May 22, 2013
War Against War: A Meditation on Bradley Manning’s Mind
Posted on Jun 2, 2011
By Scott Tucker
And to that list we must add that Bill Clinton was also the president who pushed policies that would have made loyal liberals cry bloody murder if he had been a Republican, including the deregulation of big banks and high finance, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and tearing down some of the last New Deal protections for mothers raising children on welfare. By Morrison’s count of black presidents, Obama should be our second; but under Morrison’s assessment, Obama never would have been elected. Clinton won many black votes by playing precisely upon the tropes of blackness (just as Morrison claimed), and Obama won many white votes by playing upon the tropes of middle-class prosperity, managerial wisdom and upward mobility.
In reality, both Clinton and Obama are deeply loyal to “free market” orthodoxies, and loyal as well to “pragmatism” in foreign policy. The real cost in blood and public funds comes from below, however: not from the very small minority who rise to the heights of the ruling class, but from the vast majority of working people who will never advance to a job on Wall Street or in the White House. Many millions of working people are still in shock after losing jobs, homes and any sense that this country offers them a decent social contract.
Now let’s revisit Bradley Manning, born in Crescent, Okla. (population now about 1,400). His father, Brian, had been in the Navy as an intelligence analyst. Militarism is never simply a mechanical production line of soldiers; for the assembly line depends on a great deal of ambivalence, subjectivity and uneasy loyalty at the cellular level of the neighborhood and family. In public interviews, Brian Manning seems puzzled, disappointed and frustrated that his son did not live in the military by the code of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Whatever Bradley Manning was telling his friends in person and online, the fellow soldiers who subjected him to faggot-baiting and bullying thought he was just asking for it.
Yet, as Brian Manning himself now admits with a kind of pained recognition, the father bullied his son into joining the Army. Bradley Manning became a soldier, in Brian’s words, “after I twisted his arm. He didn’t want to join. But he needed structure in his life, he was aimless. I knew in my own life that joining the Navy was the only thing that gave me structure, and everything’s been fine since then.” What may have given structure to the father destroyed the son.
[Editor’s note: The Latin phrase translates roughly as “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”]
If Manning’s mind was fractured, then (as the paradox is known in the Latin liturgy), felix culpa! If guilty as charged, then Manning is one of the people who helped fracture the state secrets of an anti-democratic bipartisan regime that keeps racking up and tracking down ever more political “suspects”—even while career politicians carry out imperial wars with ever more expensive high-tech weapons. The “intelligence” that Manning is charged with passing to WikiLeaks turned out to be one of the inspirations for the Arab rebellions across the Middle East and North Africa; and there has been a real earthquake in the fields of mass media and journalism, with aftershocks following almost weekly. If the traditional guardians of the daily news so deeply resent Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks, that is because they long ago traded away integrity and independence in the sly scramble for “access” to power, press conferences and photo opportunities.
Show me a human being without fractures and I’ll show you a robot. The well-adjusted and uniformed creature sitting at a computer can now pick out targets on command, and thousands of miles away a drone can direct missiles at a bunker (presumably) filled with terrorists (presumably). And yet these presumptions have proved false whenever the missiles drop on Afghan wedding guests, or any other “collateral” civilians unlucky enough to be in the vicinity of intended targets
As Laura King of the Los Angeles Times reported from Kabul on May 29, “A new dispute over civilian deaths erupted Sunday when Afghan officials claimed an errant NATO airstrike had killed 14 people, women and children among them.” Afghans in the area claimed that of the 14 killed, 12 were children and two were women. And for those with strong stomachs, there is a video now online showing a truckload of dead children, and a father holding two dead infants in his arms. (See the video and King’s report by clicking here.)
Whatever psychic fractures and subjective states of mind may be featured in the mass media’s Bradley Manning story, there is also an objective social fracture that runs right through our population. That is why different groups of people see and understand honor, treason and loyalty so differently. No doubt some gung-ho, all-American folks (of all sexual persuasions, some in uniform) will find no problem with the “Frontline” show or with The Guardian video coverage. But people who have spent much of their lives building movements of resistance will not be viewing and hearing the ready-made psychoanalysis of Bradley Manning with uncritical minds. Some of us even remember the days when gay activists fought the “expert” knowledge enshrined in such a scripture as the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
If by any chance I turn up on a “suspect” list at the airport this June when I try to fly to Europe, no doubt the agents who guide me to a fluorescent cube will have a neat file ready for reference, listing the dozen or more times I enjoyed the hospitality of the state behind bars. (See footnote at the end of this article.) And perhaps this file will be padded with a “psychological profile.” So yes, I confess that I have my own personal and political reasons for defending Manning.
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