Yesterday, I happened to see the play called ‘The radicalisation of Bradley Manning’. It was performed by the 3rd year Drama and Theatre Studies students at the University. The spectators were invited to participate in the play as the acting space overlapped with the audience space. In that way we were witnessing Manning’s misery from a very close perspective. The scenario was very simple – Bradley Manning was a very confused boy who struggled with his sexuality and had problems in school as no one liked him. His father was strict and did not support him which was probably the reason he could stand authority. He considered teachers to be unfair and biased against him. It was not a pleasant thing to watch.
One may ask why would a boy like him choose the Army? As the story went, we learnt, he had joined in order to have his college fees paid. Manning dreamed of studying computer science as it was the only thing he thought he was good at. Upon joining the Army, he found himself in the worst possible position. He was unable to complete a basic military training while being tormented by fellow recruits at the same time. Being a homosexual in the Army is not a piece of cake after all. Manning was to be discharge from the service but was decided to be recycled at the very last moment and consequently sent to war. At the time, he was in a relationship with another man which subsequently broke down during his service. Manning unsuccessfully sought the advice of the Army counsels.
Manning was assigned to the intelligence unit within the Army hence he had access to the confidential information. Upon encountering the video of innocent people killed by the US air strike, Manning started to thinking of leaking the material to the public. Eventually, we, the audience, witnessed the dilemma he was struggling with. Whether to disclose the information he was trusted with and be indicted for espionage or keep quiet and fight own conscience. The play ended unresolved, though we all know the outcome.
Bradley Manning was convicted of violating the Espionage Act, stealing government property, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and multiple counts of disobeying orders. As a result, he was sentenced to 35 years confinement and a dishonorable discharge from the Army.
Looking at Manning’s actions from such a perspective poses a problem to me. Either what he did was right or it was wrong. The fact that he had had problems in school and in personal life should not able to change the moral assessment of the deed. Either it was just to reveal the information about the Army regrettable deeds or it was wrong due to the oath Manning had taken. The other factors should be completely irrelevant. On one hand, there is a general human duty to protest against the wrongful conduct, on the other hand as a soldier he had no right to be a ‘freedom fighter’. He enlisted voluntarily and should have known the duty soldiers have to obey the orders and to be faithful in relation to the Army. This is the only dilemma that should be considered.
Bradley Manning’s actions were brave, that is for sure. They can be regarded as a praiseworthy act of heroism or the act of treason that should be condemned. It is a matter of personal opinion. What is apparent here, is shameful, I repeat shameful, conduct of the US Army. The way they wage the war is more and more unacceptable. This country was supposed to be exceptional. It seems that is no longer the case. Founding Fathers are spinning in their graves.