Who Is the Hero? Albright vs. Assange

Lawrence Davidson checks on the answer, from inside and  outside the Establishment. 

Pro-Assange protester in London’s Parliament Square, July 3, 2021. (Alisdare Hickson, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Lawrence Davidson 

Our image of a hero has two aspects. The first consists of generic, stereotypical traits: bravery, determination in the face of adversity, achievement against heavy odds — the kind of person who saves the day.

The second aspect is more culturally specific, describing and contextualizing the circumstances of bravery and determination, and the nature of achievement in terms that are narrowly defined. In other words, cultural descriptions of bravery are most often expressed in terms compatible with the social and political conditions of the hero’s society.

Heroes are ubiquitous. For instance, there are American heroes, Russian heroes, Israeli heroes, Arab heroes, Ukrainian heroes, and so on. Where does good and bad come into it? Well, that too becomes a cultural judgment. Below are two examples of “heroes.” I will leave it to the reader to decide who is good and who is bad.

Albright —From Outside the Establishment

Madeleine Albright was the first woman to serve as American secretary of state (1997-2001). She served in this capacity under President Bill Clinton during his second term.

As such, she must be seen as a loyal promoter of her president’s foreign policy — a policy she may have helped create — regardless of any moral or ethical considerations. In other words, she is a “company” point person.

Whether this requires bravery is questionable. As we will see, it will require a persistence toward a single end defined in societal or national terms. This does indicate determination and achievement in the face of an alleged foe.

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright in 2015, in a panel on the future of religion and politics. (Maria Bryk, State Department)

When Madeleine Albright died in 2022, the following “achievements” were critically cited in the obituaries written by those outside the establishment and thus critical of Albright:

(1) Russia was “her obsession” and this led to her being the U.S. government’s point person on the expansion of NATO eastward into what had been the Soviet sphere of influence. This was done in violation of guarantees given to Russia in 1989 that NATO would not go further than the border of the newly united Germany — an act that helped prepare the ground for the present war in Ukraine.

(2) In 1997-1998, acting as secretary of state, she threatened Iraq with aerial bombardment if its government did not allow for weapons inspections at designated sites. The Iraqis eventually complied but got bombed anyway.

(3) She also made sure draconian sanctions were applied (including banning many medicines) to Iraq for an extended period of time. The result was the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians, including 500,000 Iraqi children. When asked by the journalist Lesley Stahl on the TV show 60 Minutes whether the draconian sanctions were worth the price of the deaths of approximately a half-million Iraqi children, she replied, “we think this was a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.”

This led one critic of the U.S. government to judge Albright’s career as follows:

“It is the ultimate moral crime to target for misery, pain and death those least responsible for the offenses of their tyrannical rulers. Yet this is the very policy Madeleine Albright, made “Standard Operating Procedure for US diplomacy.”

Albright — From Inside the Establishment

May 3, 2013: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry greeting former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the State Department. (State Department)

From inside the establishment, that is, from inside the U.S. government and foreign policy establishment as well as an allied media, she was lauded as a dedicated, talented and energetic leader.

One member of the House of Representatives said upon her death,

Our nation lost a hero today. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was the face of US foreign policy throughout some of the most difficult times for our nation and the world. … She brought nations together to expand NATO and defend the very pillars of democracy across the world. … She taught us that we can solve some of the world’s most difficult issues by bringing people together and having tough, uncomfortable conversations.”

According to the eulogistic obituary published by The New York Times, 

“Her performance as secretary of state won high marks from career diplomats abroad and ordinary Americans at home. Admirers said she had a star quality, radiating practicality, versatility and a refreshingly cosmopolitan flair.”

What can we conclude from these contrasting views? We quickly come to realize that inside the establishment one rarely, if ever, hears any reference to such things as the human cost of a policy, the end of which is defined in terms of national interest. In the case of Madelene Albright, national interest trumped human interest. Still, she was held a hero nonetheless.

