We are living is rather surreal times, so it is normal that a conversation like this one about Pfc Manning can have a dream-like quality of disassociation at times. I think I first realized how totally wacky our world had become, when after 9-11 Dubya said that America’s reaction to the attack should be to go out shopping. The Manning conversation is moving in that direction.
When we talk about Private Manning (or anyone else wearing the uniform of the US armed forces) we are talking about a member of a collective that is at this moment engaged in two wars. Members of this group, wearing the same uniform as Manning are regularly getting killed and maimed. You might say that this is all deadly serious for this particular collective, group or “family”. What has been leaked appears to be State Department material, but it could easily include the order of battle of US forces. From a military point of view, this is all “code red”, heads must roll, serious. For the army the most important thing now is to find out if this is just an isolated individual acting alone and make sure it never happens again.
There is plenty of room to discuss the role of Julian Assange, myself I think he’s a messianic scumbag, but most of my friends think he is a hero, like I say, plenty of room for discussion. But Private Manning is either a poor, innocent, chump, who has been skillfully manipulated by Assange, or if not he is person who has betrayed the trust of his comrades and anyone who volunteers to join the army must know that carries a price.
There seems to be some confusion about military discipline. My late father was a US Army officer for over twelve years, with service in field artillery and the Corp of Engineers, and as he colorfully explained it to me once, this is how the military operates, “Cap’n stubs his toe, hollers ‘SHIT!’, whole company squats and sounds off back, “WHAT COLOR… SIR!!” Soldiers are supposed to follow orders, fall on grenades, take machine gun nests, sit on bayonets, peel potatoes and clean latrines with their toothbrushes, not have opinions, that is what soldering is about. If you think differently, you’ve probably seen “Judgment at Nuremberg” too many times.
I don’t defend injustice, but the justice of the military is different from civilian justice, just as military music is different from normal music. The first thing to remember about soldiers, even though it sounds dramatic, is that they are expected to actually die as part of their job description. The first loyalty is to the group, because those are the people that have got your back… to let them down, to put them in any kind of unnecessary danger is a cardinal sin. Loyalty and honor are a fetish, with death around. The mentality is so different from the civilian mentality that there is always tension between them. Manning should never have been allowed in the army in the first place, I don’t think he ever understood where he was… maybe now, when it is too late, he is getting the idea.
Reading more about him, I think it would be an understatement to say that he wasn’t military material, that he was as cut out for army life as Ewan McGregor’s character in “I love you Phillip Morris“. However, Pfc Manning volunteered to serve, he wasn’t drafted against his will, he took an oath, he knew that what he was doing was a serious breech of military discipline. I would think the only possible defense he could have would be temporary insanity. I feel sorry for him, but there are people I feel much more sorry for, like, for instance, another Pfc, the late Erin L. McLyman. Somehow I don’t think Erin would have cut Bradley much slack.