Published: Sunday, February 05, 2012, 2:00 AM – By Larry Elin / Special to The Post-Standard
Last month, the Army officer in charge of a preliminary hearing for Pfc. Bradley Manning recommended a general court-martial for the former intelligence analyst. The 24-year old Manning is accused of providing more than 700,000 secret U.S. documents to WikiLeaks, the website devoted to government transparency. If found guilty, he could face life in prison.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks, despite strong international support, may go out of business. Under pressure from the State Department, credit card companies Visa, MasterCard and even PayPal have refused to process contributions to WikiLeaks, and have erected a financial “blockade” around the struggling company.
Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange have both been accused of treason for publishing government secrets, even though the Pentagon is having a hard time proving that anything they leaked has been truly harmful. Indeed, the most widely publicized documents have been mostly embarrassing, and some of it, like the leaked video called “Collateral Murder,” appalling.
By exposing dark, embarrassing secrets from the past, WikiLeaks has changed the future, and only time will tell whether for the better. It is possible, though, that had WikiLeaks and the Internet been around in 1904, Teddy Roosevelt may have been prevented from laying the groundwork for World War II, and that would not have been a bad thing.
Author James Bradley (“Flyboys” and “Flags of Our Fathers”) tells the story of President Teddy Roosevelt’s bad behavior in his book “The Imperial Cruise.” In 1904, without consulting Congress, Roosevelt had a series of secret meetings with an emissary from Japan, Baron Kentaro Kaneko, a fellow Harvard graduate. Roosevelt told Kaneko that Japan was “almost Aryan,” and had a right to have its own version of the Monroe Doctrine. It could and should, he told Kaneko, have a sphere of influence over the western Pacific in the same way that the United States protects its interests in Mexico and the Caribbean. He encouraged Japan to invade Manchuria, and dislodge the Russians who were then occupying it. He did this while, at the same time, pretending to broker a peace deal between the two countries.
In 1905, Teddy Roosevelt dispatched his secretary of war, William Howard Taft, to Japan on a secret diplomatic mission. Taft was to tell the “founding fathers” of Japan that they should lay claim to Korea, a country that they were already occupying as a result of their successful war with Russia. Roosevelt had told Taft, “I should like Japan to have Korea.”
Japan did exactly what Roosevelt suggested. It invaded Manchuria, and humiliated the Russian army in what was then the world’s largest land war. It then forced the Korean emperor and his cabinet to effectively sign over all authority for civil rule to the Japanese legation, and Japan ruled Korea until after World War II. Japan’s militarism and expansionist tendencies were planted and encouraged by Roosevelt, who died before he could witness the fruits of his labor: Japanese imperialism, its invasion of China, the Philippines, southeast Asia and finally, its attack on Pearl Harbor.
Roosevelt did not sign a treaty with Japan spelling out his specific wishes that it become the biggest military power in Asia. He knew he was breaking the law. But cables and letters exchanged among him, Taft, Kaneko and the leaders of Japan, as well as news clippings, speeches and personal diaries tell the entire story, and are chronicled by Bradley in “The Imperial Cruise,” published just last year. But at the time, nobody knew about Roosevelt’s dealings with Japan, including his own secretary of state! The press worshiped Roosevelt, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906. His face is one of four carved into the granite of Mount Rushmore.
Imagine how the 20th century would have looked (not to mention Mount Rushmore) if Roosevelt’s ill-advised, ego-driven meddling in foreign affairs had been outed by someone like Bradley Manning and Julian Assange on the Internet. He could have been impeached, which would have been his own personal tragedy. But it is also possible that the entire history of Asia, and the world, would be different. Roosevelt not only dragged Japan out of isolation, he just about pushed it into aggression. We can only surmise what the world would look like if Japan had remained a peaceful, somewhat introverted country. It would make a great book, though.
Today, we do have WikiLeaks. A veritable sea of data awaits analysis from news organizations, scholars, conspiracy theorists and sideline gawkers. Is there a 21st century version of “The Imperial Cruise” in there someplace? If there is, we might get lucky this time. Do we run the risk that well-advised, legal, and intelligent schemes will be exposed as well? Yes, but whether or not you think it’s worth the risk will depend on if you think we’ve seen our last Teddy Roosevelt.
Larry Elin is an Associate Professor at the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.