Assange & Manning 

Julian Assange is an Australian computer specialist who founded WikiLeaks in 2006. It is a website dedicated to providing “primary source materials” to journalists and the public alike.

WikiLeaks eventually released “thousands of internal or classified documents from an assortment of government and business entities.” The site raised immediate hostility from many governments and corporations, which decried the “lack of ethics” of Assange and his fellows — who were exposing the often unethical, and sometimes murderous, behavior of those now attacking the website.

Bradley (aka Chelsea) Manning was an Army intelligence specialist assigned to a base near Baghdad during the Iraq War. Manning was suffering from a gender identity crisis. He also had serious second thoughts about the Iraq War.

Eventually, his growing opposition to the war led him to secretly send Assange “750,000 classified, or unclassified but sensitive, military and diplomatic documents.” Manning was later exposed and arrested, court-martialed and eventually had his sentence commuted by President Barack Obama.

From Inside the Establishment

Julian Assange on way to Belmarsh Prison, April 11, 2019. (Twitter)

As the writer and therapist Steven Berglas observes,

“for as long as there have been moral canaries in our societal coal mines they have been denigrated for being as corrupt, or more so, than the miscreants they attack.”

Assange and Manning face just such charges.

The complaints were, if you will, weaponized in 2010 after

WikiLeaks released “half a million documents” relating to U.S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, obtained from the then young, disillusioned Army intelligence analyst Manning.
This was followed by another release of about a quarter-million U.S. diplomatic cables, many of which were classified.
Assange was now deemed “a terrorist” by the government terrorists he had exposed. Subsequently, these actions were deemed “a threat to U.S. national security” by the U.S. government.

Mike Pompeo as CIA director calling WikiLeaks a nonstate hostile actor. (Screenshot)

As a result, Manning was jailed and suffered court-martial while Assange, now living in England, has been fighting extradition to the U.S. for years.

From inside the establishment both Assange and Manning are criminals. Both exposed secrets of governments and it is an established principle that states cannot run without secrets. This is partially because all states sometimes act in criminal ways. To expose these episodes is deemed more criminal than criminal acts of the states. Why so? Because governments say so and design their laws accordingly.

This rather arbitrary position taken by governments has been sold to the citizenry as necessary for the security of their state, but as we see, the consequences of WikiLeaks’mass release of classified documents has not been shown to have endangered the nation in any obvious way. Nonetheless, Assange and Manning are deemed criminals for setting a precedent that threatens other potential criminals employed by state and business.

From Outside the Establishment 

The traveling art installation Anything to Say? by Davide Dormino in Berlin on May Day 2015. Bronze sculptures of Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning stand on chairs; a fourth, empty, chair invites individuals “to stand up instead of sitting like the others.” (CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Outside the establishment the view is 180 degrees in the other direction. Again, to quote Steven Berglas

“whistleblowers are rare, courageous birds that should be considered national treasures not disgraces.… It is clear that most snitches have more integrity–-and are infinitely more altruistic-than their government or corporate counterparts.”

For instance, according to journalist Glenn Greenwald, Manning is “a consummate hero, and deserves a medal and our collective gratitude, not decades in prison.”

At court-martial, Manning stated that the leaked material to WikiLeaks was intended to

“spark a domestic debate of the role of the military and foreign policy in general … and cause society to reevaluate the need and even desire to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore their effect on people who live in that environment every day.”

A heroic act, but also perhaps a naive one.

The Issue of Ethics

Chelsea Manning in Union Square Park in New York, May 2021. (Chelsea E. Manning, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Governmental leaders and their aides often reserve for themselves the right to do illegal things such as

(a) using sanctions that undermine opposition governments while ignoring the negative consequences on the wellbeing of civilian populations;

(b) aiding and abetting coups that overthrow democratic and undemocratic governments alike, depending on how, in each case, Washington sees their economic and military stance; and

(c) carrying out of illegal actions such as assassination, torture, and illegal imprisonment. All of this is immoral and unethical while being deemed necessary within the context of national interest.

