The recent headline about whether Reagan was a “snitch” and Sarah Palin calling on the Obama Administration to hunt down Julian Assange as terrorist got me to thinking about how far we have come since the days when Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were tried for espionage and executed for passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.
The Rosenbergs were executed in 1953–just four years before I was born–but in my lifetime it is astonishing to me how far we as a society have gone down the tubes in this regard. To understand how we got here, I believe a brief history lesson is in order.
I grew up hearing over and over ad nauseum “don’t be a tattle-tale!” Later, in the late 60s or early 70s the cooler kids started calling it “don’t be a Narc” as in “don’t Narc on your friends.” [I have no idea if this phrase still is popular, or with what it has been replaced.]
“The Godfather” book and movie etched in our brains the Sicilian code of honor known as “omerta.” Back then, breaking the code of silence got the person killed just amongst the Mafia. Over time, especially among gang members and certain portions of the ‘hood, just telling law enforcement that you witnessed a crime could get you killed. At the very least, it could get you shunned and made into a pariah.
In my lifetime, helping the authorities to solve a crime has gone from being a Patriotic Duty to a crime punishable by the death penalty–or at least the extreme depth of un-coolness.
The LA Times op-ed from yesterday entitled “Was Reagan A Snitch?” is in my opinion a hit piece by a liberal rag trying to smear the Patron Saint of Conservatives by applying todays’ accepted view of the term “snitch” to actions that occurred 70 years ago. [The opinion piece was actually a good read, and somewhat balanced, but the use of the word “snitch” in the title was deliberately provacative.] The short answer is yes, Reagan was “a snitch,” if you apply the current definition of the word. But the answer is no, if you apply the definition of the word as it existed back when Reagan took his actions.
Back then, a snitch was a term used derogatively by criminals about other criminals. It was also a term popularized by cops to describe an insider who snitched on other criminals. Law abiding citizens were not snitches.
Criminals do not want the authorities to discover when they break the law. Duh. But back then, law-abiding citizens wanted to help the authorities fight crime. Criminals called such law-abiding citizens “snitches,” while the vast majority of citizens called them “tipsters” or even “heroes.”
When Reagan supposedly “snitched” on Commies he was doing what most law-abiding citizens would have done–he told the truth to help the authorities fight crime. Our country was in a death struggle against communism. As usual, the left was aligned with our enemy the communists, and Reagan was aligned with our country. Communists were real enemies of America, and were attempting to secretly infiltrate all levels of government and society.
Nowadays it is fashionable to look back and smile, and say such as “Oh, how quaint! They actually feared communism!” But back then most Americans saw communism for what it is–a truly evil system of government that was used to justify killing tens of millions and enslaving half of Europe and most of Asia, and was being used to gain inroads in North and South America.
The Rosenberg’s actions, along with those of their co-conspirators, could have (and still might) gotten millions of Americans killed. All they did was pass along a little classified information to the Russians. No big deal, right? Wrong! It got them executed.
The left, and probably assorted other Big Government opponents, hail Assange as a hero. They view him as they did the New York Times when it printed “The Pentagon Papers” as a mere conduit of information from a classified source to The People. I view him as more of a Julius Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs did not invent the A-bomb, they merely passed along the classified information of how to build one to our enemies. They certainly could not have escaped execution by passing the classified information along to the New York Times or The Washington Post instead of to Russian spies.
The bottom line is our government must be able to keep certain information private. I certainly believe that the government keeps way too much information from the public [99% too much? I don’t know because I don’t know what I don’t know.] We can and should argue about what should be kept secret. But we cannot allow individuals to make that determination for us by publishing any and all classified information. We are a government of laws, not of people. We must not allow a private in the army and a Wikileaks wannabe journalist to determine what our government can and cannot keep classified.
Unauthorized leaks of classified information hurt us as a society. Individuals and other governments will be deterred from helping us anonymously. Often that is the only politically viable source of help that they can provide. Also, releasing classified information can get individuals killed. That is the nub of why Sarah Palin claims that Assange should be hunted down as our enemy. I do not know if actual people have been killed because of the release of the information, but if they have, then I believe as she does that he should be treated as an enemy.
I’m not naive. I know we cannot put the genie back in the bottle. The information is already out there, so we should use the opportunity to see what silly things our government has chosen to lie about and/or keep secret from us, and to change the laws to avoid such nonsense in the future. But we should also severely punish those responsible for leaking the information, to deter others from taking the law into their own hands in the future, and to give some reassurance to individuals and governments that in the future their anonymous actions will not be publicly published all over the internet.
That’s my two cents worth. What’s yours?
UPDATE: Heh. Reflexively libertarian is, well, reflexively libertarian. TheClassicLiberal [ http://the-classic-liberal.com/wikileaks-fourth-estate ] sides with Assange and likens him to the New York Times when it published The Pentagon Papers. I say it ignores the fact that it puts him, an unknown– even a non-citizen– in the position of judge, jury and executioner of what should and what should not be kept secret by our government.
I start with the sane premise that the government must keep some secrets. E.g., if we have an infiltrator in the al Qaida whose name is X, and who will be killed if his identity becomes public knowledge. Or we have a spy in Iran in like peril. Or the government of X country is helping us in this, this and that way, but denying it to their people or they will be attacked by their own citizens who favor islamofacism in the war against the USA.
Reflexive libertarians, however, idealogues who hate anything to do with government, think in simpler terms. Government bad. Government secrets, VERY BAD. Exposing government secrets GOOD! Publisher of government secrets VERY GOOD. [And incidentally, if there is collateral damage when the top secrets are exposed, they presumably just scoff it off as the dumb luck of any stupid enough to help the USA. I’m speculating here, as I am not a refllexive libertarian…]