I’ve written about Chelsea Manning a couple of times, chiefly in relation to how writers and activists who obsess over any hint of slight against gay people take little-to-zero interest in her because her situation involves actual power and politics as opposed to narcissistic posturing. This week someone managed to sneak out an audio recording of Manning’s one-hour statement wherein she explains what she did and why. It should be listened to widely.
It should be listened to widely because it’s a compelling and surprisingly moving testament to real courage. Manning had nothing to gain from her actions and everything to lose yet, as she makes clear, she had learned of shocking things and “no one wanted to do anything about it”. So she wanted to alert the public to what was being done in their name and, hopefully, affect change:
In attempting to conduct counter-terrorism or CT and counter-insurgency COIN operations we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists and not being suspicious of and avoiding cooperation with our Host Nation partners, and ignoring the second and third order effects of accomplishing short-term goals and missions. I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A tables this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as [missed word] as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.
I also believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to even to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment everyday.
It should be listened to because this kind of bravery, motivated by a deep and engaged sense of social responsibility, should shame us in this individualistic culture where we all rush to shove our inconsequential opinions at each other and seem incapable of taking any time to reflect, to think, to examine what’s going on around us. Why think about how our ‘liberalism’ manifests itself, both in our daily lives and in government, when we can send out more pithy dismissals of religion or remind each other how superior we are to conservatives? A friend commented on Twitter yesterday that “the social justice challenge of (thinking about your own relationship to the world and others) is very upsetting to one’s sense of self when you’re faced with it”. Because how can you not find yourself wanting? How can you not feel inadequate and ashamed? Manning clearly struggled with these things herself and bravely made the leap. How many of us would have the courage and character to do even 1/100th of what she has done? Almost none of us will have jobs similar to hers but in our jobs and in our daily lives we will encounter things which we think are wrong. How we respond to them is everything. Manning’s own act has led to unquantifiable change, from exposing war crimes to igniting some of the sparks which led to the Arab Spring.
It should be listened to because it humanises Manning and should shame us that we have turned a blind eye to his persecution while sanctifying those responsible. Thinking about Manning and what her plight says about our societies is difficult and uncomfortable – there is little opportunity for self-aggrandisement there. Believing that President Obama is a left-wing archetype of liberalism, stymied by evil Republicans, requires zero reflection and allows us to continue the delusion that we are the ‘good guys’. And so a single photo of Obama pulling a face will be seen more widely than anything Manning has done (or that is being done to Manning).
I had a little disagreement last night with someone who advanced the usual line about Pope Ratzinger being a ‘former Nazi’ and saying that he should have allowed himself to be gassed rather than be complicit in Nazi Germany. That’s what they would have done, they said, sitting at a keyboard 70 years later. How brave we like to think we are; how exceptional and how good. Yet as the book ‘Alone in Berlin’ made me realise, our morality is not independent of the social circumstances around us and, more, it is not typically manifested in grand and obvious stands of good versus evil. Instead it is found in the tiny choices we make and actions we take in everyday life. That is how a creed like Nazism comes to dominate – by tiny degrees of ignorance, inaction and acquiescence. It’s how we allow workers in awful sweatshops to continue making most of our clothes or gadgets, why we countenance acts we normally like to think we’d loudly oppose if they come from quarters which we have vested our own identity in, why we equate being ‘good’ with being quiet and disengaged. Manning’s actions explode these myths wide open. She did a ‘good’ thing and is paying a terrible price for it; we do nothing and get drunk on our own righteousness.
I listened to Manning’s statement in bed last night and felt wretchedly ashamed. I do not have an ounce of her courage. We all owe her a debt of gratitude and she should be celebrated from the rooftops as a hero.