Is Bradley a Humanist?

I am in two minds about Bradley Manning and indeed the whole issue about “Wikileaks”.

Julian Assange aside, there is nothing wrong with what Wikileaks has done. The problem lies with Bradley Manning. He is alleged to have released classified data to the public. Now without context we need to realise that Bradley Manning is effectively guilty of treason. He effectively released “state secrets”.

In the past he would have been summarily shot by his own men. But now we have to realise what he did in context.

The War on Terror was a bit of a stupid name. How does one fight terror through the use of weapons that are equally terrifying? The war on fundamentalism is fought with schools not armies, books not guns. Bradley  Manning  helped bring to light atrocities committed by allied soldiers.

He is both traitor and purveyor of truth. Hie actions were traitorous but they are the actions of a man who did what was right.

I often write about the photographer’s dilemma. For those who are unaware it involves whether you take the photo or help a person then take a photo. With art photography it has to do with consent. Not everyone wants their photo taken however when you seek consent the reality of the scene is lost since a lot of photos rely on the subject being unaware that they are the subject. I usually suggest “take the photo first, then approach the person and ask for permission, show them the photo and if they don’t want to give you permission? Delete it.”

But the one for the war photographer is deeper. Do you take a photo first or help the person suffering first? The photo may help more people at the cost of one person’s suffering. And no where was this dilemma more polarising than this photo.

This (for those who are unaware of it’s significance) is a photo of a Vietnamese girl called Phan Thi Kim Phuc after she was burned by napalm during the Vietnamese war. The photographer rather than helping her took the shot then helped her. When asked why, he responded with “otherwise you would never know”.

This was one of the many photos that became “infamous” in the psyche of the USA and got people who were often “mindlessly” flagwavy and behind the US invasion of Vietnam to ask themselves the question “are we the baddies?”.

Bradley Manning’s release of “confidential” media did the same to the War in Iraq. It cause a lot of pro-war people to change sides. Stories like the Mahmudiyah Massacre and the attack of emergency personnel by US forces came out.

But the fact of the matter is that he did “break the law”. He can be both, traitor and hero. His heroism made him stand against his government.

Bradley Manning is a complicated person. He identifies as female. He wants Sexual Reassignment Surgery. He is also associates with humanism. That his actions were due to a belief that all lives have value be they Iraqi or American.

I disagree with Jason Torpy, you can be two things. The idea of a man doing something right and something traitorous are not mutually exclusive. However some perspective.

For human rights violations, the US Army is not the “worst”. We hold it to higher standards than our opponents. Our opponents behaviour does not justify our own. Warfare is a distasteful state of being where we are legally sanctioned to murder others. What we can and cannot do in warfare is a major problem particularly when facing an enemy that does not play by the same rulebook. In the assymetrical warfare of Afghanistan and Iraq there was an enemy who simply had no care about loss of life and actively sough to cause carnage for the sake of it.

Mistakes happen in warfare. That is understandable and regrettable. No one is perfect and even the best laid  plans often go wrong. Incompetence, exhaustion, equipment failure and good old cocking up in the army often leads to big problems with a big cost. Half the effort of war is keeping people interested in pursuing it and the more cockups occur the more people’s faith in the army shakes. What level of transparent must the armed forces be in order to satisfy a population while still keeping operational secrets from the enemy? I am pretty sure that there is no such level.

Bradley Manning may not have associated with any humanist organisation but neither have I. Belonging to one doesn’t make you a secular humanist. The files about atrocities was important to release to us, but what about the other files released that weren’t about the atrocities?

If humanism made him do this then he is on a solid ethical ground. He did “the right thing” by his beliefs, an IMHO the right thing by the people of the USA and the ideas which they hold dearly. But as a soldier he didn’t do the right thing.


  1. brucegee1962 says

    If one’s country is engaged in an unethical war, and one is drafted, then I believe the ethical thing to do is to go to jail for one’s beliefs. If enough people do this it will make a statement, but even if you’re the only one, sometimes jail is the proper place to express ones patriotism.

    I think that’s true for both Manning and Snowden. There should be penalties for people who break the promises they made when they received top secret clearance, or those promises were meaningless. But the penalties need not be draconian, either. If I was on the jury, I’d want them to see serve 3-5 years in prison, but then welcome them out afterwards as heroes. Heck, I’d even vote for either of them if they ran for office. But they ought to serve some sort of time, because we are a nation of laws.

  2. laurie says

    Treason is a misunderstood charge. It is also the only crime specifically defined in the US constitution. Many people think that treason can apply to releasing state secrets, but its definition is pretty narrow, as it should be.
    I don’t believe what Manning (or Snowden, for that matter) did can be charged as levying war on the US, even by the most zealous of prosecutors.

    Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

  3. says

    Since I hold that the very concept of ‘state secrets’ is an intrinsically invalid one, any laws pertaining to such are equally invalid, and I would not in the slightest support anyone being punished for their violation.

  4. says

    I am willing to make an exception for military plans made during a state of declared war against another defined national entity, to be kept secret for a period of up to one year or the end of hostilities, whichever comes first. Since that situation hasn’t actually applied in the U.S. for two generations, it doesn’t seem terribly relevant just now, though.

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    Ace of Sevens, what do you make of this?

    “Everything we know from Bradley Manning’s friends, family, and legal defense team, is that he wishes to be referred to as Brad or Bradley until he’s able to get to the next stage of his life. Bradley has indicated that he’s not interested in publicly addressing this issue.”

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    Manning’s “secrets” were, reportedly, available to just about any Iraqi military officer who wanted a log-in to the database.

    Given that the Iraq military’s commitment to the US-installed regime generally equals that of ARVN to the Saigon regime during the American war against Vietnam 40 years ago, what got leaked was no more a secret to “the enemy” than the news that Saddam Hussein’s statue had been pulled down.

    Only those who got all their information from US corporate news were surprised by Manning’s revelations; and only the US government (& military-industrial complex) benefited from having it covered up.

  7. sosw says

    If one’s country is engaged in an unethical war, and one is drafted, then I believe the ethical thing to do is to go to jail for one’s beliefs.

    Look up the term “conscientious objector”. It isn’t necessarily a jailable offense.

    I am one (since I live in a country with universal conscription, not that we have even been at war since WW2). It involved working for a university for a year or so.

  8. brucegee1962 says

    I should have said in my post “If one’s country is engaged in an unethical war, and one is drafted, then I believe the ethical thing to do is to go to jail for one’s beliefs.assuming one is not a conscientious objector.”

    I would not qualify, since there are some wars I would willingly fight in. If I had been old enough to be drafted during the Vietnam war, I think I probably would have gone to jail rather than fleeing the country or participating in the war — though of course, it’s impossible to know what that would have been like, and I wouldn’t judge anyone who made a different decision.

  9. francesc says

    You also said:
    “But they ought to serve some sort of time, because we are a nation of laws.”
    But, from an external point of view (I’m from Europe), shouldn’t Snowden be convicted after Obama is, at least, indicted? Was Snowden infringing the laws or denouncing one big infringiment?

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