Nonetheless the common citizen, who lives within what we shall call a propaganda bubble spun by his/her own government and its cooperating mainstream media, has a hard time understanding events except in propaganda designed terms.

Most will pay no attention at all to the fate of whistleblowers, who speak in opposition to the propaganda, because their actions do not touch their lives, which are locally focused. For the small number who find that there is something not quite right about negative media reports of whistleblower revelation, there is often a sense of helplessness and inertia that causes their momentary uneasiness to go nowhere.

The unfortunate truth is that this phenomenon of mass indifference to what the government does in the name of national interest and security, backed up by seemingly blind support of the media, has become one of the pillars of societal stability.

That does not mean that challenges such as those launched by Assange and Manning are not worth the effort. They might lead to reforms (the Watergate scandal and its consequences comes to mind), but under ordinary circumstances the status quo will carry on.

So, who are the heroes? Is it those who promote state policies which, regardless of their immorality, allegedly sustain state prestige, security and stability? Or is it those who shine a momentary light into dark places and reveal the immorality of state behavior — often at the cost of the destruction of their careers and reputations? You choose.

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

This article is from the author’s site, TothePointAnalysis.com.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.


17 comments for “Who Is the Hero? Albright vs. Assange

  1. Helen ward
    May 1, 2022 at 05:08

    Is Assange living in UK, last I heard he is imprisoned. He is a hero.

  2. PT
    April 30, 2022 at 08:51

    Lawrence Davidson’s writing style was really, really moving. Regardless of how you think about the subject one way or another. Up there with Shakespeare’s Marc Antony speech.

  3. Elyse Gilbert
    April 29, 2022 at 12:48

    Several wonderfully analytical replies from commentators here! My 2 cents? Although it hurts my heart and brain to read any positive words about child killer Albright and those who deemed her worthy of any sort of heroism, a well researched documented article of comparisons of what the word, hero might constitute to different people. And, I agree that the author is seemingly on the side of all humanity knowing full well who is most deserving of that title, it is not the likes of Albright.
    As stated, on the behalf of, “We the People”, the sorry state of the globe and especially the US Government today has become more of a tyranny than a democracy. This brings to light now more than ever the current administration having the temerity to campaign for and state publicly several times how they support a free press, free speech and the First Amendment rights to the US Constitution. While their actions, specifically towards Assange, Manning, Hale, Donziger, etc,. have shown nothing can be further than the truth.
    Very recently this administration is calling for the Homeland Security Dept. to assign a ‘Disinformation task force’, which further erodes the First Amendment.
    I urge anyone reading this to write, call, email, Tweet, sign a petition and/or share this very article and others in the URGENT case of US Extradition to the US for Assange. HE WILL NOT SURVIVE it and it is upon us to support his freedom. Unless you believe it is a crime to tell the truth or publish truths about war crimes in our name.
    Please follow Consortium, Joe Lauria and his other authors for the best independent investigative journalism found today!

  4. mgr
    April 29, 2022 at 03:44

    What is the difference between a totalitarian government and a democracy without transparency in governance? Nothing at all.

    In a democracy, it is the people who are the leaders and protagonists of society. Government has no innate power to do anything other than what is granted by the people (“We the people…”) in order to carry out its duty as their representative. In a democracy, it is the people who are responsible for what their government does in their name. Without transparency in governance, the people cannot exercise their duty of oversight which is the public’s responsibility in a democracy. A democracy that lacks transparency in governance is not a democracy at all.

