarized country, which is certainly helpful for our goal of overtaking the U.S. as the world’s most powerful economy and nation. But we’re particularly optimistic because the Americans are polarized over all the wrong things.

There is a willful self-destructiveness in the air here as if America has all the time and money in the world for petty politics. They fight over things like — we are not making this up — how and where an airport security officer can touch them….

Americans just had what they call an “election.” Best we could tell it involved one congressman trying to raise more money than the other (all from businesses they are supposed to be regulating) so he could tell bigger lies on TV more often about the other guy before the other guy could do it to him. This leaves us relieved. It means America will do nothing serious to fix its structural problems: a ballooning deficit, declining educational performance, crumbling infrastructure and diminished immigration of new talent.

The ambassador recently took what the Americans call a fast train — the Acela — from Washington to New York City. Our bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin would have made the trip in 90 minutes. His took three hours — and it was on time! Along the way the ambassador used his cellphone to call his embassy office, and in one hour he experienced 12 dropped calls — again, we are not making this up. We have a joke in the embassy: “When someone calls you from China today it sounds like they are next door. And when someone calls you from next door in America, it sounds like they are calling from China!” Those of us who worked in China’s embassy in Zambia often note that Africa’s cellphone service was better than America’s.

But the Americans are oblivious. They travel abroad so rarely that they don’t see how far they are falling behind. Which is why we at the embassy find it funny that Americans are now fighting over how “exceptional” they are. Once again, we are not making this up…

Very good points — the kinds of smart points that you expect Tom Friedman to make, which is why he’s one of my favorite columnists. But I was still disappointed on a gut level, because I had expected the column to answer the rhetorical question with an even blunter, simpler, more obvious truth.

As it happened, WSJ columnist Daniel Henninger today provided the straightforward three-word answer that Friedman did not (the boldfacing is mine):

China’s security solution is to suppress the flow of information, let creativity be damned, and steal from us. (The New York Times’s Thomas Friedman yesterday asked: “What if China had a WikiLeaker?” The three-word answer: They’d execute him.)

Henninger is not usually one of my faves, but this was a pretty decent column about how tough it is, bordering on futility, to prevent such leaks in the Internet age.

And my disappointment aside, Mr. Friedman’s column was excellent as well, because it, too, said things that need to be said over and over.

But it occurred to me that, whether you’re concerned that our nation isn’t pursuing the right priorities for our future competitiveness, or just outraged that the U.S. government hasn’t taken serious action to find, apprehend and lock up that sleazebag Julian Assange for the rest of his life and then some, the roots of the problem are the same.

I’ll put it this simply: The lack of national consensus. Or another way, a perverse refusal to acknowledge that we’re all in this together, and act accordingly.

I try to imagine someone like Julian Assange wandering free anywhere in the world controlled by allies of this country back, say, in the 1940s. And I can’t. There would have been such a powerful sense of a shared national interest, and instantaneous consensus that someone leaking classified military data and confidential diplomatic communications was the enemy of this country that effective action would have been taken to stop him.

Today, a creep like Assange exploits the HUGE division in our country over our role in the world. (We can’t even decide whether we’re fighting one or two wars.) Now before my antiwar friends loudly protest that I’m blaming them for not getting with the program, note that I am NOT. I’m not blaming either doves or hawks. It’s the GAP between us itself that I blame. That’s the No Man’s Land in which Assange walks with impunity. Only after diplomatic communications were compromised this week did we achieve anything like a consensus of outrage between left and right, and thus far even that is too tepid to lead to effective action. (Oh, and by the way, I’m not suggesting we be as ruthless as the Chinese. But somewhere between the harshness of that system and the utterly helpless fecklessness of ours today lies a rational medium, an effective course of action for liberal democracies that hope to survive.)

As for Mr. Friedman’s concerns… go back to that same time — the war years, and just after — and look at the way we formed consensus to do profoundly bold and intelligent things to provide for a better future for our own country and the rest of the world that we suddenly dominated: the GI Bill, the Marshall Plan, the interstate highway system, the policies that boosted homeownership, and on and on.

Today, we find it impossible to come up with a coherent, rational energy policy or keep our infrastructure up to date or deal with the deficit or accomplish anything else requiring bold action because ANY bold action envisioned by the right or the left will be fought, vilified, trashed and frustrated to the utmost of the opposition’s ability (and they’ll do so not because of any merit or lack of merit in the idea, but because the other side came up with it). And again, I’m not blaming either the right or the left, but the GAP, and the insane tit-for-tat game that BOTH sides think is more important than the real needs of the nation.

