The bombing of the village of Granai, Afghanistan occurred four years ago this month--that's how long the saga of Bradley Mannings's humiliation has been going on, i.e., if you include the war crimes he exposed. In that case civilians where killed but our military covered it up. It was his first disclosure of classified documents and an answer to the arrogance of Dick Cheney's statement that after September 11th we (America, you and me) would have to work "on the dark side." Morality would occasionally be set aside for the so gradually, bit by bit, the country we all love--the good guys--morphed into one the conspiracies Julian Assange wrote about. Later, a new President would concoct a paragraph in the National Authorization Act allowing him to arrest anyone, anytime. There would be no trial, and now with drone warfare any bothersome character could be snuffed out.
I've seen heroism up close on the battlefield. It is never a pure thing. Often it's a quick reaction to training and certainly to the safety of friends. Oddly, because war is a young person’s enterprise courage can arise out of a swirl of immature ego need in young adulthood but mostly something prompts one to act in that crucial moment.
Sure, Specialist Manning had encouragement from his idol Richard Stallman as a new free software devotee, “fight for freedom anyway you can”, he wrote in essays as a gift to Brad. But in his disclosures moments of bravery all came together: a preference for the hacking community, his access to this wealth of forbidden information and his own distress in finding a place in the world.
That’s all psychological and solid but it doesn’t go far enough to describe this young soldiers stepping into the open moment. On the one hand he read the classified documents; on the other—as an inquisitive news junkie—he compared it to the actual outcomes…civilians were killed, and at Guantanamo the Red Cross was prevented supporting prisoners and there was a protocol for torture.
At the root of the word, courage, is the Latin word for heart, cor. “Hearting” into that breach for Specialist Manning was less about his personal loneliness and more about holding onto some truth that mattered. This young man, who in early teen years was the only one to ride the Silver Bullet roller coaster, was braving it out again.
We owe him our gratitude and support since the Fort Meade trial will be a showcase for how much the system clutches to power yet how this 23 year old remains poised and resilient. And in our reflection on his behavior perhaps we can spend some time on our own: how is it that we have allowed these things to be done in our name?