Written on:March 24, 2012
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History doesn’t have enough examples of brave people who shared truths that made the establishment uncomfortable and challenged the conventional belief system. Today’s whistleblowers shine a light on what America is and what our wars are about. Whistleblowers help us draw a clearer line between what a nation says it is and what a nation really is. Thucydides wrote “The History Of The Peloponnesian War” in 431 B.C.E. and this book was the first time a clear line was drawn between what a nation was and the idealized, fancy and less truthful way a nation saw itself, Thucydides was writing about Greek society and how they spoke well of themselves and how good their political system and their people were, while they were implementing predatory wars against other nations and exploiting them. Whistleblowing today serves not only to bring a reality to a peoples, but it also determines how future generations will perceive the past.

How a society perceives its past can alter the direction that a society is going in either a good or bad way. When a people does not know, or ignores the brutal reality of their nations’ actions, or doesn’t know their true motives, they are more likely to keep on supporting the same things that lead to those ignored or unknown actions. When our government punishes whistleblowers, they are trying to have the last say in writing our history. What are a people with a false notion of history or a condensed, edited, and glossed over history?

How should we remember the most recent U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, or older invasions like Vietnam? Whistleblowers are crucial in spreading truth and allowing us a clearer picture of current events. Daniel Ellsberg, while working for the Rand Corporation in 1967, was working on a Top Secret McNamara study of the strategies for the war in Vietnam. This study later became known as the Pentagon Papers. In 1969 Ellsberg photocopied 7000 pages of the study and gave it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, then a few years later he gave it to the New York Times. Ellsberg helped to shed light on human rights abuses and showed that the war in Vietnam was nothing like what was being reported in the media. Ellsbergs’ acts led to the conviction of several White House officials and were a major part of what led to the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon. Ellsberg played a crucial role in changing the framework of the discussion of the Vietnam War.

War and Empire as Daniel Ellsberg has shown, are lacking in substance behind the vague or hollow patriotic phrases that they say in their well-written speeches. Phrases like “war on terror” mean nothing and everything at the same time, for it means whatever the people in power want it to mean. The same can be said for the usage of the word “terrorist”. The invasion of Afghanistan was claimed by the Bush administration to have taken place because the Taliban government couldn’t find Osama Bin Laden to hand him over even though it took the U.S. 10 years to find Bin Laden. As the war in Afghanistan started, the Bush Administration and legal team headed by John Yoo was preparing a legal argument to now permit indefinite detention and torture of non-American prisoners of war.

On the former U.S. colony of Cuba a military base remains known as Camp X-Ray or Guantanamo Bay. The most notorious and well known torture facility on the Island of Cuba is by all accounts a secretive place with a series of human experiments on stress levels and how much a human can physically take before dying. The American Psychological Association has publicly condoned this and been assisting to take notes and study the affects. Brandon Neely, like most Americans probably didn’t know the details of U.S. involvement in Cuba in the early 1900’s and how it resulted in the U.S. naval base that still exists there. Brandon, like most Americans believed the rhetoric and had good intentions. He was stationed as a guard at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and had an up close experience with the realities of empire. His time at Guantanamo Bay revealed to him and later as he spoke out, to the world, that Guantanamo Bay was not a place of bringing terrorists to justice. Brandon Neely spoke out about what he observed during his time working at Guantanamo bay.

Michael Prysner joined the Army at the age of 17, His story is one that is familiar to many American families. Michael said that it was the lack of options after high school beyond menial jobs that was major reason for him turning to the Army. The Army had plans for Michael; he was sent to Iraq and took part in prisoner interrogations, house raids and ground surveillance. Prysner says that while in Iraq he realized that our reasons for war were to be the oppressor. His experiences in Iraq showed him first hand the cold realities of war and empire.

On July 12, 2007 in Iraq a group of soldiers which included Ethan Mccord, named Bravo Company 2-16 was being protected by a group of apache helicopters. The events that preceded this are now part of the famous Collateral Murder video released in 2010 by WikiLeaks. Ethan walked upon a crime scene that his own military was a part of. Ethan has now become a growing list of U.S. veterans that speak of horrific events, including the U.S. military targeting civilians. Once again, Ethan was part of a large group of Americans who were lied to and used to implement an unjust invasion and occupation. Without men like Ethan and many others, the people at home would only get the pre-approved message of war manipulated by the media. Telling people that what they have seen or heard from the media is a lie, is not always easy and now it is becoming more dangerous to do so under the current U.S. administration.

The powerful do not like people challenging the comfortable myths of the establishment. Under the Obama Administration we have seen 6 charges against whistleblowers under the espionage act, which is more than all past presidents combined. The use of the espionage act to limit whistleblowers is nothing new considering that the espionage act was mainly used to scare and threaten civil rights groups, labor unions, and leftist political groups. There have been more attacks on free speech; exposing corruption and lies within our government has always been attacked and demonized. Right now with a world wide economic collapse, wars, interventions, regime change, war with Iran – are all threats that become multiplied and we need whistleblowers now more than ever. Although these are just a few examples of whistleblowers, there are many more, and their stories are important for us all to hear.

