Every time a society has permitted its military establishment to insulate itself against effective public scrutiny that military establishment has ended up destroying the people it was supposed to protect. As classical scholars steeped in the process by which the Roman republic became a military dictatorship, and as grandsons of a generation that saw a military dictatorship established in England under Oliver Cromwell, the American Founding Fathers sought to write into the U.S. Constitution a set of checks and balances that they hoped would immunize the new Republic against this military virus.
The independence guaranteed to the press under the First Amendment to that Constitution is one of the most important of those safeguards. Yet every bureaucrat knows that power flows from each increment of information he or she can garner and hold tight. To the extent that our society permits such bureaucratic self-interest to restrict access by the public to the business of government -- in particular its military business -- the First Amendment becomes meaningless.
Very few citizens have the time and means to search out government information vital to their well-being. As a result, access means mainly access by the press, like it or not.
During the months leading up to the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91 and throughout the war itself the U.S. government succeeded, for the first time in U.S. history, in controlling almost totally what the public would be permitted to know about the conduct of military operations. That happened not because government is as yet all-powerful, but because a smug, arrogant, and self-righteous press was operating twentieth- and twenty-first-century