A recent piece at Death + Taxes about Wikileaks’ Julian Assange makes the startling — and then instantly obvious — assertion that the reason Assange is encountering such opposition to his exposing of hard truths because the world has change so much over the past 40 years that it doesn’t know how to hear such things anymore. Writer Alex Moore make a comparison with Daniel Ellsberg and his release of the Pentagon Papers, which revealed the truth about the Vietnam War:
Decades later, we don’t blame Ellsberg for telling the truth, we blame the government for being corrupt. We remember the Gulf Of Tonkin incident as a lie the government told, not as a good plan foiled by a leaky brat. Ellsberg was received as a hero, not a traitor.
But Ellsberg lived in a generation of hippies—a generation that valued integrity and the principle of truth—and Ellsberg’s revelation caught like wildfire.
Forty years later, Julian Assange steps onto the world stage with WikiLeaks as a twenty-first century Ellsberg. He’s nationless, garnering his information from the porous openings in the World Wide Web—an apt commentary on the modern world. And his operation leaks documents on a much larger scale than the 1,000 page Pentagon Papers. His revelations, including new information about the killings and torture in Iraq after Abu Ghraib, including 66,081 Iraqi civilian deaths, may be more shocking than those exposed by the Pentagon Papers. And yet all anyone seems to talk about is what a jerk the guy is.
The news about WikiLeaks is at least as focussed on the sexual assault allegations he faces in Sweden and whether his dominating personality is causing volunteers to defect as it is on the actual information his organization is revealing. Daniel Ellsberg tells the New York Times, “I’ve been waiting 40 years for someone to disclose information on a scale that might really make a difference.” But the world has changed. Whereas in Ellsberg’s time Assange’s revelations would have incited mass protests and indignant calls for accountability, now we find the substance of the leaks unsurprising and instead marvel at Assange himself, telling each other, “This guy is fucked.”
I’m not saying Julian Assange didn’t rape anyone in Sweden—if he did he should be locked up like every other rapist. But I am saying the motive to smear and discredit him is sky-high. Assange has acknowledged these relationships with his “fans” and insisted they were consensual. Given the intense motive to smear him, I think presuming him guilty of rape without some hard evidence to prove it would be foolish.
It seems quite likely that Assange has tangoed with some sexual indiscretions and it seems possible from volunteers’ stories that as a boss Assange is dominating, if not tyrannical. But that’s not the point. People don’t remember Martin Luther King, Jr. as a guy who cheated on his wife. It was a character flaw, sure, but King’s work and message found a home with a generation who were committed to social change.
Is more right? Obviously there are plenty of individuals who feel that Assange is getting a raw deal and that the war in Iraq is illegal, and who value integrity and principle. But there doesn’t seem to be anything unifying those people into action… and the results of this past Tuesday’s elections in the U.S. appear to suggest that the American public, in the aggregate, is dedicated to repudiating anything that could be called “counterculture,” or “liberal,” or “progressive.” (All the Iowan judges who ruled that banning gay marriage in that state was unconstitutional were voted out of office this week, for instance.)
Does a counterculture exist anymore, and if not, what can we do to get it back?
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