So whatever you think about the implications of a hypothetical Chinese WikiLeaker, the problem is the same.

It’s a problem that has so integrated itself into our public life that it’s hard even to think of a way out. It’s like a tumor with tentacles slithering to wrap themselves around every fold of the victim’s brain — very tough to remove. I don’t really know how to get to where we need to be. Except, of course, to vote UnParty (if ever given the chance).

37 thoughts on “What IF China had a WikiLeaks?

  1. bud

    Brad you have this about as far wrong as you have ever gotten anything ever. Just look at the list of great accomplishments you cited: GI Bill, Marshall Plan, Interstate Highways, home ownership initiatives. Those, along with medicare, social security, Apollo, social security, civil rights are ALL liberal achievements fought tooth and nail by the conservative naysayers.

    And it’s even worse today. Now we have this watered-down health care bill than could still do some good things for millions of Americans but it too is frustrated by conservatives.

    Even something as sensible as START, a treaty that could save the US and Russia billions, is held up by conservatives. What the heck is that about?

    No, America’s problems aren’t the result of partisan bickering they’re the result of conservative obstructionism. If we could simply unleash American ingenuity to solve problems we’d have high-speed rail and a far better infrastructure. But it won’t happen until we achieve some level of liberal pragmatism. As long as the GOP and it’s tea party doomsdayers continue with their tax cuts for the wealthy and endless wars we’ll never have a progressive, modern nation. So let’s get off this “blame the partisans” nonsense and call it for what it is: Obstructionism by the failures of conservative thinking, AKA entitlements for the rich.

    Heck I think the Wikileaks dude deserves a medal. He as least is able to demonstrate how shoddy our national security infrastructure has become. And it’s all because of the GOPs insistance on welfare for billionaires.

  2. Doug Ross

    Yeah, let’s kill Assange for daring to expose 100% factual information that a very small minority of people feel the great unwashed American public have no right to know about.

    He puts the evidence out there and lets people decide what it means rather than be spoonfed by the government and the media. How horrible!

    America – right or wrong (and if we’re wrong, you have no business knowing anyway).

  3. Brad

    Let’s compromise, bud: We can give him a nice medal just before we stand him against the wall.

    But seriously, folks…

    Again we have a cognitive divide. You’re perfectly right to complain against the obstructionism of the right. But you’re perfectly blind not to see the obstructionism of the left.

    Just this morning on NPR, they played a clip of Obama announcing several months ago that he was lifting the ban on offshore drilling, and went on to talk about how he got REAMED for it by the kneejerk types on the left. As founder of the Energy Party, I see the left as every bit as much an obstacle as the right, as each side resists common-sense measures for achieving energy independence. The right stands in the way of real investment in alternative energy, public transport and strengthening CAFE standards. The left stands in the way of drilling in ANWR (or anywhere else) and nuclear energy. Both sides, for different ideological reasons (not to mention petty political self-preservation) resist raising gas taxes.

    Isolationists on the left and right, from you to Pat Buchanan, resist the United States playing the role in the world that it has a responsibility and obligation (to its own interests and those of allies) to play.

    Oh, another case of obstructionism from the left I heard referred to today (also on NPR): Resistance to raising the age of full Social Security eligibility, even by a year.

    I could go on and on…

  4. Brad

    As for Doug’s comment — of course, I said nothing of the kind. But I despair of Bud or Doug being open and amenable to what I actually DID say. Hopefully, some of you out there will get my point…

  5. Doug Ross

    I didn’t say you said that (although it sure SEEMS like you imply it). There are plenty of people (William Kristol for one) who think the answer IS to kill Assange. It is that attitude that scares me more than any partisanship.

  6. Bob

    I agree with you, Brad, and am a supporter of the Unparty. In my reading of your blog, Doug and bud epitomize the political polarization in our country. At times I agree with both but never on the same subject, and the same goes for Republicans and Democrats (and I AM NOT calling Doug a Republican and bud a Democrat).

    This polarization has disenfranchised many independents; there are many people not participating because of “willful self-destructiveness” and “petty politics.”

