Leaking Peace

Modern warfare is not just violence, but also peacebuilding initiatives. One of the problems with releasing 90,000+ documents, as WikiLeaks did, and not reporting on the contents of those documents, as the media didn’t, is that the story of the war becomes skewed. Meaning that anyone trying to make sense of a war that has raged for nine years continues to be lost in its fog.

Noah Shachtman has a fascinating piece at the Danger Room blog at Wired where he talks about a specific instance in the report that covers his time on the ground embedded with Echo company. He talks about the details of the incident which are left off of the leaked materials, which are basically internal memos. All of the times the generals decided not to use bombs etc.

What I realized is that it’s missing peace. Where are the instances of the conversations that military had with local leaders, discussing strategies and trying to help people. Food distribution? Not there. I’m not saying that the battle for hearts and minds is on par with the war machine, but I am saying that it’s hard to tell and would be a much more complete picture if this information were to be made available.

Even from a PR standpoint, it would have been a better tactic for the military to take. Rather than saying that it was a dubious threat to national security, a more specific explanation of the military’s supposed “good will” would have been refreshing and informative.

Mockup: Afghanistan War Logs Peacemapping Ushahidi

As I mentioned in my last post on WikiLeaks, “Unfortunately governments often set themselves up for projects like Wikileaks” and when they do so, it encourages citizens to go after the truth themselves, by any means necessary. In this case, the Guardian put up a wonderful visualization of 300 of the 92,201 records of individual events or intelligence reports. However, there is no commenting allowed on any of the instances.

What if there was instead an Ushahidi instance for the war logs? Have the instances (that are already available in KML and SQL formats) avaiable to be commented on. Shachtman disputes an instance? Or wants to elaborate on it? Great. Someone in the military has a story they want to share about saving someones life? Great. Start crowdsourcing for peace.

Peacemapping is an idea coined by Rachel Brown and Cody Valdes, now on the Digital Democracy team doing a project on this concept in Kenya called Sisi Ni Amani. The idea is to use mapping to start a conversation. The goal being to increase dialogue within and between communities of peace actors, draw national attention to the courageous work of community peace leaders, and develop verified networks of trusted reporters. How great would this be in Afghanistan?

If human rights is the focus of WikiLeaks, then the power of information sharing can truly make an incredible impact on the world. However, if the GPS coordinates of informants are made public and those people are thereby targeted for killing, then what is the true goal of this information release. Moreover, if the information that is kept secret versus made available is not done intelligently, then what will the results be on the people processing how to use that information to be more responsible citizens – either by voting or demonstrating. If the media isn’t reporting well, and citizens groups aren’t doing their part, then at least the government should be more strategic in how it handles supposed “blowback.”

Citizens can’t make informed decisions about the war unless they have the whole picture. While it’s great to have Afghanistan being debated again, what will the result be? It’s important to understand all sides of the war, both peaceful and violent, and be given the option to have more of a voice in the murky details.


For more on this conversation, please see this post by: Kate Brodock.


  1. August 5, 2010 at 4:47 pm · Reply

    This is really good point of view. There is no consequences all the fuzz they did over those documents. As I fan of Ushahidi I liked the version including peace, that is what make for too I believe. Also as a editor of blogs and websites, I saw many people searching for solutions. That is no more true that only bad news sell.
    Congrats for the blog. Really good. I present my. A bit out of date now – http://geojournalism.wordpress.com/

  2. August 6, 2010 at 11:35 am · Reply

    Definitely agree that mapping peace is a good idea. Public diplomacy and peacebuilding efforts can appear shallow or insincere when governments ignore inconvenient facts or lie about issues they deem too complicated to explain. Crowdsourced peace has the advantage of giving authorship over the story to many more people–though that obviously cuts both ways. You can imagine the temptation to astroturf the official crowdsourced peace map. (Patrick Meier, I know you’ve got an algorithm to detect that.)

    The solution you’ve proposed, good though it is, doesn’t fix the selection bias. Most of the people in the know about the types of events you describe won’t have the freedom to discuss them. Some of the people who are motivated to participate will have an ax to grind.

    In the Massachusetts Senate Democratic party primary, Alan Khazei won the Boston Globe’s online reader poll with more than 30% of the vote. On primary election day, he polled 13% to Coakley’s 47%. All of which is a way of saying, you can learn something from the social media approach; but you have to pay close attention to who shows up and who stays home.

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