When Darrell Anderson, 22, joined the US military he knew there was going to be a war, and he wanted to fight it. "I thought I was going to free Iraqi people," he told me. "I thought I was going to do a good thing."
Until, that is, he realised precisely what he had to do. While on patrol in Baghdad, he thought: "What are we doing here? Are we looking for weapons of mass destruction? No. Are we helping the people? No, they hate us. What are we working towards, apart from just staying alive? If this was my neighbourhood and foreign soldiers were doing this then what would I be doing?" Within a few months, he says, "I was cocking my weapon at innocent civilians without any sympathy or humanity". While home on leave he realised he was not going to be able to lead a normal life if he went back. His mum drove him to Canada, where I met him in 2006 at a picnic for war resisters in Fort Erie.
Anderson's trajectory, from uncritical patriotism to conscious disaffection and finally to conscientious dissent, is a familiar one among a generation of Americans who came of political age after 9/11. Over time, efforts to balance the myth of American freedom on which they were raised, with the reality of American power that they have been called on to monitor or operate, causes a profound dislocation in their world view. Like a meat eater in an abattoir, they are forced to confront the brutality of the world they are implicated in and recoil at their role in it – occasionally in dramatic fashion.
It is from this generation that the most recent prominent whistleblowers have emerged: Edward Snowden, 29, the former National Security Agency contractor, now on the run after passing evidence of mass snooping to the Guardian; Bradley Manning, who at 22 gave classified diplomatic and military information to WikiLeaks and now faces a court martial; the late Aaron Swartz, who by 24 was a veteran hacker when he was arrested for illegally downloading academic articles from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later took his own life; and Jeremy Hammond, 28, who is facing federal criminal charges for allegedly publicising the internal files of a private spying agency.
Just as America's military record abroad, complete with torture and "collateral damage", has helped push a section of disaffected Muslim youth across the globe towards terrorism, so the violation of civil liberties and privatisation of information has driven a number of disillusioned Americans to law-breaking dissent at home.
~ from The Whistleblowers Are the New Generation of American Patriots by Gary Younge ~
Every so often a case comes before the public in which people who witnessed a vile crime or a tragedy did nothing to try to stop it. In most cases, these individuals are guilty of no crime, but the majority of us convict them in a social sense of a lack of empathy or morality.
What kind of a person, upon seeing someone drowning, casually walks away without giving it a second thought? If at the end of your shift at work, you come upon your supervisor raping a co-worker, who simply punches out their time card and walks to their car to drive home? If you did such things yourself or knew of someone who did, what would you think of such person? Would you have a high opinion of him or her?
When we discover that an individual or organization is engaged in willful wrongdoing, we have a moral obligation either to try to stop or expose them. When the guilty party is one's own government, about the ONLY patriotic thing for a person to do is to expose the wrongdoing to the light of day. Trying to stop the criminality in-house is pointless when it is initiated by the higher ups. It would be like reporting a rape to your rapist. You think that will stop the next rape?
Younge is right. Today's whistleblowers are patriots. In most cases, they have risked their own freedom and happiness for the rest of us. In most cases, they have risked it all to protect us. We owe them more than we can ever repay.