4 Comments add one

  1. Nicky says:

    The reference to whistleblowers as “brave people who shared truths” is a hotly debated theory. While partially true, this statement implies that anybody who shares a truth is a whistleblower. Surely a true whistleblower should be somebody who is personally involved in a situation for which they have substantial proof to cause them to believe that that process has the potential to cause harm (Davis, 1996)? This could be referring to somebody who divulges intimate knowledge, but which may not have any great potential to cause harm or construe wrong doing. This interpretation could include spies or the uninformed who don’t understand the situation completely, making it difficult to consider this person as brave, let alone a true whistleblower. Davis, 1996, states that a whistleblower must be somebody who is a voluntary member of the organisation, and whom believes that the organisation he is employed by is “…engaged in wrong doing”, and that without blowing the whistle, he will be contributing to the wrong doing. The standard theory also requires either “…substantial physical evidence” or “…a good sense of how things work” (Davis, 1996) which eliminates the inclusion of the uninformed or spies from the definition. Davis, 1996, considers harm to be defined as physical, financial or psychological, and also takes into account the fact that most whistleblowers do not prevent harm, as their revelations come about after the event, in a sense preventing further harm, but not the harm which was the cause of the whistleblowing.
    Surely somebody who is removed from the situation and in effect acting as a spy has less to lose and thus is risking less by whistleblowing than somebody who is actively involved within the organisation. A true whistleblower can be considered brave because they are jeopardizing their position within the organisation, and their future career prospects should it become known in the industry that they are whistleblowers. Once a person has become known as a whistleblower, it is likely that other organisations will not wish to hire this individual for fear of the same thing happening to their organisation, as was discussed by Glazer and Glazer (as cited in Alfred, 2001). Whistleblowers are also vulnerable to threats in order to silence them from within the organisation, and the personal and financial stress that these proceedings can cause are daunting for any potential whistleblower, adding to strengthen the belief that these individuals who do step forward are truly courageous (Robbins, 2008). It has even been commented by Hill (2008) that whistleblowers possess moral courage, because they are prepared to cause considerable harm (albeit generally in a psychological sense) to themselves in order to prevent harm to others, so to this extent I would agree that a true whistleblower could be considered as brave.
    A whistleblower should first approach internal superiors and only once they have exhausted all internal efforts, should they venture towards an external source (Davis, 1996). This would be more courageous, as these individuals do not then have the protection of the public or an outside organisation and run the risk of retaliation from the organisation. They are also giving the organisation the opportunity to correct the wrongdoing themselves, as it is possible that the organisation is oblivious to some of the wrongdoings occurring (Scholes, 2009). It may be easier for a whistleblower to condemn the organisation as a whole, rather than the actions of one individual, as the whistleblower may have a close personal relationship with that individual, making the decision to report them to a senior even more difficult. This is difficult on a more superficial level, as if the senior supervisor does not believe the whistleblower, the immediate supervisor now has the opportunity to punish the whistleblower. Considering that the intention of the whistleblower should be to prevent future harm, it is questionable as to whether the public should always be their chosen avenue. This is not to say they are an inappropriate avenue, but revealing the information to the public requires a means of delivery, which would generally be the press. As is later discussed in this blog, what is reported by the media and the actual truth are often not synonymous. Thus it is likely that even if somebody does take a genuine story to the media, and could be considered to be a true whistleblower, it is unlikely that they will show the public will be completely true. Competing organisations or groups who are already opposed to an organisation then have the opportunity to take the story and run with it, twisting it to suit their own incentive and giving them the chance to build their own case against the organisation. It is also debateable as to whether the public have the power to stop whatever is occurring, and this would need to be considered by the whistleblower. This could be due to the public not having a deep enough understanding of the situation, organisation, perceived harm or industry, and thus it must be considered if a governing body may be more beneficial than the general public.
    “The powerful do not like people challenging the comfortable myths of the establishment” is a statement which slightly undermines the true meaning of a whistleblower. It should be noted that a whistle blower should not be considered as a person who is merely “challenging comfortable myths”, as it goes without saying that an organisation or establishment is not going to appreciate somebody sharing their organisations details with anybody, as this kind of behaviour has the potential to cripple even the most legitimate and above board organisations. What a whistleblower brings to light should have nothing to do with a myth, but rather cold hard facts which the whistleblower believes has the potential to cause harm and must be brought to the attention of either an internal or external source in order to put a stop to such happenings, not provide something to speculate over (Davis, 1996).
    Alfred, C. F. (2001). Whistleblowers: Broken lives and Organizational Power. Maryland, USA: Cornell University Press.
    Davis, M. (1996). Some Paradoxes of Whistleblowing. Business & Professional Ethics Journal, 15 (1), 3-19.
    Hill, C. W. (2008). Global Business Today. New York, USA: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
    Robbins, S.-P. J.-A.-M. (2008). Organisational Behaviour. NSW, Australia: Pearsons Education Australia.
    Scholes, V. (2009). Business Ethics, Module 2. Wellington, New Zealand: The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand.

  2. In my mind, any whistle blower, internal or external is brave.

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