Last week WikiLeaks, an organization dedicated to the release of secret documents, made public 250,000 diplomatic cables. These private thoughts of U.S. diplomats are some of the strangest historical documents to come to light in the past decade.
Because of the unusual nature of this "information dump," we thought it would be a good opportunity to take a step back and look at our culture. What do these documents do to our image?
We asked a number of experts what they would think of the U.S. in light of the past week, had they been an alien, looking down, trying to understand the nature of the WikiLeaks release.
P.J. O'Rourke is the former editor-in-chief of National Lampoon.
Maybe aliens would think:
What amazing lengths the vast right tentacled conspiracy will go to discredit Hillary Clinton.
Earthlings keep no secrets, so they hate each other! This will destroy Earth... every alien's dream!
Callista Gingrich/Gingrich Productions
Newt Gingrich is a former speaker of the House. He is also the author of over 20 books.
An alien watching the most powerful nation in the world allowing itself to be humiliated and crippled by a handful of irresponsible, destructive fanatics would consider it an amazing exercise in self-destruction.
A great country allows its own citizens and its allies to be put in danger of being killed and does nothing!
They would be amazed at American impotence and incompetence.
Courtesy of the National Security Network
Listen To Heather Hurlburt
Heather Hurlburt is the executive director of the National Security Network. She is a former speechwriter for President Clinton.
The travel agent promised a cool green planet with growing democracy and rising living standards.
This planet is hot, grumpy and cash-strapped. And their attention is focused on a megalomaniac using stolen documents to tell world leaders that their colleagues are rude, thin-skinned and consort with prostitutes?
What I want to know is, does the refund still apply if we use the space modulator to destroy this planet?
Courtesy of American University
Akbar Ahmed is the chair of Islamic studies at American University.
An alien from outer space would see earthlings as a dysfunctional tribal society.
Their chiefs do not show wisdom, courage or compassion but appear backstabbing and petty.
They attack allies and enemies with the same mean spirit. Classic anthropology describes traditional tribal societies as "ordered anarchy." Tribes are in a state of constant warfare but they are bound by rules and codes of behavior that emphasize honor and dignity.
In contrast, 21st century Earth is "disordered anarchy."
Eboo Patel is founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, a nonprofit organization that promotes interfaith cooperation.
On my planet, secret documents are meant to hide bad behavior. But some people on this planet have discovered that the revelations by WikiLeaks have made them respect their diplomats more, not less.
The behind-closed-doors acts of at least some of your government officials seem to be more impressive than their public conduct.
I wonder if this is true of your citizens at large?
Perhaps the man honking angrily in traffic is caring for an elderly aunt at home. Maybe the woman cutting in line at a food court is helping her neighbor's sick child.
Americans complain about the coarsening of public discourse. Perhaps the solution is imagining the essential decency of your citizen's private lives, and revealing the secrets of that decency to all.
Nicholas Christakis is an internist, social scientist and professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School. He conducts research on social factors that affect health, health care and longevity.
Many people are focused on what seems like the large volume of material released, but from my perspective, this material is only a small fraction of what is of interest.
Trying to understand diplomatic communications by this set of leaked materials is like trying to understand the American telecommunications network by looking at your own phone bill.
One set of cables from many far-flung diplomats sent back to one capital is not indicative of what would really interest me about all this: namely, how communications fly through the network of diplomats around the world, what the communications really mean, and how they affect foreign policy and therefore the lives of all of us.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Dickinson
Listen To Elizabeth Dickinson
Elizabeth Dickinson is assistant managing editor at Foreign Policy magazine. She has also worked in West Africa as Nigeria correspondent for The Economist.
If I were perched in a space capsule looking down on Earth these past few days, I'd be pretty excited. Because with the awe and excitement with which these Americans are reading the secret cables --
A Dagestani wedding! A bank robbery in Yemen! A Batman and Robin duo leading Russia! --
I'd come to realize -- how incredible! These "Americans" are just as alien outside their borders as we are!
Jean Lesieur is the editorial director of France 24.
They pretend to be rational. They tend to become spaced-out. Humans love democracy, so they say. They discover transparency.
No more secrets, no more taboos. Statesmen that they choose, heroes that they lose. They transform them into liars and hypocrites.
From self-loving to self-loathing. From self promotion to self destruction.
Jay Nordlinger is a senior editor of National Review.
An alien would see that we're a very loose culture. Just a few people, exercising their own judgment, can cause a big stir.
One person with access to secrets can take those secrets and pass them along. A handful of people, some of whom may work at the most important newspapers, can spread that information all over the world. In an instant.
Now, that information may be so sensitive that it's life-endangering. But that tiny number of people will decide whether to spread it, regardless of what others may think, regardless of what democratically constituted governments may think.
That's a little weird.
These guys must think a lot of their own judgment. Given how much is at stake, their judgment had better be good.