Like a lot of people, I find it tempting to think in aphorisms. They come to mind quite readily, and this whole WikiLeaks disaster is just rife with ignored wisdom and truisms.
For example, it was over 200 years ago that Lord Acton had his brilliant insight: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
That particular observation of human nature took over a century and a half to be countered by another turn of phrase, this one by Stan Lee: “With great power comes great responsibility.” That was the counterbalance, a way to fight off the corruption: to recognize that power comes with responsibilities, chief among them to not abuse it or exploit it for personal gain.
With the WikiLeaks situation, we see a whole bunch of people who didn’t read enough comic books growing up. They have discovered that through the internet, they can wield tremendous power. They can entice others to break laws and oaths, and use the proceeds of that to influence and shape the actions of nations and governments. They can threaten and coerce the high and mighty to pay attention to them, and to dance to their tunes.
They can even possess the power of life and death. The secrets they have taken could end up costing people their lives.
But with that power, they recognize no real responsibility. Oh, they make token gestures of acting “responsibly” — they tried to get the government to cooperate in editing and redacting the documents before releasing them to the general public, but the government would have no truck with that — seeing it as a tacit endorsement of the whole scheme to dump classified material out in the open. They tried on their own to remove the most sensitive stuff, by they lack the knowledge and expertise to do so effectively.
But it’s all for show, and ineffective. They are more concerned with influencing the course of events, of making history, of demonstrating that they have greater power than the old-fashioned governments of this world.
Further, they have decided to expand their war. Other parties have chosen not to attack WikiLeaks, but to simply remove themselves from the conflict. Amazon, MasterCard, Visa, Paypal — all have decided that continuing their relationship with WikiLeaks is simply not worth the ill will it garners from those WikiLeaks has chosen to fight, and those who side with WikiLeaks’ chosen enemies.
So they are lashing out at those non-combatants. They are launching cyber-warfare attacks against those who have decided to not stand with WikiLeaks. They temporarily took down the web sites of MasterCard and Visa, and caused problems for PayPal and Sarah Palin’s web sites.
And this is when they could stand to hear just one more truism, one more bit of tried and true old wisdom — this one from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“When you strike at a king, you must kill him.”
If you’re going to attack someone of great power, be damned certain that you hit them hard enough that they will not be in a position to retaliate. There is little more self-destructive than a failed attack on a king, because a king who is only wounded (or uninjured at all) will marshal all his powers and resources towards your destruction. You are a declared mortal enemy who has shown your willingness to fight; the king has no choice but to destroy you first.
Or, if you prefer Sun Tzu, “To a surrounded enemy, you must leave a way of escape.” A cornered foe with no way out will fight to the death, as they have no other choice. A foe with a chance to retreat will be less likely to fight as hard, and take the opportunity to flee.
WikiLeaks has backed the United States government into a corner, and is hitting with far less force needed to kill. They are a jackal who has cornered a lion — and think that the lion will submit simply because the jackal has the superior position.
The lion doesn’t need a superior position. They will leave the jackal alone, in most cases, as the jackal simply isn’t worth the energy to kill. But should the jackal push the issue and leave the lion with no choice to fight, then the lion will fight.
And it will be no fight at all. The jackal will get the confrontation it seeks, and very quickly — and very briefly — regret it.
That’s what is likely to happen, unless the WikiLeaks people come to their senses. But it might already be too late for that. And besides, let’s toss one last quote out there — this one from Longfellow:
“Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”