3 Nov

Hannah Brownlow


No matter how involved in academic life in St Andrews, how much you have been sucked inside its bubble-like core, you have probably heard the name ‘WikiLeaks’ with an alarming frequency in recent weeks. It’s the kind of thing that when someone asks you to explain it, though you know full well what it is, you just have trouble putting it into words.

In the shell of a small nut, it is essentially a website publishing sensitive information with some sort of political undertone. Anyone can submit their findings to the website, some of which are then selected and published anonymously; it gives a voice to those who have been silenced by authorities, effectively promoting freedom of information on a global scale.

Some fervently support the organisation as it stands defiantly against those who wish to keep the general public in the dark about series political and military issues. Others dismiss it as irresponsible, providing kindling for volatile international relationships.

There are certainly many shocking revelations within its archives such as the US asking China to stop a shipment of nuclear missiles from North Korea to Iran back in 2007. That said I’m not entirely sure which part of that was purportedly unknown: most people suspect North Korea and Iran of having nuclear weapons, and the US has no desire to enter into a nuclear war with either of these nations.

Maybe three years ago that would have stopped presses all over the world; nowadays, people don’t really seem to care. After scanning some other leaked cables I learnt the following: Angela Merkel, the German prime minister is ‘risk averse;’ Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, is ‘feckless and vain;’ Kevin Rudd, the ex-prime minister of Australia, is unpredictable; Gordon Brown was apparently ‘finished’ well before he decided finally to step down. I think using the word ‘learnt’ at the beginning of all that was a little strong, it is perhaps more apt to use a phrase such as ‘already knew.’

Wikileaks poster

As a body of people, we really are treated like idiots. When I read a memo that says someone thinks Russia is corrupt I feel like responding with something along the lines of, ‘you don’t say!’ Yes! Stop those presses again, there is a person in the world that no-one has heard of that thinks that Russia is dodge. Hold on! Here comes another, Colonel Gaddafi of Libyan fame relies on his ‘voluptuous blonde’ Ukranian nurse – oh, no wait, no-one really cares because Bargain Hunt is starting.

Very little of what I read was really of a surprising nature. In a political society it would be grossly naive to assume that everyone gets along and doesn’t say something derogatory about someone else that showed up to one of those awful diplomatic dinners. In my view, the grand total of Wikileaks’ worth is in soundbites for journalists keen to beef up an article.

So in a little under 500 words I have completely undermined the worth of the world’s largest whistleblower facility. This was not my intention. Politicians need something to keep them honest. If they live in fear of what they really think being exposed then maybe they would think twice about taking that viewpoint in the first place. International relations are strained at the best of times, but with an impartial big brother figure watching everything, I would hope that for once politicians would act for their representatives’ best interests and keep the peace.


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