  7. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Okay, I stand with Doug and bud. Assange, who may be a sexual assaulter and thus indeed a scumbag, is not a scumbag for revealing information improperly concealed from us.

    and I oppose off shore drilling–we need to protect our oceans, not have another Gulf Oil spill, and if it weren’t for Sarah Palin chanting drill, baby, drill, many people on the right would agree with me….we need to heed Friedman’s conjecture–if climate change is a hoax, changing to non-fossil fuels will be temporarily painful, but free us from dependence on foreign oil and environment-damaging domestic oil, as well as giving us cleaner air and cheaper energy in the long run. If there actually is climate change, which almost every qualified scientist agrees there is–more than 98%–we’re already late dealing with it.

  8. Brad

    Kathryn, what on Earth do you mean, “information improperly concealed from us”? If you don’t understand the need to protect sources in a war zone, how about a little respect for diplomatic communications, which have been considered a proper area for discretion as long as there’s been any sort of civilization?

    Are you saying that there’s no such thing as the national interest? Or is it only served if you, personally, have access to every confidential communication?

    AND… while the goal should be getting off of fossil fuels ASAP, “as soon as possible” is still decades away. You think we’ve got economic troubles now? Cut off fossil fuels today, and watch us descend into something that would make the Great Depression look like a picnic.

    We’re going to have to consume them for now, and as long as we have to, of COURSE we need to stop buying the stuff from the Saudis and the Venezuelans and such. We need to defund the people who are enemies of liberal democracy, from Caracas to Moscow. As for Mother Earth, I have far more faith in our ability to minimize environmental harm than I do in the ability, nay, even the willingness, of other regimes to do so.

  9. Brad

    All of which is to say, that’s why we need the Energy Party approach.

    Oh, and Kathryn — a scumbag is a scumbag. Don’t try to parse him so finely, especially not in order to excuse him for undermining our national security. There’s nothing lower than a rapist, but I care even more about the lives of the people we send into harm’s way — both our own people, and the information sources we depend upon.

  10. Doug Ross


    I am so far from an Republican it isn’t even worth trying to dissuade you. I am a man without a party….which is also 180 degrees from the Unparty.

  11. Bob

    Doug, I anticipated your response and that is why I purposefully said you are not a Repulican! I am also a man with no party (the Unparty does not practically exist); I pride myself in being a policy wonk who sees things outside our ineffective two-party system.

  12. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    I am saying that so far, no Wikileaks leaks have been dangerous to national security or our troops so bravely fighting. Don’t exaggerate my position.

    I’m also saying that Julian Assange is accused, but not convicted, of sexual assault. If he in fact committed the assault, he is a scumbag. He is not a scumbag for disseminating any information I am aware of at this time. This is not to say that he might not disseminate damaging information in the future. He might also become a contestant on Dancing With the Stars, but until he does, I will not judge him harshly for it.

    His scumbag status has not be adequately established at this point in our discovery.

  13. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Oh, and the “people we send into harm’s way” are volunteers who are paid. Rape victims are not. Big difference, even to a jingoist like you, I should think.

    I didn’t falsely conflate Assange’s two strains of accusations. He is noted for his Wikileaks activities and also for being an accused sexual assailant (whatever the particulars of that are, they are unknown to me). Both are in the news and both are relevant to judging his character.

  14. Brad

    Jingoist? Hmmm. So I’m a jingoist if I believe we owe a moral obligation to support and protect our troops, rather than considering the obligation voided because the are paid volunteers, as though the fact that they are professionals renders them mere hessians?

    OK, if that’s the definition of jingoist, then call me one. Because I’m not going to stand by and make excuses for someone who deliberately goes out of his way to undermine their security.

  15. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    He does not “deliberately go out of his way to undermine their security.” He deliberately goes out of his way (which seems kind of redundant) to expose the perfidy of our governments. Reports indicate that he has not compromised troop security, so cut with the straw man arguments.

    In addition, you are misstating my position, again. I did not say our obligations to our troops are voided because they are volunteers. I said volunteer troops are appropriately accorded less concern than rape victims. Troops signed up for and are paid to be at some risk, albeit a risk that should be minimized as much as practicable. Rape is a crime. I also said that there is a line and that disclosures should not unduly risk our troops, but that Assange has reportedly not crossed it.

  16. Brad

    The redundancy was intentional, for emphasis. This jerk has gone to great lengths to undermine the United States, including the exposure of classified military information.