    In 2014, researchers at Princeton and Northwestern universities found that the American public has virtually no say whatsoever over the polices of their government. I imagine that people like Madeline Albright and HRC find that good and right. Today, the outcome of that corruption of democracy is clear…

  5. John OCallaghan
    April 28, 2022 at 22:34

    Ding dong the witch is dead,the wicked witch the wicked witch,ding dong the wicked witch is dead.. She is sitting at the right hand of Hitler amid a group of fellow mass murderers, reminiscing about the good old days of death camps,millions of children starving and dying from lack of food and medicine,and dont forget the good old death marches,always a favourite among these psychos,and finishing up with a rousing sing along and copious amounts of blood to drink and rotten flesh to devour! ……

  6. John R
    April 28, 2022 at 16:18

    I’m sorry to not have been invited to her funeral and only wish it had occurred about 50-years sooner. Good riddance to this horrible person! We find ourselves today with one less very wicked witch alive on this earth.

  7. Baron
    April 28, 2022 at 15:57

    A ghastly woman.

  8. April 28, 2022 at 13:24

    “In the case of Madelene Albright, national interest trumped human interest.”

    I know what human interest is, but what is “national interest”? Humans are sentient beings, nations are not. Humans have interests, nations do not. So what is “national interest”?

    One can only conclude that national interest is a term that reflects the interests of the people – but which people? All the people? The majority of the people? A few of the people? Speaking for myself, I can say that the “national interest” expressed by Madelene Albright never reflected my interests and I doubt that the majority of Americans approved of the deaths of half a million children. If I’m right, then the “national interest” expressed by Albright represented only a minority of the people.

    And that’s where I’m heading with this. “National interest” is bullshit!. It is simply the interests of the governing minority and since those who govern are selected and controlled by the privileged class, “national interest” represents only the interests of the privileged class and not the majority of the people.

    So the next time someone tells you that their policy is in the “national interest”, challenge them to tell you exactly whose interests are being served by their policy. I’ll bet it doesn’t represent your interests.

  9. Jerry Markatos
    April 28, 2022 at 13:20

    Many thanks to Lawrence Davidson for this juxtaposition and quiet condemnation of the limitations we increasingly face especially as our newspapers and media are swallowed whole by oligarchs and hedge fund vultures.
    Thanks particularly for publishing the sculpture, Anything to Say? by Davide Dormino in which a “fourth, empty, chair invites individuals ‘to stand up instead of sitting like the others.’” Our role may be hard to meet, yet it is increasingly important for us to support independent forums like this one.

  10. Jeff Harrison
    April 28, 2022 at 13:14

    For me the answer is a no brainer and it goes back to this that you said: “Both exposed secrets of governments and it is an established principle that states cannot run without secrets. This is partially because all states sometimes act in criminal ways.”

    Um. Maybe. As a former AF officer and later McDonnell Douglas engineer I was privy to information marked secret and higher. I had no qualms signing the agreement to take what I knew to my grave simply because what I knew was about the capabilities and limitations of American weapons which the US has every right to tightly control. It is the second sentence that gives me gastrointestinal distress. We ALL act in criminal ways sometimes. Hell, I break the law every day. I consider speed limits purely advisory, for example, and can be found in violation every single time I drive. But beyond the triviality of speeding, we’ve all broken the law and probably more than once. Interestingly, it is illegal for you or I to try to dodge the law – destruction of evidence, making false statements to the police are just couple of the laws against that. Your only hope is that nobody notices that the law has been broken. So who died and made the government god that they can break the law and get away with it? We did apparently. But it was a mistake. It should, for example, be illegal to use the classification system to hide criminal behavior, but it’s not. As a result, the US government is largely a criminal organization. That kind of corruption eventually corrodes the society especially the more pervasive it becomes.

  11. JonnyJames
    April 28, 2022 at 11:14

    Every time a member of the political “Establishment” dies, the sycophantic stenographers in the corporate “media” falls all over themselves to lavish praise and adulation. Bush Sr., John McCain, now Albright. If we actually had “the rule of law” these people would never have been allowed into power, and/or have been put in prison for life. The wealthy and powerful are rarely held to account.

