Sometimes I don't know why I bother. What, after all, is the point to entering into any public discussion of controversial matters? Each side of the question has made up its mind before the facts are in, and the respective champions of the issue or debate are, depending on who has washed your brain, heroes or villains.
Trayvon Martin is either a martyr or a thug, Barack Obama a brilliant and eloquent political genius or a race-baiting alien born in Africa. Unborn babies are cancers or space aliens implanted in a woman's womb by patriarchal males or else objects of reverence that it is everyone's duty to take care of. It is all too much like a cheap Dickens novel for my taste, sweet little Oliver and that evil Bill Sykes.
It was the case of Julian Assange that inspired these melancholy reflections on the futility of political editorializing. If one is an American Republican or one of their flunkeys in the British government, then Assange is quite simply evil: a moral degenerate, virtually a rapist, who has compromised the security of the hundreds of thousands gallant men and women fighting for our freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan. His informants, particularly Pfc Bradley Manning are traitors, not only to the United States but to Hilary Clinton's campaign to liberate Muslim women from their headscarves. It is just too bad the British government lost its nerve and did not crash into the Ecuadorian embassy to arrest the villain.
If, by contrast, one is a fan of Mr. Assange, then he is a heroic crusader for freedom of conscience, a gallant fighter for human rights who has dared to challenge the might and majesty of the United States, whose flunkeys in Britain and Sweden have concocted a smear-campaign to discredit his work. He and Pfc Bradley Manning should be honored around the world.
If life were like a Dickens novel, then one of the sides would be right and the other wrong. But, as Anthony Trollope pointed out, life is almost never Dickensian. Good things can be done by people of bad character, while pretty good people can make a terrible mess of things.
Let me take up the principle points of contention in reverse order. First there are the Swedish sex charges against Assange. If I had been inclined to endorse the Obama administration's position on Wikileaks, the charges against Assange would be enough to dissuade me. We are being asked to believe that Sweden is not acting at the behest of the USA in prosecuting Assange for indiscretions committed during admittedly consensual sex with women who approached him--and in Sweden? Sweden is a country that has elevated fornication and cohabitation to a legitimacy that marriage used to enjoy in more civilized countries. Can a man really be extradited for allegedly not engaging in safe sex, especially when the allegation comes from a woman scorned?
Have it one way or another. Either formalize Christian morality in your legal code or declare it to be whoopee time until the end of the world, but do not ask a sensible person to pay attention to this feminist hysteria, especially when it serves the interests of the military-industrial complex of the good old USA.
It now appears that the information acquired by Manning and released by Assange was not as potentially damaging to American security as had been claimed originally. What of it? Manning did his best, as a soldier in uniform, to compromise his country's security and put his fellow-soldiers at risk. If he did not wreak the havoc of Phillip Agee, it is not for lack of trying.
So far as I am concerned--and that is not very much--I'd prosecute him for treason. Hanging, as we used to say in the Westerns, is too good for such a man. He was not only disloyal to his country but he violated the rules of the game. Every profession has its code. Physicians are not to harm the patient or perform abortions, scholars are supposed to search for truth, and soldiers are supposed to obey their officers and show loyalty to their comrades. Manning broke the rules and deserves severe punishment.
What of Julian Assange? If Assange were an American citizen--in the days when national citizenship actually meant something--he would be less guilty than Manning but guilty enough for a life-sentence. As an Australian, however, he is really none of my government's business or at least not much. He should not be allowed back into the United States, and it is certainly legitimate to prosecute his American confederates. Perhaps he can be returned to Australia and be sent around the country to fight for his honor in boxing matches with kangaroos. He is a self-important parody of the do-gooder, and his attempt to do a Mussolinia at the Ecuadorian embassy should forever discredit him with his adoring followers, who should, as we say in the States, get a life.
Setting aside Manning's disgraceful conduct as a soldier and Assange's absurd theatrics, what is the substance of the revelations made by Wikleaks? That American officials are dishonest fools? That countries are being destroyed and lives wasted for exactly nothing? That the imbecillity and ineptitude of American officials entrusted with the nation's defense is worse than even I had imagined?
All that and more.
On the whole I am happy that Mr. Assange was able, for a moment, to lift up the rock and expose the nasty little weevils and beetles that look after the security of the "world's only remaining superpower." I am only a little less happy to know that Osama bin Laden is dead. My satisfaction, limited though it be, with these events does not , however, inspire me with respect for the responsible parties. Quite the contrary. Many a man needs killing and many a lie needs to be exposed, but killers and tale-bearers do not necessarily deserve our respect. There are many things that need to be done in this world, but to suppose it that it is our job to do it, when we must violate laws, betray comrades, or assume a godlike perspective, is to start down the road to terrorism.
But if Assange is ridiculous, Manning contemptible, and America's miltary leaders evil and incompetent, what can be said of the journalists who have enlisted with either side? The less the better.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.