    “Assange has reportedly not crossed it.” Under the definitions of what universe. In a display of unparalleled arrogance, he has taken it upon himself to expose information that has been deemed classified by duly constituted authorities. He has NO right whatsoever to do so, and in any sense of the rule of law his actions constitute a hostile act against this country and its laws. There is no way that civilized people should sit still for such actions.

    And what “perfidy,” pray tell? In all the coverage of this disgusting, never-ending affair, I have somehow missed the bits about the perfidy. But even if he had disclosed what you or perhaps Bud or Doug (sorry, guys, if I’ve dragged you in unfairly; I’ll retract if I have — I just didn’t want to leave Kathryn out there on her own) regard as “perfidy,” it was none of his bloody business to do so. This wasn’t an American engaging in a political debate in this country, a la Daniel Ellsberg. This was a foreign national engaging in a deliberate, extended series of hostile acts against this nation, aided and abetted by one or more American traitors. And yes, “traitor” is the word one uses for people in positions of their countries’ trust who betray that trust by providing information to hostile parties.

  17. Jesse S.

    All in all, the man himself comes across as either a creep or a really bad business man. This really doesn’t have anything do to with the rape thing, just the rate that he uses the word, “brand”. This really isn’t something you tie the word brand to. So he comes off as an egotistical jerk. As far as the rape thing, there is just far too much weirdness and drama there to make any rational call and no, I don’t think it was orchestrated by the US, are we pushing it now that it has started, of course, did we start it, no.

    The only real criticism I have of Wikileaks has concerned political dissidents. If anything happens to any of them (of any stripe or color), their blood is on Assange’s hands. Also, it seriously hurts your credibility when I feel obligated to question your ethics.

    As far as the cables, Iraq/Afghanistan war documents, NSA security measures go, I really don’t have any problems there. Not because of any matter of right or wrong, but because everything I’ve heard so far was something that had already been chatted about before and the public largely said, ho-hum or responded that it was either political smears or wacko conspiracy theory. I expect the same from the upcoming bank documents. It’ll only confirm long standing suspicions.

    In the end I’d say Assange is reckless, irresponsible and attention seeking, but not a terrorist (a terrorist frightens people, not governments, if the latter was the case, opening a news paper would be a criminal act). Will he change the world? No.

  18. Brad

    Nice points, Jesse. I’m tempted to say Assange doesn’t have the guts to be a terrorist, but that would be an emotional response on my part, a bid to denigrate Assange by conferring upon terrorists an honorific they do not deserve.

    But I’d go further than calling him “egotistical,” or an egoist. I’d go beyond narcissist, too. There’s something rather messianic in his self-image, bordering on napoleonic. Not that he wants to conquer Europe; I’m using “napoleonic” in the sense that Raskolnikov did. (I suppose I’m making the point Clevinger did to Yossarian: “You’re no better than Raskolnikov!“)

    If you’ll recall, Rodion Romanovich’s thesis was that certain men not only have the right to step over such barriers as laws and conventional morality, but they have the obligation to do so in order to achieve their destiny. (Or did I overstate it in that last clause? Unfortunately, I don’t have time to reread the novel right this minute…) Anyway, Assange would probably say it’s his “mission” that empowers him to scoff at laws, but it seems to me more like the egoism Jesse correctly points to.

  19. martin

    Oh, when you were writing about the Golden Age of US political consensus, you left out Tailgunner Joe and the HUAC… which doesn’t seem real far removed from Fox “News” and the Tea Party.

    Back to leaks, I can’t understand why our professional military is making buck privates intelligence analysts and putting them at computers with so little supervision that they can download information by the hour, while humming Lady Gaga tunes.

    I can’t understand why our government thinks putting any and everything on the internet is safe. What’s the purpose of scanning info from the 60’s into a database for some traitor to download? Are we archiving these diplomatic cables? Are diplomats communicating by e-mail? Why would anyone ever think that was safe when we know China has hacked into our government computers?

    Assange is an obvious freak. He reminds me of some of our current crop of politicians with astounding skeletons in their closets, but bound and determined to be in the spotlight. I hope the Swedes can take care of his 15 minutes.

  20. bud

    Bob, I don’t object to being called a Democrat. I mostly am but disagree on a fair number of issues of the party line. But what I mostly am is a liberal.

    I find the idea that our government can maintain endless secrets in the name of “national security” offensive. We should have an open government that allows in-depth examination of all sorts of correspondence and policies. It would be a rare document that would be classified as a secret only to be viewed by the chosen few. This Assange guy does seem to be a pretty creepy soul but much of what he’s revealed has no business being classified as secret. I’d probably give him a slap on the wrist for these “crimes” against the state. On the other hand he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for his sex crime.

