Wikileaks and War

Is this the argument?

  • 1. (Our) wars are unjust.
  • 2. Stopping (our) wars will prevent further injustice.

combined with:

  • 3. (Our) wars depend on secrecy in inception and in daily practice.
  • 4. Thus, (our) wars can be prevented by eliminating the secrecy in inception.
  • 5. Moreover, (our) wars can be stopped by eliminating the secrecy in their daily practices.

Yet it seems daily secrecy and original secrecy play very different roles. Perhaps our wars might have been prevented by leaking, but can they be arrested by leaking? It seems to me that secrecy in daily practice is an operational need, not an existential need. The military keeps its secrets for strategic reasons, as John D noticed:

An obvious pragmatic objection arises: there would be no way for a government to share information with all its citizens without a (large) risk of that information being leaked or sent to the other side. Indeed, this would seem to be almost a certainty in a modern society with a diversity of opinions, not all of which would be in concert with the common good (which is just an abstraction), and an international news-media presence.

Secrecy allows the military to better achieve goals accepted by most citizens, just as it allows them to achieve contested goals without resistance. For leaking to be effective, it should focus on unpopular goals…. yet patriotic sentiments can eliminate the justificatory need for secrecy in the daily practice of war. Citizens become defensive of the war when leaking threatens to eliminate our justifications for its inception.

Yet even in inception, what evidence is there that transparency would be preventative? War isn’t something about which we’re particularly rational, ethical, or data-driven, so transparency may be of little value compared to other strategies. (Which strategies? I don’t know. Public protest? Civil disobedience? Armed revolution? Pacifist art? Deficit hawks and bond vigilantes?)

Also: can an unjust war be salvaged and rendered just by a change in strategy or by an obligation to supply safety and stability to the population we have harmed? What happened to the  “you break it, you bought it” doctrine that future generations of history students will be forced to memorize as the Pottery Barn rule?


One response to “Wikileaks and War”

  1. John D Avatar

    I just posted a longer comment on your previous post about Assange and Wikileaks. Anyway, just one point about the quote you took from my post.

    I forgot to mention the obvious factor — beyond diversity of opinions and international news media — that makes the pragmatic objection I raise even more serious: the existence of the internet. It is now so easy to share information, instantaneously, with the whole world. Previously it may have been possible to contain information leaks even after they had happened. Nowadays that is practically impossible.

    Of course, a countervailing pressure, mentioned in your previous post, is created by the existence of the internet: informational overload.

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