John Lennon and Julian Assange: The Faces of Peace and Truth
Sometimes, in order to galvanize a movement, an individual must be sacrificed to the cult of personality. For all the negative connotations there are to this phenomena, the personification of an idea can be a devastating force. While the danger exists that the individual may eclipse the issues -or be used by the media and those on the defensive to distract from the issues- the identification of, and with, a singular voice and identifiable face provides substance to an otherwise amorphous, and therefore ineffectual, campaign of resistance. Creating a singular focus is a very powerful thing. Powerful enough to enrage institutions and shake the foundations of establishments, and powerful enough to instill fear in the hearts of political leaders.
Before his tragic murder, John Lennon had become the face of the peace movement; a warrior-poet that transcended his status of ‘Rock Star’ to become a cultural icon that embodied an ideal and inspired a generation.
Thrust into the center of the American culture-war by the stubborn determination of his own ideals and principles, Lennon emboldened an army of young people against a corrupt military-industrial complex and political establishment waging brutal and unjust wars cloaked in lies and secrecy. The clarity and profound simplicity of his message, coupled with the impact of his celebrity, not only proved greater than any governmental retaliation but allowed politicians, bureaucrats, and captains of industry, to expose themselves as desperate, authoritarian liars, willing to go to any extent necessary to silence dissent.
Whether it’s the simple refrain of ‘Give Peace a Chance’, or the deceptively sweet, melodic manifesto ‘Imagine’, Lennon’s message was delivered with an honesty and decisiveness unfamiliar to political rhetoric. He presented an uncompromising standard of commitment to ideals that politicians understand only as words to pad their speeches. He was able to articulate the concepts of peace, and love, and the equal, inherent value of of every individual – unassailable to the imposed authority of a State – in a way that not only inspired but provided an agenda for action.
Likewise, Assange brings a message of transparency, and government accountability, that defies the twisted logic of a system steeped in secrecy that lies to the people it represents as a matter of policy. Like Lennon, Assange embraces a simple idea. Like Lennon, that simple idea is translated into an agenda with a goal to affect change. And again, like Lennon, that agenda flies directly in the face of some of the most powerful people on the planet.
As is the case with many artistic personalities, and those that suffer from the burden of genius, Lennon was at times criticized for his eccentricities, lack of subtlety, and occasional abrasiveness. In the same way that the media focused on these issues with Lennon, they’ve gone to great lengths to portray Julian Assange as a disagreeable misanthrope embroiled in sexual controversy and organizational discord with his associates and employees. These attempts to slander and smear serve only to demonstrate that a nerve has been struck.
Both men have exhibited the kind of fierce Independence and self-confidence that attracts not only attention, but criticism for their apparent arrogance. The same qualities, and strength of character, that allow them to be successful at their endeavors can be overwhelming and easily misunderstood. To those less secure in their own skin, not to mention those that find themselves in the position of being their adversary, these traits can be off-putting if not downright threatening. To stand firm against the kind of power that the American government can exert requires a boldness and fearless resolve that doesn’t lend itself to warm and fuzzy personalities. Don’t allow the media’s mischaracterization to prevail with Assange any more than it was allowed to with Lennon. It’s about the cause they champion; it’s not about their personal proclivities.
Julian Assange, the ‘Rock Star’ of computer nerds, and John Lennon, an intellect and philosopher among musicians, have both found themselves transformed into activists and enemies of the state. Whether by accident or their own design it doesn’t matter. There is a truth to their positions that transcends who they are, or were, what their professions were, and what some judgemental talking-head may gauge their personal likability to be. None of it matters. John Lennon is the face of the anti-war movement for peace, and Julian Assange is the face of truth and government accountability.
In the same way that the government used the excuse of a previous marijuana conviction to try and assert their control over Lennon they are currently trying to find any legal means they can to do the same with Assange; even if they have to manufacture a crime or rewrite a 93 year old espionage law.