  21. Brad

    And I wouldn’t object to being called a republican. But I WOULD object to being called a Republican…

    Similarly, you may call me a democrat if by that you mean one who believes in the concept of liberal democracy. (Similarly, you may call me a “liberal” if that’s what you mean — someone who is opposed to totalitarianism — but not if you mean “liberal” the way it is commonly used in our domestic politics.) But if you say I’m a Democrat, you’re wrong. Also, if you say I’m a democrat in the sense of preferring pure democracy to a republic, I will insist that no, I am a republican. But not a Republican.

    Got it, everybody?

  22. Brad

    Well, now, here’s an interesting question to pose to some of my friends here.

    Note that President Obama just slipped unannounced into Afghanistan. This, to me, is appropriate and laudable.

    But I ask you: Do you think you had a “right” to know in advance that he was going there? And would an Assange, to your thinking, have had the “right” to tell you about it in advance?

    And if you think not, then WHERE would you draw the line? I draw it here: It is up to duly constituted authorities to make such decisions about the security of official information, and not up to self-appointed individuals or organizations such as Assange or WikiLeaks.

    Would you draw it somewhere else? And if you would, in what way is that consistent with our being a nation of laws and not of men?

  23. Doug Ross

    I just don’t get it. If our government is doing the right thing, the leaked information will prove that fact. If it is doing the wrong thing, it will show that as well and hopefully either stop it or else prevent it from happening in the future.

    Look at what it took to get the whole Pat Tillman situation out in the open. Was it wrong for journalists to expose the U.S. Military’s role in covering up his death? Were the people who questioned the high ranking officials involved in the coverup traitors?

  24. Brad

    Doug and I just crossed comments there…

    Doug, I’m not following you. Are you saying that the government covered up the fact that Tillman had died? That’s what your comment seems to say.

    I thought that what happened was that in the fog of war, initial reports regarding the circumstances of his death were inaccurately reported (and reported in a way that reflected great credit upon Mr. Tillman). But maybe I remember it incorrectly.

  25. Doug Ross

    I also don’t get the fervor over Assange’s nationality in regards to the leaks.

    He appears to be a member of the Un-Nation Party, free from the partisan bickering that goes on between the superpowers.

  26. Doug Ross


    Seriously? You need to do some reading on the subject. There was no “fog of war”. There was a coverup from day one. The Tillman family is very clear about it. Tillman was killed by friendly fire and the military attempted to both cover it up AND use his death as propaganda about the war.

    There are books and movies about it. Wikipedia has it pretty well covered also:


    “Cover-up surrounding Tillman’s death

    A report described in The Washington Post on May 4, 2005, (prepared at the request of Tillman’s family) by Brig. Gen. Gary M. Jones revealed that in the days immediately following Tillman’s death, Army investigators were aware that Tillman had been killed by friendly fire, shot three times in the head.[19] Jones reported that senior Army commanders, including Gen. John Abizaid, knew of this fact within days of the shooting but nevertheless approved the awarding of the Silver Star, Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion.

    Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal approved the Silver Star citation on April 28, 2004, which gave a detailed account of Tillman’s death including the phrase “in the line of devastating enemy fire,” but the next day he sent a P4 (confidential) memo warning senior government members that Tillman might actually have been killed by friendly fire.[20] Top commanders within the U.S. Central Command, including former Commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) General John Abizaid, should have been notified by the P4 memo,[21] which described Tillman’s “highly possible” fratricide, four days before Tillman’s nationally televised memorial service during which he was lauded as a war hero for dying while engaging the enemy.[22][23]

    Jones reported that members of Tillman’s unit burned his body armor and uniform in an apparent attempt to hide the fact that he was killed by friendly fire.[24] His notebook, in which – according to author Jon Krakauer, Tillman had recorded some of his thoughts on Afghanistan – was also burned; “a blatant violation of protocol”.[25] Several soldiers were subsequently punished for their actions by being removed from the United States Army Rangers.[24] Jones believed that Tillman should retain his medals and promotion, since, according to Jones, he intended to engage the enemy and, in Jones’s opinion, behaved heroically.[24]”

  27. Brad

    I suppose that’s because patriotism as I understand it (which Kathryn calls “jingoism”) is somehow alien to you.

