zetasyanthis: (Default)
[Originally posted on Blogger during my angry politics phase.  Please take this journal with a grain of salt and realize I've grown a lot since then.  :)]

This is an older essay of mine, but I feel it's still extremely topical to the current diplomatic cable mess, mainly due to the central question it poses.  "Is the risk to American personnel and national security (whatever you take that term to mean) posed by this leak greater or less than the known damage the policies revealed by the leak have caused?"
The mainstream media has been extremely quick to both criticize and in some cases, outright condemn Wikileaks for its recent post of 90,000 classified mission reports from Afghanistan.  Right or wrong, this release presents another part of the picture of what is really happening on the ground there, giving an opportunity to review our past decisions and their very real consequences.  Make no mistake, people may die because of this release.  The same ease with which we can apply this data to Google Maps allows those on the other side to do the same, an ability that will let them analyze areas that are particularly supportive of American efforts and target them for retribution.

War is hell, and an insurgent war doubly so. We see this in the casualties we have suffered, and the economic costs of the war.  What we do not often see is the fate of the Iraqi or Afghan people caught in the middle of our conflict.  Generals speak of reducing civilian casualties while we grow numb to the latest statistics occasionally reported about bombings, ambushes, and raids.  In the meantime, people are dying.  Not a day goes by that an Iraqi civilian is not killed, whether by our side or by theirs.  What generals consider collateral damage in the war effort turns hearts and minds against us more than Muslim propaganda ever could.  The death of a family member, a brother, sister, mother, slowly turns resentment into outright hate.  People are dying, and no amount of freedom brings back the dead.

A question arises.  A question that we must ask, and that we must carefully consider.  The ramifications are vast.  "Do the lives put at risk by this release outweigh the lives that may be saved by a hastened end to the war?"  Every day that goes by, contractors die; soldiers die; civilians die.  These people are fighting simply because we are there.  We feel we cannot leave, but in staying, we turn the populace against us.

"Do the lives put at risk by this release outweigh the lives that may be saved by a hastened end to the war?" Even if one hundred people die as a direct result of this posting, they will hardly be a drop in the bucket compared to the hundred thousand that have gone before.  If the answer is no, then we must stop and think about what we are doing, what we are trying to do, and how to go about it.  We are losing ourselves in this war, and we are losing the people we need to win it as well.

While I hope that this disclosure costs no lives, I will not pretend to be ignorant of the facts.  People are dying, and more people will die before this war is ended.  These facts are cold and bare and uncomfortable, but they are true.  Only by facing what is can we look beyond, to what can be.
The law is an imprecise instrument.  It sees only black and while, relying on human beings to interpret the areas in between.  Whistle-blower protections are important, but this case also stretches them to the breaking point.  Protecting the disclosure of unethical practices is the primary reason for whistle-blower protection statutes, but there is a very real practicality question as to how broadly they can apply.  It is quite possible that if they can cover the entirety of US foreign policy, they would be so powerful as to render actual protective measures entirely meaningless, even on information that is very legitimately classified.  Basically, this whole discussion begs the question of whose ethics the whistle-blower gets protection is based on.  If ethical decision-making is placed entirely on the individual, it's possible actual enemies could take advantage of the statutes by claiming protections, but if placed entirely on the society, cultural myopia could blind us to the harm we may be doing to others and ourselves.
zetasyanthis: (Default)
[Originally posted on Blogger during my angry politics phase.  Please take this journal with a grain of salt and realize I've grown a lot since then.  :)]

Full Disclosure:  I have worked in the defense industry twice now.  I interned at Rockwell Collins whilst a sophomore and am currently working for a (much) smaller contractor in the Arizona.

When I decided to go to school as an engineering major, I was mainly thinking about the ability to build cool, new things.  I never really thought to wonder what things I'd be building, or for who.  By the time I went to my first career fair, however, I found myself in a profession whose main employer was the defense industry.  Other than basic surprise, I didn't think much of it before my pre-graduation hunt for a full-time employer.

My senior year was extremely bad for new job seekers.  The financial collapse occurred just before the main career fair for the year, and the spring fair was almost non-existent compared to previous years.  The only companies that were still hiring, and even growing, at this stage were the larger defense contractors:  Raytheon, Rockwell Collins, and even Halliburton attended the fair, all looking for as many engineers as they could find.  I should take a moment and explain that last statement slightly further.  During my internship at Rockwell Collins two years prior, numerous official presentations reinforced the point that they needed to "offer every graduating engineer a job offer" to even fill the number of bodies required to continue growing the business.  This is a stunning admission to make, and really shows just how quickly the defense industry is growing post 9/11.

With the job market in such disarray, I stayed on another year to complete a Masters, interning at a local consulting firm attached to the college and trying to figure out how I'd get a job with the economy headed deeper and deeper into the Great Recession, as some were now calling it.  Back at school, the career fairs stayed small, but the contractors always attended and always had long lines at their booths.  Before graduation, I received two job offers, giving me more options than a lot of people today, but also presenting me with the clearest vision of the difference between defense and traditional engineering employment.  One promised a reasonable salary, with side benefits like medical insurance available via small paycheck deductions every month.  The other offered a significantly higher salary, as well as covering insurance types I hadn't even known or cared about before, a stock purchase program, and crazy-high 401k matching.

I made a choice, and as the 'full disclosure' at the top suggests, I chose defense.  I set aside my personal views and politics and chose the money, as many do every year.  That still does not make it right.  Since joining the company, I've had many a sleepless night wondering about the ramifications of the tech we're developing, about the potential abuses, and most importantly, about whether I should be in this industry at all.

Many people wonder why a lot of our best and brightest stay away from politics.  Politics is a messy, merciless, and downright brutal profession at the best of times, and many stay away if for no other reason than to avoid having their personal lives torn apart for the sake of their job.  Job safety is another reason.  As a politician, you're not guaranteed to be elected even once, let alone repeatedly and if you have (or want) a family, this isn't a very reliable career path with which to provide for one.  Still, those entering engineering don't initially think about the political choice they may be implicitly making.

Post 2001, and even more so since the beginning of the Great Recession, engineering has begun to shift towards being a profession largely in support of the military and, implicitly, our current foreign policy.  If you think otherwise, you need only look at the power these companies now wield in Washington.  Robert Reich's  August 14th piece entitled America's Biggest Job Program - The Military lays out this power, and how it reinforces job growth within the defense industry.

While this cycle is devastating on its own, its ramifications have caused another even more damaging one to come into existence.  We live in a world consumed by fear of the latest crisis, the latest problem and in which our elected officials offer no real solutions because they are too complex, or uninterested.  We have funneled our professional problem solvers, our engineers, away from the away from our most important issues without even realizing what we have done.


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Zeta Syanthis

September 2017



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