We Steal Secrets and Dirty Wars

The Belcourt is the best place to see a documentary film in Nashville. It’s not because it’s the flashiest movie complex, or because they have the best popcorn. Its the only theatre that consistently brings documentaries worth seeing to the Middle Tennessee area.

This past week, the Belcourt showed a documentary titled We Steal Secrets: the story of WikiLeaks. The documentary film walks viewers through the organization of WikiLeaks and how Julian Assange started the world’s largest secret-spilling operation. That weekend I was able to see Dirty Wars, another documentary film about covert operations around the world conducted by a clandestine group known as JSOC as covered by journalist Jeremy Scahill.

I was unsure what to expect from both films before seeing them. They both deal heavily in government/state secrets, making those secrets available to the masses, and avoiding legal action related to the release of that information.

Here’s what I feel I learned from both films.

  • We’ve lost sight of how America tries to land on the right side of history. This is not because we will win all the battles or eliminate all the bad guys, but because when we look back we will know we were doing a right thing.
  • We have allowed our government to grow so large and so powerful that the average American (or other citizen) has almost no chance of  defending oneself against it.
  • We can be certain the our government is deeply involved in a global war on terror, but we cannot win hearts and minds globally because of our unwillingness to operate in the light of day and avoid unnecessary losses of life abroad to civilians.
  • It’s not that Republicans/Democrats are always the bad guys, but that the DC bubble has become a serious problem for the rest of the country.
  • It’s not that our Armed Forces are always the bad guys, but that we have programs that may be legal, even though they may not be (they probably aren’t) moral/ethical.
  • We need to remember that because something was once legal or socially acceptable doesn’t begin to make it a right thing.

Do we want to be a nation that values privacy or that allows the government to spy on its citizens in the vein of Germany, Russia, China, etc?Do we want to be a nation that turns its collective head away from wartime atrocities committed with the express consent of the White House?

We need to have some very serious conversations about the kind of nation we want to be moving forward. I want to be part of a nation that understands the world we live in. People will certainly want to do us harm. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t believe that. But the ways we  respond to evil are as important as how we treat those who would do us harm.

If you get a chance, you should try to see these documentary films. They are worth a couple hours of your time for a few reasons, but the main reason is this: our government has grown too big and too powerful. And without honest men and women willing to lead us out of this dark period, our government may never be able to regain the trust of the American people and the rest of the world.

While watching Dirty Wars, I remember hearing Scahill mention as narrator that something “they” were doing was wrong. But that’s not entirely true. This is something we as Americans are doing. We’re complicit. We’re responsible. We need to take responsibility for the actions of OUR government. Because no one should do it for us. Are we certainly don’t want them to.

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