    This suggests an interesting digression… In 1863, “The Man Without A Country” set out a scenario in which such a status suggested a great curse, a position not to be envied. You call it being “free.”

    I’m one of those throwbacks who appreciates being an American, an sees in that privilege certain obligations.

    This reminds me in turn to a conversation I had at a cocktail party, years and years ago (in the 90s, I think), with a man, an academic, of neo-Confederate persuasion (a member of the League of the South). Within the context of that time, I saw him as a manifestation of the separatism that I saw rising again in the post-Cold War world, in the Balkans and elsewhere — nationalism in the old, primitive sense. I told him he must excuse me, as I was a child of the nation-state (quite literally, since I was the child of a naval officer whose career spanned the Cold War), and embraced the value that such a liberal democracy as ours overrode considerations of sectional or cultural loyalties as surely as considerations of race.

    Which brings us back to Edward Everett Hale’s short story, which was written within the context of our coming to understand ourselves as a “nation” rather than a mere loose collection of several states, something we were fighting a war over at the time. And of course, my League of the South interlocutor would have been on the opposite side of that question.

    I realize that in 2010, many consider the nation-state obsolete, but I prefer to cling to it until someone persuades me that it can be replaced by something better. I’ve seen no evidence of that yet, beyond the delusions of some people who think the freedoms they enjoy naturally arise from a state of nature, rather than something they are afforded by virtue of living in nation states that embrace liberal democracy. Many seem to imagine (as in John Lennon’s “Imagine”) that if countries disappeared we would all be in Nirvana. Whereas I would expect us to descend into a Hobbesian state.

  28. Brad

    Yeah, Doug, I happened to read the same thing, and saw a fog. Or perhaps I should say, I saw a Rorschach test.

    People of an anti-military, post-Vietnam bent look at that messy inkblot and see the wickedness of the self-interested military-industrial complex.

    I look at it and I see something common in war: Something called SNAFU. To me, it is entirely understandable and human that there would be a prejudice toward wanting to embrace an explanation that had Tillman dying as heroically as he’d lived. That doesn’t seem sinister to me. And while I consider it WRONG on a bunch of levels to paper over an incident of friendly fire, I do understand the human frailties that would lead one to want to set them aside and move on. After all, friendly fire is almost always an excruciatingly painful thing to confront, particularly for the ones who, without meaning to harm their comrades, pulled the trigger.

    Now if you’re suggesting this was indeed a fragging, a deliberate case of murder, then please present your evidence, and I will stand right beside you in demanding that the system of military justice punish the killers to the fullest extent of the law.

    But I don’t see that evidence. All I see is a mass of dark, paranoid speculation, some of it fueled by the pain of a grieving family. And unlike you (if I’m understanding you correctly), I don’t see this as an indictment of the whole big, bad, wicked military.

    This is not a metaphor for me. It was at best a screw-up, and at worst a case of murder, which means there are culpable individuals who should be prosecuted.

    Incidentally, it appears from that article that it was a brigadier general — this Jones guy — who set the record straight. And like Jones, I, too, think that Tillman deserved his medals.

  29. Doug Ross

    No, it wasn’t a fragging. It was an error that occured during a firefight. It’s everything that happened after that that is the issue.

    There’s no paranoia. It freakin’ happened as the facts describe it happened. Did you miss this line “Several soldiers were subsequently punished for their actions by being removed from the United States Army Rangers.”?

    The brass knew Tillman was killed by friendly fire even when they were using his death as a propaganda device.

    To suggest that any reasonable view of the factual evidence is based on some post Vietnam era mindset is stunning. It really does show how opaque your blinders are when it comes to the military.

  30. Brad

    I didn’t suggest that. In fact, to be clear, I do not believe that any REASONABLE view of the factual evidence is based in post-Vietnam syndrome.

    But I DO suggest that seeing the Tillman case as a justification for something like WikiLeaks WOULD likely arise from the kind of reflexive anti-military (and anti-establishment) mindset that was (and remains) so ubiquitous after Vietnam.

  31. Jesse S.

    I hope I can get my thoughts straight on this one (at work rushing as fast I can). It is just what has been swimming around in my head for the last few weeks. Forgive me if I’ve posted this stuff before, at least I feel like I’ve already written it elsewhere.

    Assange is clearly a man of two different eras and at the heart of it he is an engineer, not a publisher or businessman.

