So he will write a book, even if he does not want to write a book. “I don’t want to write this book, but I have to,” Assange said, and the Huffington Post reported. Whether or not this protestation seems absurd, the book will be widely anticipated and really widely read; two of the world’s finest publishers have signed on to support it. We cannot blame them: unlike in the case of Assange himself, a First Amendment defense stands for those who will publish his story. Yet will it be revelatory? Or, like the cables themselves, will it be mildly salacious but ultimately an exercise whose cons outweigh its pros.
What do we want to know anyhow? We want to know how he did it. This riddle remains. And this riddle is inseparable from the man: charismatic and threatening in equal measure, leaving even the fiercest critics unable to casually disregard it—and him. Not unlike another figure on another planet in the political solar system, Sarah Palin, Assange’s opponents may hate his mission, ideology, tactics, and even appearance, but they cannot deny he has moved our on an important issue, and raised a concomitant threat. He has made us emotional: presidents, generals, mothers of soldiers serving overseas. He has made us angry, and only ever more so in proportion to his icy cool.
Who is Assange? Will we learn more from reading his book than we did from reading The New Yorker? We may learn more from the book’s critical reception. Who will support his defense, especially once it has been put into words, and who will change their minds about him. A memoir can do certain things beyond woo literary critics: it can move hearts and minds. And, occasionally, it can move history.
Eighteen months ago, just before the WikiLeaks story began to unfold, Laurence Silberman published an essay, “On Honor,” in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. There is little doubt what Judge Silberman would think of Assange, but his conclusion then is relevant now. He references Freud. He writes:
There is something quite awful in our democracy for responsible representatives of either party (or their press sympathizers) to imagine the other party capable of [such] dishonorable behavior. It very much reminds me of the myth propagated by Republicans during and after World War II that President Roosevelt had deliberately hidden from our own Navy and Army forced in Pearl Harbor the imminent Japanese attack or, for that matter, that President Bush had manufactured intelligence concerning Saddam’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, in my view, such accusations—without adequate support—betray a lack of honor on the part of those who levy the charges. It is, to use a psychiatric term, a form of projection. The accusers can imagine their political opponents capable of such behavior because they can visualize using such tactics themselves.
We cannot parse the place of projection in leaked cables, but we might well parse it in memoir. Unless: what if Assange surprises us? Might the memoir present a man other than the one we’ve come to know via images Skyped from English country estates? This would be the most interesting outcome of all.