What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?

What if PFC Bradley Manning one day declares, “I did it to get famous?”

Original story: The Christian Science Monitor | Monday, August 2, 2010

It seems like damn near every month we’re forced to endure a new personality that ascends the national escalator to become a media focus. Mostly, this reflects the way we have allowed ourselves to be trained to crave recognition and commemoration. Such behavior doesn’t apply to everyone, but it affects us all. It’s America’s worst enemy, as I see it, because it comes from within and if we could blame the Taliban for the fact that we reward bad behavior with status and money, we would.

Every day, it seems, there’s a new self-seeker to elicit groans, greed, and sour grapes. It might be a criminal-turned-celebrity or celebrity-turned-criminal; it might be a pervert, a politician, a plunderer, or all three. It might be parents who use a boat instead of balloon. It might be some nobody who says his Toyota tried to kill him, or a mother who is given a TV show because she has a criminal-celebrity daughter. Occasionally, if we’re lucky, it could be someone who ditches a plane in a river, saves everyone onboard, and goes home after the parade.

As quoted in Chris Hedges’s superb Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, essayist and critic William Deresiewicz suggests:

The camera has created a culture of celebrity; the computer is creating a culture of connectivity. As the two technologies converge – broadband tipping the web from text to image; social networking sites spreading the mesh of interconnection ever wider – the two cultures betray a common impulse. Celebrity and connectivity are both ways of becoming known. This is what the contemporary self wants. It wants to be recognized, wants to be connected: it wants to be visible. If not to the millions, on Survivor or Oprah, then to the hundreds, on Twitter or Facebook. This is the quality that validates us; this is how we become real to ourselves – by being seen by others. The great contemporary terror is anonymity.

Cut to: U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning faces up to 52 years in prison for transferring classified information from Army intelligence networks to his laptop – yes, the 90,000+ Secret Afghanistan documents guy. Allegedly, using the online name “Bradass87,” he sent the files to a “Gray Hat” – someone using hacking techniques for legitimate consulting purposes, such as providing vulnerability assessments to large companies.

So with regard to the above-stated social trends and emerging values in this country, here’s what I’m wondering: What was Manning’s true motivation here?

Supposedly he made that clear to the Gray Hat, to whom he explained via text message that the public needed to “see the truth” in order to make informed decisions regarding America’s military engagements. But setting aside arguments of how much control we, the people, truly have over our military incursions, and then setting aside for the time being whether or not he’s a “traitor,” is it possible that Manning just wanted to get famous? Why not? Fame is stronger than the dollar…

Every U.S. military “strategic setting” is made of up people who make mistakes, and yeah, some of those people hide those mistakes. But is Manning’s quest to save us from this revelation driven by his training as a soldier, his social conscience as an American, or the low emotional IQ from which too many of us currently suffer?

I know what it’s like to make a hell of a mistake and drag other people down the rabbit hole with you. I know what it’s like to sit in prison, ashamed yourself and wondering if you’ll ever have any self-esteem again. I wonder if Manning will do the same.

Whatever instant gratification I thought I was achieving by committing my crimes, it was never worth the end result. It was never worth watching my father stand before a federal judge in that courtroom to take responsibility for his son’s actions solely because that’s what his father would’ve done. It was never worth the years I surrendered to the State of California.

There’s something else, too: I know what it’s like to take an Army oath to defend the Constitution. And though I didn’t even take the Army seriously at the time, I did take my work assignment (MOS), which required both secret and classified clearances from the government, very seriously.

My fellow soldiers called me a lousy 3rd Infantry Soldier, but good at my job. I called them inbreds and gimps, but an honor to work with. I would never have betrayed them, or they me. We shared duties and a specific reverence for those thousands of documents for which we were responsible.

The point was: nobody else in my unit was allowed to use classified Army documents for personal gain, whether the motivation was money or ideology, and if they couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it. Diverse as we were, we all bought into those rules, because in our own ways we all knew they formed the backbone of what we’d signed on to do. We respected an idea and upheld an ideal. Ultimately, it was less about the Army or even the Constitution; it was about each other and the things we shared – things we could do and things we couldn’t. And think about all the additional security hassles now slapped onto the routines of those Manning left behind – what a dick!

So beyond an anxious concern for the collective decision-makers in our country, what – I have to ask – is Manning’s excuse?