Who hasn't been embarrassed by email? The wrong thing sent to the wrong person – often the last person in the world who should see it is the one who gets it. Email, most people should realize by now, means Everybody's mail. And once again, WikiLeaks demonstrates why you might want to avoid the lack of boundaries email often inspires in private, as well as business, correspondence. The sheer amount of State Department cables WikiLeaks has and is slowly leaking boggles the mind.
Comparisons to the release of the Pentagon Papers keep popping up in the media at large, given the latest batch of State Department cables, etc., that WikiLeaks and select newspapers have printed. Daniel Ellsberg, who has emerged from semi-retirement (not necessarily voluntary retirement) from the public stage has himself blanched at the amount of information released, far more than he would have been able to copy (Xerox) back in the late Sixties. But there are more differences than similarities in what WikiLeaks has done to what Ellsberg did. Though one of the largest differences is the public reception of what has been dumped.
It is one of my favorite crank theories (which I still haven't abandoned) that since the late Sixties the powers-that-be have set about to make the mass culture more stupid than it was. The filthy rich, the corporate heads that run the world, saw in the late Sixties and the early Seventies what happens when you educate the unwashed. Sputnik launched not only chimps and the space program, but lifted for a few years the status quo anti-intellectualism of the self-satisfied elite. Let's send a whole generation to college! Let's pump money into education! Then they saw what happens. Protest, rebellion, ungrateful long-haired wild children, anti-draft movements, peace movements, civil rights demands, equal pay for equal work, etc.
Well, they wanted to put a stop to all that. And, it is pretty clear they have succeeded in making the public dumber (see Rupert Murdoch's and others' work). When the Pentagon Papers were published by The New York Times, then The Washington Post, and then by other papers, they were actually read. Who will read the WikiLeaks documents? Very few – mainly those teams of journalists who are excerpting them in newspapers.And various governments' versions of state departments. And those who will read even these excerpts are reading redacted cables, examples of self-censorship by newspapers, unlike those journalists in the early Seventies, who were happy to go to the Supreme Court to challenge the government.
Now the press – even, in a strange way, WikiLeaks– acts "responsibly." We've reverted to a pre-Pentagon Papers form of journalism, the editors acting as a filter before the public. But the public yawns. In the past, besides being in the newspapers, the entire Pentagon Papers were rushed out in a cheap paperback format for eager readers, but no such publishing stampede and reception will happen this time around. And one can only shudder to think what will come out of the Roberts' Supreme Court if and when any case against the press regarding the WikiLeaks releases comes about.
The Pentagon Papers showed the American People one thing – and this is not the thing most remembered. It showed that the entire Vietnam War was a political event, with only political and business objectives, and it boiled down, after twenty-five years of conflict, to no president wanting to be the one who "lost" the war. Well, Nixon (and the hapless Gerald Ford) got to lose the war. Perhaps that is the real reason he and Kissinger got the Nobel Prize. The Pentagon Papers showed that the government knew the war was an unwinnable boondoggle, almost from its beginning.
But it was Nixon's Watergate Tapes, which made their way into print and paperback not long after the Pentagon Papers, that taught a similar, but different, lesson. Those Oval Office tapes pulled the curtain away and showed Americans how the people in power actually talked to one another and they all seemed less intelligent and eloquent than anyone could have imagined, or wanted to imagine. It was a great disappointment to the American People – so great that few mentioned it.
Now the WikiLeaks dump shows both things: that our middle east involvement is only politics and appeasement of the monied interests, and that the people running the show put those typical of reality shows to shame in their off-the-cuff comments, the lack of truth triumphing over wishful thinking. Most Americans, in desperation, always hope smart people are doing evil deeds, not incompetent people, but, once again, some forty years later, their hopes are dashed.