Disobedience, Wikileaks, and Resisting the State


July 29, 2010 by J. Madson

I have been wondering why any of us here at the mormon worker do what we do. What is it that compels us to write, protest, and take a stand in our own feeble way against the evils of our day? Often times it seems as if we are of no consequence and no good will come of such an endeavor. In thinking about this I have reflected on the latest release by Wikileaks of some 90,000 pages of classified US Documents. Private Bradley Manning is facing up to 50 years in prison for leaking the video we have all become familiar with and possibly thousands of diplomatic cables that have the potential to expose the world’s nations for their duplicitous, hypocritical, and murderous attitudes and actions behind the scenes.

Arthur Silber wrote about why this matters in his series, You’re Either with the Resistance — or with the Murderers.

History provides us with stories of individual heroism from which we draw courage. We wonder: why did Hans and Sophie Scholl fight against the immense evil of the Nazi regime, even when they knew their actions would very likely lead to their deaths, as they did in fact? In our own time, we wonder: why does Ehren Watada refuse to participate in acts that he regards as evil, even when he knows the penalty for his refusal may be exceptionally severe? From what source does he derive his strength, and why is he willing to pay such a terrible price?

As I noted in an earlier part of the series, On Torture:

But above all else, there is one fact that appears forever invisible to both Krauthammer and Sullivan, and one kind of individual who does not exist for them.

When the order comes down to treat a prisoner with unspeakable cruelty, to “waterboard” him, to electrocute him, to cut him, to hang him on hooks from the ceiling for days on end, or to commit any number of other unforgivable crimes, there is always the man or woman who will say — without bravado, without show, without explicitly staking any particular moral claim, but as a simple, unadorned statement of fact:

No. I will not do this. You can torture me, or say you will kill me. I cannot and will not do this to another human being. I will not do this.

It is the person who says, “No,” whom we must seek to understand. It is not melodramatic or engaging in overstatement to say that he or she is our salvation.

Silber also said this about Bradley Manning

At the age of 22, Bradley Manning has attained a moral stature most people never reach in an entire lifetime. He came to understand the unforgivable brutality and horror of what the U.S. government is doing, and he sought to stop it in any way he could. He wanted to do the right thing, he “wanted people held accountable,” and he wanted to make sure “this didn’t happen again.”

I wrote an article for the soon to be released, 9th issue of The Mormon Worker, wherein I discuss the story of Cain and Abel and what it teaches us about the origins of civilization and violence. I believe once we understand that what is destroying the world is not the savage or barbaric but too much civilization, ie the state, we will be compelled to disobedience, to refuse to support the system that it is killing us.

The Islamic Scholar and preacher of non-violence, Jawdat Said, explains how the Cain and Abel story in the Koran shows us that Abel is more than just an innocent victim; he knew his brother desired to kill him and refused to respond in kind. He stands at the forefront of a long prophetic tradition of refusing to participate in the blood and horror of this world.

We see the refusal to return to the previous law of violence, a glimpse of a world that humanity could surpass and a trust that humanity could abide by the new law. In the Qur’an, we are witnesses to the dialogue over the murdered son of Adam. Cain, who failed, resorted to killing instead of reviewing his mistakes. He told his brother, whose offering was accepted, “I will kill you.” While the book of Genesis does not describe Abel’s answer, the Qur’an does. Abel clearly and emphatically answers his brother’s threat: “I (surely) will not stretch my hand to kill you: for I fear God . . . .” (Id.) There is no hesitation or doubt in Abel’s position. He is determined and willing to face the consequences. His newly conferred responsibility is laid bare, and he uses well his newly acquired authority. Abel’s response is not heretical any more than was Galileo’s, though the world and the church came to believe him only after four hundred years had passed. It rather marked the evolved attitude of humanity’s new life.
We should stop a moment to witness the beginning of a new era that Abel founded, with his new evolutionary consciousness. Whether the story is factual or symbolic, four million years after humans stood erect, this moment is recognized in history through Socrates. His story is a similar case: one who accepted death and refused to evade or stop dialogue. We salute both Abel and Socrates for trusting humanity’s evolution and refusing to regress. In doing so, they rejected return to the law of physical power. By their response to violence, they became an example and role model for the intellectual.

This is what Jawdat described as prophetic disobedience

The Prophets taught their followers how to disobey. It is ironic that disobedience is found in pacifism, obedience in violence; it is ironic that most world armies train and manufacture soldiers to obey and implement orders with no objections. However, the principle of obedience to violence has its costs. The Torah and the Qur’an mention that Adam’s son, the killer, was hit with loss and eaten with regret. This is the unconscious disease that inflicts soldiers who enter criminal wars: just as pollution rises when we abuse the environment, so would these consequences appear when we abuse our souls in violence

It is in this regard that I believe we should become more disobedient. We should refuse to participate in the systems and structures that are killing us. Many of us have yet to be imprisoned like Thoreau for refusing to pay the poll tax, face 52 years in prison like Bradley Manning, or face death like many of the world’s great martyrs, but I believe that in each act of disobedience, even small acts, we come closer to understanding and fulfilling what Arthur Silber wrote:

It is the person who says, “No,” whom we must seek to understand. It is not melodramatic or engaging in overstatement to say that he or she is our salvation.

6 thoughts on “Disobedience, Wikileaks, and Resisting the State

  1. Forest Simmons says:

    Very inspiring. Keep up the good work!

  2. SUNNofaB.C.Rich says:

    oh i’m sure that little punks motivations were entirely self centered. But you guys need your idols right?

    • will vanwagenen says:

      and how are you sure? Given that he probably knew he could face a lengthy jail sentence, I wonder how self-centered he could really be.

      • SUNNofaB.C.Rich says:

        i’m pretty sure 99.9 percent of the people in jail knew they could face a lengthy jail sentence before they did what they did.

  3. Tariq says:

    Amen to that,J. The twisted thing is that the American right-wing is more angry that Manning and Wikileaks spilled the beans than they are about the damning information that the beans revealed, like that U.S. forces admit to having killed over 20,000 civilians in Afghanistan. What’s a worse crime: being a whistle blower, or killing tens of thousands of civilians? I salute Manning and Wikileaks for having the guts to do the right thing even though they knew they could get in trouble for it.

  4. Aaron says:

    Thanks, I enjoyed this article and similar articles related to peace and war. I know that Christ preached peace in all things, and I always try to support peace, but have certain wars been needed? Obviously, I’m not referring to wars as of late, but what do you say of the Civil War or our war for independence from England? I struggle with arguing that we should not have engaged in such wars…thoughts?

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