Monday, 29 November 2010

On the Popular Support for Wikileaks

"I want to start a riot."

These were the words of a friend as we headed home from a viewing of V for Vendetta. We were flushed with excitement from the climax of the film, where thousands of people dressed as the protagonist gathered to watch the Houses of Parliament explode into fireworks to the sound of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

All of us had been stirred by the monumental epicness of the moment, where the people had risen up and removed the despotic Norsefire government.

Many of us were forced to read Nineteen Eighty-Four at school. Those, such as myself, who were not forced to read it but were interested in politics made a point of reading it. We are all well versed in the concept of 'sticking it to the man,' of standing up and destroying the autocratic regime. It's a common theme in literature, film and elsewhere; Equilibrium, The Bourne Identity, Half-Life 2. The list is almost endless.

It's common because it's exciting. It makes good entertainment. People can step into the moment and escape the typically slow-moving and unspectacular process of change in the real world. Even history often focuses on the 'seminal' moments of history such as 9/11 and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But it is easy to ignore the choices and events in the background of history. If something like Pearl Harbour is the clock striking the hour, it is only sounding because of the 3,600 ticks and tocks that preceded it that one hears the ringing at all.

Wikileaks provides a 'real life' example of sticking it to the man. In the words of one Tweep, the Dept of State has crashed on the highway and the whole internet is rubber-necking while justifying their voyeurism as anti-secrecy.

People naively quote "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." They ignore the fact that we live in the freest nations on the planet. They ignore the fact that the only reason Julian Assange et al are still alive is because they target one of the most open democracies on the planet.

The Cablegate dump has revealed little more than anyone endowed with the barest levels of common sense and knowledge already suspect and knew. It has probably set back the ability for America and other Western countries to work in our national interest.

So people applaud an organisation that remains secret and opaque in the name of openness and transparency, and congratulate its messianic, nihilistic, tyrannical leader as a moral crusader. Meanwhile, those elected and appointed to protect us and to work toward our collective comfort and security attempt to fathom the consequences of this event.

Our democracies are not perfect. But people are spoilt by it, and remain ignorant of what living in true despotism and true corruption is really like. And that sometimes secrets have to be kept, not because the government wants us like sheep, but because it's in the interest of our collective security. We don't yet know if the clock has struck twelve, or if it is merely sounding the quarter hour and the promise of larger things to come.

Friday, 19 November 2010

How Jackson, not Blunt, 'prevented WW3'

I'd just like to point something out.

In a recent interview the singer James Blunt apparently prevented World War III by denying a direct order from SACEUR General Wesley K. Clark.

However, the accounts of General Sir Mike Jackson, and General Wesley K. Clark differ markedly from that of Blunt's.

Clark's account of the confrontation starts four days before, on Thursday the 10th June 1999 when the Russians began to move out of Bosnia toward Pristina. Jackson, the commander of the British troops in Kosovo was made aware of the situation on Friday morning. He had lodged his first concerns by 1400 hrs the same day.

It wasn't until Sunday 13th that Jackson made the seminal statement to Clark: 'Sir, I'm not going to start World War Three for you.' (Clark 2001, 394; Jackson 2008, 272). This demonstrates a lead up of several days before Blunt's account of the event starts. Clark wanted Jackson to place, initially Apaches, and later armoured vehicles, on the runway of Pristina airport to prevent the Russians from landing.

In the time between Friday and Sunday morning, Jackson had expressed his increasing concern at this plan. Clark was aware that Jackon was 'really troubled. He says his mission is strictly humanitarian and peacekeeping; he doesn't have the legal authority in his order to do anything like this... He wants to stay with his approach, just to gain the Russians' confidence...' (Clark 2001, 393). According to Jackson, 'the feeling among my staff was that Clark was shooting from the hip.'  (Jackson 2008, 259). It wasn't until after Jackson had explained to Clark that if it came to it he would disobey the direct orders to block the runway at Pristina, that 4 Armoured Brigade was placed on readiness.

Both memoirs leave the buck stopping at Jackson, when he declared that he would not start WW3 on the morning of Sunday 13th. In the end the Russian planes never landed, and thus no orders sent, or disobeyed. At no point in their accounts do Clark or Jackson mention a Captain James Blount (Blunt is his stage name), or his apparent refusal of orders.

So it appears Blunt has an imperfect memory. Not only that, but the media apparently have an imperfect fact-checking system.

Clark, Wesley K. Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo and the Future of Combat. PublicAffairs, 2001.
Jackson, Mike. Soldier: The Autobiography. Corgi, 2008.