In 2007, 63 percent (significantly higher than any other age group) disagreed with the statement: “I support my country, right or wrong.”
In 2004, 86 percent thought “an imperialist power that acts on its own regardless of what the rest of the world thinks” was improper or somewhat improper, while just 3 percent thought the opposite.
“No other group we studied,” Zogby wrote, referring to the latter question, “not Democrats nor self-described progressives, not readers of the New York Times, had a greater spread between the two extremes.”
It is in this context that the defiance and determination of these young people must be understood. One could make too much of their age as a unifying factor. Since these leaks demand proficiency with new technology, those involved are bound to be younger. And older people, with families, careers and pensions, are less likely to do things they know will put them in jail or force them to flee.
Moreover, for all the similarities between them, there are significant differences. Snowden contributed money to Republican libertarian Rand Paul’s campaign; Hammond describes himself as an “anarchist-communist.”
Yet, while each acted separately from the other, their unrepentant justifications read as though they were unconsciously working in concert.
“I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors,” Hammond wrote.
“We need to take information,” Swartz wrote. “Wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world.”
“This is the truth. This is what is happening,” Snowden said. “You should decide whether we need to be doing this.”
Manning said: “I want people to see the truth, because without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”
They seek to liberate not land or people, but information. The state seeks to criminalize them as spies. However, it was not treachery, but patriotism (once blind, now wide-eyed and arguably always misplaced) that brought most of them to this point.
Their aim was neither to enrich themselves nor to aid a foreign power, but to make the power in which they invested much of their identity — the US — more transparent, knowledgeable, accountable and honorable.
Anderson, Manning and Snowden, for example, all joined the military-security sector after Gauntanamo and Abu Ghraib were in the public domain. They knew what could be done in the US’ name. They just never thought they would be put in a position where they would have to choose between doing it, concealing it or exposing it. Raised in the true US ideal that an individual can make a difference, they spoke up.
Forced to choose between allegiance to the flag and uniform, and loyalty to the ideals the flag is supposed to represent and the uniform is supposed to defend, they chose the latter. Their defiance stems from the fact that they do not believe they have let down the US. They believe they had to act because the US was letting itself down.