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Archive for September 12th, 2012

Back when victory in the Cold War was still a gleam in Ronald Reagan’s eye, analysts had some fixed ideas about why the conflict endured, and why it would be nearly impossible to end. One idea was the arms race, along with the fear and distrust those large arsenals caused. Another idea was the continued occupation of Eastern Europe, which the West saw as the original cause of the conflict. A third idea was that when two great powers face each other like that, neither one will back down.

Ronald Reagan offered an explanation of his own, one that showed his understanding of the way people and groups interact when they fight. He said that we could never trust the Soviet Union while they maintained a closed society. How can we have confidence in what they say, he asked, if they do almost everything in secret? Reagan pointed out that was true not only for the Soviets’ international behavior – the government kept almost everything secret from its own citizens as well.

Not so long after Reagan’s observation, glasnost – openness – became the leading edge of Mikhail Gorbachev’s initiatives for change. He apparently agreed with Reagan: no one would trust the Soviet regime without openness on its part. No adversaries within or without the Soviet Union could make peace with its leaders unless the leaders could create some degree of trust. Trust begets good will; good will begets peace. Distrust fosters conflict because it’s the deepest form of alienation.

I wanted to record these thoughts because our government has become more and more like the Soviet government in matters of secrecy. Governments, including our own, have always guarded information carefully for various reasons. Our government, however, has moved strongly away from openness and toward secrecy during the last decade. The evidence for this change is everywhere, most recently in the government’s atrocious war on whistleblowers.

This move toward secrecy is 9/11’s clearest effect. 9/11 destroyed our democracy – it did so by making our government a closed organization. As a result government has alienated citizens from itself. Alienation always results in conflict, and that is just what we find in the relationiship between citizens and government in our country. We cannot trust our government when most of its acts occur in secret, when it lies to cover its crimes, and when it acts in multiple ways to conceal its motives. Secret organizations with power cannot coexist in peace with other groups. They must be at war.

The Cold War ended, and this war between our government and the rest of the country can end, too. It can only end with openness on the government’s part.

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