Patriots or Traitors?

This has been the week of whistleblowers—or at least those who’ve held themselves out to be whistleblowers.

Bradley Manning, who leaked thousands of U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks, was found guilty of 20 offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including six violations of the Espionage Act. He was, however, exonerated on the charge of “aiding the enemy.” Meanwhile, former defense contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked secrets from the National Security Agency, was granted temporary asylum in Russia.

The actions of both men have sparked fierce disagreements: Are they patriots or traitors?

Image credit: Jared Rodriguez/truthout

“For every reporter, civil libertarian and human rights lawyer who praises Manning’s bravery there is someone else who harbors seething resentment at the gall he displayed in deciding, for himself, which secrets he would keep and which he wouldn’t,” Andrew Cohen wrote in The Atlantic.

Michael Kelleywriting in Business Insider, found a similar split regarding Snowden. “Snowden is a whistleblowing hero for providing evidence of what is widely considered as an unnecessary and unconstitutional mass surveillance of the American people,” Kelley observed, but he also “betrayed his country by leaking classified but not necessarily unlawful NSA methods that could be of great value to a foreign intelligence services.”

Anyone looking to harness the words of Peter Drucker in this debate will find no open-and-shut answer. Certainly, as we’ve discussed, Drucker took a dim view of whistleblowing, which he viewed, apart from extreme cases, as a violation of the ethics of “interdependence.” He also certainly understood the need for national defense.

But Drucker was concerned that, in the era of the “Megastate,” mindless patriotism could supplant true citizenship. “Patriotism, the willingness to die for one’s country, has been universal,” Drucker wrote in Post-Capitalist Society. But citizenship, by which Drucker meant “making a difference in one’s community, in one’s society, in one’s country,” was much more rare. “Without citizenship, there cannot be that responsible commitment which creates the citizen and which in the last analysis holds together the body politic,” Drucker warned. “Power is then the only thing that holds it together.”

Also, regardless of how Drucker would have felt about Manning’s and Snowden’s decisions to go public, he would at least have been sympathetic to their private doubts over the morality of what they were doing when they were working for the government. “Every institution has to be analyzed in terms of the beliefs and promises of the society which it serves,” Drucker wrote in Concept of the Corporation. “Does the institution strengthen the citizen’s allegiance to his society by furthering the realization of society’s ethical beliefs and promises?”

Finally, Drucker may well have seen the actions of Snowden and Manning—and society’s reaction—as quintessentially American, for better or worse. In almost all nations, citizens give allegiance unconditionally, whereas many Americans adjust their levels of allegiance in accordance with the degree to which they feel the nation is living up to its creed.

“This country has to take seriously any question relating to the relationship between American creed and American social performance,” Drucker wrote. “It must always ask whether its social institutions carry out the basic promises of American life or not.”

Do you think the actions of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden were laudable or deplorable?