Just as J. Edgar Hoover, Strom Thurmond, and Attorney General John Mitchell labelled Lennon a national security threat, and conspired to silence him, Eric Holder, Joe Lieberman, Congressman Peter King, and 2012 presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, among others who reside in the corridors of power, have done the same thing to Assange, calling for everything from prosecution to the designation of Mr. Assange as enemy combatant and potential target of assassination.
The reaction from the government has served only to create a David v. Goliath scenario. The government, so accustomed to being able to bully and intimidate, overplayed it’s hand. Assange was holding all the cards. The government seemed to forget, as in the case with Lennon, that it had neither sufficient material nor political leverage. They can freeze accounts and pursue litigation. They can even threaten actual and potential supporters. This is simply another miscalculation on their part. By committing such acts they’ve only exacerbated the disgruntled feelings of their population, as well as people around the world, and acted as an effective recruiting tool to mobilize support for Wikileaks, Julian Assange, and the truth movement in general.
The American government, reacting with all the finesse of a cornered rattlesnake, has gone to the extraordinary measures of pressuring privately owned Internet servers into complying to their demands of censorship. The publishing of the American diplomatic cables exposes one set of truths, but the governments reaction, retaliation, disregard for democracy, and implementation of authoritarian measures, exposes even more alarming realities. Just as the public witnessed during the persecution and prosecution of John Lennon, they are once again being allowed to witness the true nature of the American government, and it’s willingness to abuse the powers it only holds at the will of the people.
While some may take exception to the comparison, unable to see beyond the individuals and their incidental differences, or their celebrity prior to their activism, both men have become undeniable iconic figures forever associated with their respective cause. Regardless of what the future holds for Assange, he will forever be the face of truth, transparency, and government accountability, as Lennon will forever be the face of peace and the anti-war movement.
There is no recipe for the making of a cultural icon. This is not something as mundane as simple celebrity. The personification of an ideal – the catalyst of a movement – supersedes the abilities of any public relations professional. It’s not something that can be planned or manufactured, it can only be recognized. It’s the culmination of a myriad of factors, tangible and intangible, that relies on more than just the actions of one individual.
Julian Assange may have knowingly, and purposefully, set out to insulate Wikileaks by allowing himself to be the lightening-rod for the media, and the controversy that was sure to ensue. He may even enjoy the role no less than Lennon may have enjoyed his fame. It doesn’t matter. Their status has risen above that. There is no choosing who gets to be the face of of an idea, or the personification of a movement, it simply happens. It’s as much style as it is substance.
John Lennon provided inspiration to a movement that existed without him, but gained strength and purpose from him. People have been petitioning for peace for as long as wars have been waged, and they’ve been demanding the truth for as long as others have insisted on lying to them. John Lennon can no more be credited with inventing peace than Assange can be credited with inventing the truth. It’s simply a cultural phenomena. Julian Assange, like John Lennon, has become the face of an idea.
The new year promises the publishing of documents exposing the behavior of one of the major US Banks. Assange promises that the documents set to be published will rival the Enron emails and spark wide spread investigations. The control that banks and global financiers wield could be severely undermined. As American politicians rely heavily on corporate donations to convince the public to vote for them and keep them in power, their motivation for stopping Assange goes well beyond the current embarrassment of the diplomatic cables. Wikileaks was not a singular event, it is an ongoing process.
Thousands have joined his network and downloaded additional files providing insurance in the event that he is arrested, or worse. Hundreds of Wikileaks mirror sites have been created confounding all attempts to plunge the information back into secrecy. Governments and hackers alike, intent on sabotage, have been rendered impotent by efforts of individual people acting en masse.
Wikileaks has become a movement, and just as John Lennon became the face of the Peace movement, Julian Assange is the face of the truth movement. Wikileaks is no longer just one, it is many. Just as Lennon provided inspiration for individuals to act independent of him, so has Assange. Don’t worship these men. Don’t even follow them. Join them. Demand your government to be accountable. Just as many joined Lennon in his fight to end the Vietnam war, join Assange and Wikileaks and help them drag the nefarious dealings that affect us all out into the light. Demand the truth.
UPDATE from The Guardian
Judge fears WikiLeaks founder – who denies all charges – has ‘means and ability’ to abscond