After judging the whistle-blower prematurely, I have changed my mind upon further research into Chelsea Manning's supposed heroism.
I owe Chelsea Manning an apology. Although I’m a liberal, I try to catch news articles and issues that get an un-scrutinized free pass by fellow liberals. Most of us get our news from feeds like Facebook or Twitter, and we tend to read news more from headlines than articles. I’m guilty of it myself.
So when I saw all the memes and articles praising Pfc. Manning as a hero and demanding her immediate pardon, I tried to take a sober perspective. After reading an article about Pfc. Manning’s apology in court, and how his legal team defended her by using gender confusion and difficult upbringing to paint her as the victim, I decided that Manning was perhaps not the hero we thought.
For my first article here at QuietMike.org, I wanted to take a look at what makes a true hero and why Pfc. Manning wasn’t one. I like WikiLeaks and I’m grateful that Pfc. Manning exposed a lot of troubling things, but in the grand scheme of things I felt that she fell short of being a hero for several reasons.
Fortunately, before completing my final draft, I decided it was worthwhile to take a deeper look into what my liberal peers were saying. A special thanks goes out to our very own Julian Drury: his article tackled many of my doubts about Pfc. Manning.
My original doubts were numerous. I thought that by apologizing to the United States, Pfc. Manning was admitting wrongdoing and showing regret. I also felt that, because of a strategy his legal team used, she was exploiting her own gender issues to gain sympathy and portray herself as a victim.
Furthermore, I felt resentful that she seemed to expect a light sentence. And finally, I thought that Pfc. Manning was irresponsible for not communicating her discoveries with her superiors, and then for leaking hundreds of thousands of documents she hadn’t even read. For all these reasons, I was going to conclude that Chelsea Manning had facilitated a moment in history, but had herself acted more foolishly than heroic.
For me, some of Manning’s legal statements cast doubt on her status as a hero. By apologizing for causing any harm to the United States and allowing herself to be painted as a troubled, confused young man who was grappling with gender identity and a hard upbringing, Manning was implying that she was a victim who shouldn’t be held accountable for her actions. If she had indeed tried to escape behind the mask of victim-hood, she would be no more than the unwitting vehicle of history, not a figure of history.
However, some further digging convinced me otherwise. Considering the allegations of torture during her three years of confinement, it is plausible that Pfc. Manning had been coerced into giving up that apology: in a court where the motives of his actions could not be debated. In addition, her contrary statements were likely a legal strategy, setting the groundwork for further defense in her ongoing fight to get leniency.
Another problem I had was the fact that she didn’t first bring his moral objections to his superiors. A courageous and moral person would surely try to communicate before having to forsake her peers, her oath, her government, and the institution which provided her with a living.
Well, apparently such informers have to deal with confusing guidelines and protocols when attempting to whistleblow correctly. In addition, considering the aftermath of her actions, Manning would have very likely been laughed at. The President has been recorded as sharing the opinion that Manning was guilty before trial, and her court proceedings also disregarded the motive of justice to the public. The precedent, as well, shows future whistleblowers exactly what kind of reception their moral objectives will receive from the US government and military.
My third major qualm: Couldn’t Manning have simply limited her leak to the video of the now infamous Collateral Murder incident? Why leak hundreds of thousands of documents she hadn’t even read? Not all the documents pertained to the military. She seemed to be guilty of irresponsibility and excess, if nothing else.
But Chelsea Manning’s statements suggest that she had a great thirst for geopolitical knowledge, and was as keenly aware of what she was releasing as was possible. Furthermore, she did it with the intention of sparking debate over greater issues of American foreign policy. She knew the general contents of what she was leaking and had reasonable expectations for what the American public might do with that material.
Next, I thought Pfc. Manning was being ridiculously unreasonable and immature for expecting leniency from the court. Sure, an unbiased international war court might have given her a slap on the wrist. However, it is an American military court that Manning had to inevitably face, and it is America and its military that the court is protecting.
Surely, we can understand the dark logic of punishing a non-violent criminal who has betrayed the institution above murders who happened to have murdered “the enemy” or people associated with “the other side”. Condone it? No. But understand it? Surely, we must. If Private Manning didn’t, I felt she was too irresponsible to carry the burden of being a true hero.
Pfc. Manning’s statements clearly portray her as being completely aware of her actions and their consequences, in contrast to her apology. She definitively said that she would willingly accept her punishment if it leads to a change in the conscience of America. This last point makes the greatest case for his heroism: all the great heroes of the 20th century used civil disobedience without regret.
My original article compared her eventual legacy with that of heroes like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr. In the end, I noted how those heroes all changed history and inspired subsequent heroes. Manning hasn’t really changed anything so far. America still does what it does, we still feel like we feel.
If any defenders of American foreign policy have changed their minds since Manning’s leaks, I’d like to hear from them. In the end, Pfc. Manning might not have really changed anything.
But now I know that we can’t hold Chelsea Manning accountable for that. If it’s true that Manning’s leaks haven’t changed us, that’s on us – not him.