The Wikileaks videos also do not reveal the hundreds upon hundreds of cases in which American forces refrain from attacking targets precisely because civilians are in harm’s way. That is today an iron rule in Afghanistan, and one for which our soldiers are themselves paying a price in increased casualties. Yet even with the greatest care, armed conflict cannot be sanitized. In almost every war America has ever fought, things on occasion go badly awry. In World War II, instances in which Allied forces massacred captured enemy soldiers were not unheard of. While such cases were a blemish on our military honor, broadcasting the facts to the world and thereby stiffening enemy morale would have been unthinkable in the midst of the great global conflagration.
Although our current struggle does not compare to World War II, there can be no doubt that the dissemination of military videos—far more potent in their impact than written dispatches—can have a profound affect upon our soldiers, inflaming opinion against them in the battlefield and placing their lives at risk. Such videos also undermine the larger counterinsurgency mission of winning hearts and minds. That is why the military keeps them classified. […]
Schoenfeld is a think-tanker neocon who’s an expert on the media, so it’s interesting to see what’s implicit in his argument. First, the “hearts and minds” he’s concerned about aren’t actually experiencing what’s going on in those videos. Hell, most
of them don’t Afghanis Afghans don’t even have an Internet connection. As for “stiffening” the morale of the “enemy” — if their morale isn’t stiffened by an almost-decade of occupation, will one or two videos more make much difference?
The real risk of Wikileaks is that the videos posted there will convince Americans that our endless entanglement there is both brutal and useless. That’s why they’re so essential, and why they’re a target: Nobody else is doing it.