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.