    The US is in late-stage imperial decline, the US govt. (controlled by The Oligarchy) will engage in more heinous crimes against humanity until the power of the Empire is severely curtailed. That day may come sooner than we expect, I don’t have a crystal ball though. We do live in “interesting times”, that’s for sure.

    We here know that Assange, Hale, Donziger, Sterling, Manning, and others are heroes. We don’t praise sycophantic sociopaths who serve The Empire. Also long time political prisoners Mumia Abu Jamal and Leonard Peltier still languish in the dungeon.

  12. Vera Gottlieb
    April 28, 2022 at 10:25

    I just don’t believe it. How can ANYONE even think of calling ‘hero’ – not even by inference, a woman who saw nothing wrong with the death of half a million Iraqi children. Shame on the author of this article – a way of homage to a creature that should have departed this planet much sooner. Just mentioning her name is an insult to all decent folks.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      April 28, 2022 at 11:44

      Agreed. A monstrous, vicious war criminal if ever there was one. Nothing heroic about that. Dance on her grave.

    • Geoff W
      April 28, 2022 at 12:10

      Did you read the article, I wonder? The author simply set out facts and arguments which “could” lead some people to judge Albright/Assange a hero or a bad person, without expressing the author’s own view. So your comment seems very unfair to me.
      I think the article was very good. I suspect, reading between the lines, that the author feels Assange and not Albright to be a hero. But it is good to see an article setting out both sides of a case. Different people can come to different judgements, and in my view it is better to discuss those differences in a civilised way, rather than to “shout” your own view and describe those who disagree as nasty and contemptible. We are all human, and almost all do sincerely try to do good. Insults lead to division, not cultural progress. End of moral lecture, sorry!

      • robert e williamson jr
        April 28, 2022 at 14:45

        Geoff W:

        Read this aloud to to yourself in the very soft voice of your choosing;

        Albright, wicked witch twin of Hilariously clinton, said, “We think it was worth it!”. She was referring to the death of 500.000 Iraqi children.

        Tell me Mr Geoff W, were you one of those who she referred to, because I’m sure she didn’t have a mouse in her pocket and Hilariously is to large to fit there.

        Assange is a hero and damned sure no “Boot licking” sycophantic worshiper of either of the evil twins I speak of. ( Much credit to JonnyJames goes here for the term sycophantic)

        ” I think the article was very good.” “You suspect, reading between the lines, that, /. . . But it is good to see the author setting out both sides of a case. ”

        Then you slip into innuendos, different people think differently, Yes and so? “I my view it’s better to discuss those differences in a civilized way ,rather than “shout” your own view and describe, the author, who you apparently disagree with as nasty and contemptible.


        So in your opinion killing 500.000 kids is not akin to shouting or being nasty and contemptible or uncivilized to the other. I guess bombs are not loud enough to be shouts? And Oh hell yes bombing women old men and children is civilized?

        Hilariously stated on Bengazzi “Their dead! What difference does it make now, or words to that affect. I have to wonder who she would feel were any of the dead her family member.

        Finally, “We are all human (I guess this includes Putin?), and almost all do sincerely try to do good.”

        You are wrong. I could list thousands who are not and work solely to press their agenda or increase their wealth and that in the area reserved for Washington D.C.

        Killing families leads do division and cultural decay and can hardly be considered civil. I ain’t buying what your cooking.

        Your moral lecture has failed on it’s own merit.

        Reading between the lines has convinced me you may be biased or servile, but not accurate with your assessment. One child or 500,000 where is your humaneness .

        Everyday I’m surprised, today is no exception?

        Thanks CN

      • Tim N
        April 29, 2022 at 08:23

        You were able to figure out that the author actually thinks Assange is a hero and Albright not. Well done.

  13. Dwight L Spencer, Ph.D.
    April 28, 2022 at 10:11

    Brilliant historical review that should be read/reviewed by every American who thinks he/she is an American.

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