The Habit of Criticism and Truth
In freer rather than less free societies, even if not truly free as Western societies stand, people get used to debates and criticism, which tend to push them in the path of truth and thus, at least in the long run, economic efficiency. This is a major advantage over less free and unfree societies. This observation must also be valid in war, at least ceteris paribus—for example, given an equal public support for a war.
An information revealed by the Wall Street Journal about a classified report being prepared by the Pentagon illustrates this point. The subject matter is the military causes and circumstances of the disastrous American retreat from Afghanistan last summer (“Report on Pentagon Role in Afghanistan Is Under Review,” July 18, 2022):
An initial draft of the Pentagon’s assessment, completed by authors affiliated with National Defense University, was submitted in March. …
The problem with the report submitted in March wasn’t that it was too critical, [an anonymous senior defense official] said. “A draft document would not have been returned because the belief was that it was too critical; you get nothing out of an after-action analysis if it is not critical enough,” the official said [my emphasis].
Defense secretary Lloyd Austin previously declared:
We want to make sure that we learn every lesson that can be learned from this experience.
The information, of course, could be false or embellished, but there is a good probability that it is correct because of the general quality of fact reporting by the Wall Street Journal. The information is not surprising anyway: the freer a society, the more criticism is valued and expected; and the more officialdom has problems hiding the truth, if only because it is likely to be leaked. A free press plays an important role—and it should be noted that a free press is not one that says what you think it should say, but a set of medias not barred from Power from saying what they want. Nothing is perfect, of course, but most things are more imperfect in an unfree society.