Why WikiLeaks Reminds Us of The Fog of War

It is not because Julian Assange reminds us of Errol Morris. It is because Julian Assange reminds us of Robert S. McNamara. His precision and self-assurance are coupled with mission, history, and a noble cause. But will he eventually come, like McNamara did, to regret his actions? Will he ever see his choices as participants in the “fog of war” rather than cures for crimes exposed? “The War Logs,” is what the New York Times is calling its coverage of the latest WikiLeaks release. We prefer The War Fogs, because the character of Assange’s legacy remains so unclear.


In their response to the latest WikiLeaks release, the Defense Department said, in part, the following (reported in the Times tonight):

“We deplore WikiLeaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world, including our enemies. We know terrorist organizations have been mining the leaked Afghan documents for information to use against us, and this Iraq leak is more than four times as large. By disclosing such sensitive information, WikiLeaks continues to put at risk the lives of our troops, their coalition partners and those Iraqis and Afghans working with us. The only responsible course of action for WikiLeaks at this point is to return the stolen material and expunge it from their Web sites as soon as possible.”

They never will. This is one tool of warfare today that those before the blogosphere never wrestled with: freedom of information means periodic desecration of discretion as a value. Where is Assange’s respect for service? And where is his respect for those with more information than he will ever amass, even given the variety, and perhaps honest instincts, of his sources? We do not know. And it will not matter. The collateral damage of his actions makes folly of what he says is ethical.

This is why when we think about Assange now we cannot not think about Errol Morris’s brilliant The Fog of War, not because Assange is doing something award-winning journalists have done in the past, but because he is participating in something he believes ensures our freedom, but which in fact may not only place lives at risk but also inspire his own deep regret. Regret, and perhaps a request for forgiveness? McNamara, brilliant statistician, American Whiz Kid, and the man most closely associated with the phrase “war of attrition,” would later look back and see that his actions had consequences even he did not accurately assess.

War had new meaning after Vietnam. It will have new meaning after Iraq. At one point in the film, McNamara tells Morris “the human race prior to [World War II]—and today—has not really grappled with what are the rules of war.” One of McNamara’s eleven rules was, “Belief and seeing are often both wrong.” He might have added a twelfth: History will teach us nothing.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Apple, Amazon, and Uber are moving in on health care. Will it help?

Big tech is making its opening moves into the health care scene, but its focus on tech-savvy millennials may miss the mark.

Apple COO Jeff Williams discusses Apple Watch Series 4 during an event on September 12, 2018, in Cupertino, California. The watch lets users take electrocardiogram readings. (Photo: NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google have been busy investing in health care companies, developing new apps, and hiring health professionals for new business ventures.
  • Their current focus appears to be on tech-savvy millennials, but the bulk of health care expenditures goes to the elderly.
  • Big tech should look to integrating its most promising health care devise, the smartphone, more thoroughly into health care.
Keep reading Show less

The culprit of increased depression among teens? Smartphones, new research suggests.

A new study, led by psychologist Jean Twenge, points to the screen as the problem.

A teenager eyes her smartphone as people enjoy a warm day on the day of silence, one day prior to the presidential elections, when candidates and political parties are not allowed to voice their political meaning on April 14, 2018 in Kotor, Montenegro. Citizens from Montenegro, the youngest NATO member, will vote for a new president on Sunday 15 2018. (Photo by Pierre Crom/Getty Images)
Surprising Science
  • In a new study, adolescents and young adults are experiencing increased rates of depression and suicide attempts.
  • The data cover the years 2005–2017, tracking perfectly with the introduction of the iPhone and widespread dissemination of smartphones.
  • Interestingly, the highest increase in depressive incidents was among individuals in the top income bracket.
Keep reading Show less

The colossal problem with universal basic income

Here's why universal basic income will hurt the 99%, and make the 1% even richer.

Videos
  • Universal basic income is a band-aid solution that will not solve wealth inequality, says Rushkoff.
  • Funneling money to the 99% perpetuates their roles as consumers, pumping money straight back up to the 1% at the top of the pyramid.
  • Rushkoff suggests universal basic assets instead, so that the people at the bottom of the pyramid can own some means of production and participate in the profits of mega-rich companies.
Keep reading Show less