The WikiLeaks revelations are a watershed in decades of struggles to unmask what really occurs in the conduct of powerful people and institutions, in governments, corporations and the military.
Julian Assange’s creativity, plus the courage and initiatives of whistleblowers, has made a significant contribution to the global understanding of democracy and the promotion of human rights. WikiLeaks cables have exposed corruption, demystified the activities of diplomats and emphasised the indispensability of freedom of speech. Its revelations have encouraged movements across the Middle East to resist oppression and to advocate universal human rights and democracy.
The controversy highlights a struggle between violent and non-violent philosophies and practices. Bogus claims about national security have been used for decades to conceal militaristic ways of thinking and acting, as shown in the 2007 video of murder from a helicopter over Baghdad. Emphasis on transparency in government, on holding governors accountable and on freedom of speech illustrates the non-violent alternatives in policy-making of all kinds.
Powerful people’s ”we must seek revenge” reaction to Assange and Private Bradley Manning, the US soldier due to be tried over the alleged leaking of US government secrets to WikiLeaks, shows the threat it poses to centuries-old assumptions about government: that only a few can comprehend the mysteries of Whitehall, Washington or Canberra or even of corporate boardrooms or the governing bodies of universities.
It looks as though powerful people – politicians, media commentators, senior managers – have been given a painful laxative that is having such an effect they’re running around crying that we’ll all suffer if they have to take the WikiLeaks potion again. On the contrary, all citizens, shareholders and students will benefit from a new transparency in governance. And there should be inestimable benefits for the powerful. If they’ve taken their WikiLeaks medicine, they should eventually get better.
Once they recover from the pain and embarrassment, they may even be grateful that all the energy needed to keep secrets and pretend that they always acted in people’s best interests will no longer be required.