Contributing Writer
Walt Pickut

“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” So said Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richard’s Almanack when he was publishing it around 250 years ago. That has never changed.

I know of at least three things you can do with a secret: You can keep it, tell it or sell it.

  • A secret kept will eventually die with its keeper. Whether that is good or bad depends on the secret and its keeper.
  • A secret told is often a betrayal, but even that can be good or bad. That depends on the teller, the one told and the secret itself.
  • But a secret sold can inspire some of the best spy novels ever and some great, billion dollar, blockbuster movies.

Nations at war keep secrets… or at least try to. Trouble is, there’s always somebody willing to tell it or sell it. And to help all that happen, there’s always somebody who wants to buy a secret. One of the most famous wartime sayings ever invented to help keep secret-keepers safe was, “Loose lips sink ships.” Shhh! Just don’t talk about it.

This week your Jamestown Gazette reveals one of those long-held secrets because revealing it today can no longer hurt anybody. In fact, bits of the secret have been leaking out over the nearly 75 years since it was created, but the recent discovery you will read about on Page 1 now tells it all.

Sometimes, secret keepers can take great pride. Unfortunately, few of the original workers in Jamestown’s top-secret warplane factory are still with us to accept our thanks. Nevertheless, thanks are due.

Maybe they still have something to say that we can use today. Consider the secrets that protect people, secrets kept from an enemy, for example. In an age like ours when news flows like gully washers after a dry spell, does everything need to be told just because it can be?

A famous example is the newscaster who revealed that the U.S. Intelligence services once discovered Al Qaida’s plans by just tapping into their cell phone calls. That news cost a lot of lives after the terrorists learned our secret.

Jamestown’s warplane builders understood that 75 years ago and they kept their secrets. Congratulations, Grandpa, if that included you.

Some secrets you and I know might be more personal than that, but just as deadly to reveal. That’s why somebody invented the word “gossip,” right?

But then there’s the other side of that coin. Some secrets must be told. We often hear people say “I don’t want to rat on him or narc on her.” When some of us were kids the word was “Tattle-tale.” But sadly, many dark secrets of dangerous, unethical and illegal deeds do stay secret, sometimes for no better reason than our own convenience and comfort.

The “Don’t but in” and “I don’t want to get involved” cop-outs are the most dangerous and harmful kinds of secret-keeping that we accept today.

The antidote to that kind of cowardice is to remember the good secret-keepers of the past. They wanted to protect the innocent, not shield the guilty.

In today’s morally ambivalent environment consider accepting the advice: “If you see something, say something.”

No friend should be so close as to shield someone’s illegal, unethical or dangerously immoral behavior. Don’t fall for the overused, usually misinterpreted expression, “Don’t judge.” Wrong is still wrong and dangerous is still dangerous.

Don’t let sealed lips sink ships, either. We all owe it to each other to think about how and when to keep secrets. Maybe it wouldn’t be so good to wait until Ben Franklin’s two out of three friends die off.

Enjoy the read.

Walt Pickut

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Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.