    First the engineering part. If you browse over Assange’s old news group posts (as you’d guess, there was an interest in security and then, new file system) from his younger days, he is clearly a guy who has spent some time in the code and is very capable of explaining and debating some pretty deep topics. Illustrating this isn’t very easy, boring really, so instead we’ll just skip to the kind of person it take to fulfill that role. The work of his previous life, requires a personality type who is very objective oriented and reliant on abstract reasoning. More importantly it takes someone who is willing to mad dog their way into a subject and not let go until they feel they have ripped it apart and rebuilt it from the ground up with a fully competent understand. that is probably what makes many of his interviews perplexing and in the end a tad disturbing, but I’ll try to get to that later.

    Next, man of two epochs. Quite a bit of stereotyping here, but lets boil it down to two different groups who represent two different eras, the long beards and the young punks. Assange was influenced and even a little bit of both and the problem comes down to economics, not CS.

    If you have ever talked to anyone who did any significant/experimental work back in the day and they signed with one of the big boys (just look at your stock ticker for any tech company who existed before 1970), they’ll probably talk with a mixture of pride and disgust. Those companies did some really rotten things. A seldom stated fact is that AT&T actually had their programmers sign agreements that they would never program for anyone else (called it, Unix taint). These kind of practices really hurt a lot of people. Not so much economically, they generally ignored it and went to work for someone else. The pain was from emotional investment. Working in some of these areas required large fractions of their lives and then they woke up to the realization that they had given their lives to someone they couldn’t trust and the suits were getting praised for this, for some the anger and bitterness never passed. A lot of the hurt ones went on and spread their story to the next generation. Essentially, the man is going to hurt you and the man is going to win.

    Then came the young punks. They are the late Gen-Xers all the way to young-uns and their AJAX and their Facebook. They’ve seen big money come in and big money go out in spectacular fashion and while the long beards kept to their politics. Young punks got to see the gravy train and then watch it burn to the heavens. Essentially, greed is good. Management may suck, but managers aren’t burnt out by 30. While the long beards learned from scratch, the young punks got expensive CS degrees (with expensive student loans and years spent absorbing theory) and they’ll let you know how little you know in conversation. They know the terms, they watch the market and probably have a failed business or two under their belts. They really aren’t that great at business, remember these people are engineers, but they know that capitalism works (at least in cycles) and while they may kick their feet and decry the lack of socialized medicine in the US, they really believe in capitalism. They aren’t quite as quick to dive deep, they’d rather bolt on because the machine is going to break anyway. Essentially, pure optimism because of failure, not in the face of it. If you pray hard enough a Venture Capitalist will come and save you, if not back to drone work and paying off those loans.

    Assange is simply a mix of the two. He knows the system is broken, but unlike someone politically minded he doesn’t know that the system works only because it is broken. The engineer in him says that there has to be a better solution and that solution is to force the bad parts to destroy themselves by working against him (while he actually provides no real resistance at all). I can live with that, it won’t work but he has managed to be a force for some real good by giving guilty minds a place to repent (or just get revenge). The part that genuinely disturbs me is the young punk. He shows that he really doesn’t have the best mind for business, but he tries to play the part anyway. He wears the suits and says the terms, whether they be anti-American or Idiots Guide to MBA; doesn’t really matter if he believe them or not, it is just how that game is played. He even tells Swedish women that the system is evil and he is the man bringing it down. A nerd desperately trying to be the international man of mystery. Ride that train, boy, ride it till it burns.

    Another trivial, but in the end very important thing comes to mind. I’d be very willing to bet that at some point in Assange’s adolescence, he built a dead man’s switch. Being (at heart) an engineer he probably held some fragments of that late childhood experience and now he is applying it to the entire world. We have no idea what “football” he is carrying, but he is making damn sure that the payload will be delivered if someone axes him. Even if it is a bluff, he has tied his switch to every government on Earth. Nifty hack, I think even my often shattered ego would be a little big if I managed to pull that one off.

    As far as Assange breaking laws, he really hasn’t, at least not until he steps foot on the wrong soil. until then he is Australia’s problem (pretty sure he hasn’t renounced his citizenship).

    Grrr, not entirely happy with that, but its all I have at 2PM on a busy Friday afternoon. Back to work before I get fired. Gotta pay those loans and the mortgage.

  32. Doug Ross

    @Jesse S

    That may have been the best comment I have ever read on Brad’s blog.

    Assange as the bastard son of Lisbeth Salander / Linus Torvalds, maybe?

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