Chelsea Manning Rejects Antiwar, Conscientious Objector, and Peace Activist Labels (and That’s Okay)

It must be strange to be Chelsea Manning. The former Army Private (previously known as Bradley Manning) did a very decisive thing by leaking thousands of documents to Wikileaks. In spite of some initial suggestions that she did this in some apolitical — possibly mentally ill — fashion (Ann Coulter’s particularly asshole-ish summation was that Manning leaked while in a bad gay snit), it eventually became clear that agree or not, Manning had leaked for some very clearly principled reasons. Turns out she was damned articulate even.

But this decisive action turned into (relatively) passive captivity the moment she was arrested in 2010. It was mostly left to other activist to take up the banner and turn Manning from a whistleblower to the subject of various activist campaigns; well-intentioned and heroic campaigns, but that turnaround may well be frustrating to someone with only a limited ability to communicate her views for the past several years.

Credit: William Hennessy/AP
Credit: William Hennessy/AP

And today — two months after she was sentenced to 35 years in prison — Manning delivered her first official statement (besides announcement of her gender identity) since her sentencing. The content of the letter might bewilder some. Within it Manning clarified that she didn’t leak for any kind of explicitly pacifistic reasons. And she definitely wasn’t “overwhelmed” to have the 2013 Sean MacBride peace award accepted on her behalf last month by Ann Wright, a peace activist and retired Army Colonel.

Manning’s letter said that she considers herself first and foremost a “transparency activist.” “I don’t consider myself a ‘pacifist,’ ‘anti-war,’ or (especially) a ‘conscientious objector.’ “Now – I accept that there may be ‘peaceful’ or ‘anti-war’ implications to my actions – but this is purely based on your [Wright’s] subjective interpretation of the primary source documents released in 2010-11.”

Neither Wright — who apologized for misinterpreting Manning’s wishes — nor the International Peace Bureau were alone in perhaps overstating Manning’s peacenik bonafides. It’s difficult not to see the release of hundreds of thousands of documents, including detailed war logs on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the infamous “Collateral Murder” video, as furthering the cause of peace and antiwar activism. But Manning’s stressing of the transparency angle of her actions is not new. In February, when she plead guilty to some of the crimes for which she was later convicted, Charlie Savage of The New York Times wrote:

Pfc. Bradley Manning on Thursday confessed in open court to providing vast archives of military and diplomatic files to the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks, saying that he released the information to help enlighten the public about “what happens and why it happens” and to “spark a debate about foreign policy.”

Appearing before a military judge for more than an hour, Private Manning read a statement recounting how he joined the military, became an intelligence analyst in Iraq, decided that certain files should become known to the American public to prompt a wider debate about foreign policy, downloaded them from a secure computer network and then ultimately uploaded them to WikiLeaks.

Later in the piece, Savage describes Manning’s dislike of many aspects of the war in Iraq while seeing them in-country, but the idea of the public’s right to know reads as the most fundamental motivation — even when what the public doesn’t know is war crimes, torture, and other dirty-dealings.

Manning also wrote in her statement today that “I believe it is also perfectly reasonable to subjectively interpret these documents and come to the opposite opinion and say ‘hey, look at these documents, they clearly justify this war’ (or diplomatic discussion, or detention of an individual).” That’s a bit of a stretch. But there is a type of hawk who will at least rhetorically admit that war ain’t pretty, but will then brush off critiques of it based on such “emotional” pleas as, say, a bunch of dead civilians. So, not having combed though all 700,000 documents Manning leaked, perhaps she is not entirely wrong there.

Fundamentally, we may disagree on the interpretation of Manning’s actions, but she definitely knows her own motivations, opinions, and feelings best. She doesn’t need to be the antiwar martyr now suffering for our sins. It would be great if she went full-on libertarian peacenik tomorrow, but she helped show us what war looks like. And she has proven how harshly the government will come down on anyone who dares to tell its secrets. She wrote today, ” I feel that the public cannot decide what actions and policies are or are not justified if they don’t even know the most rudimentary details about them and their effects.” That’s a hell of a start. And it may prove a better avenue to stopping wars than most.

Additionally, in respect to whispers that Manning might get the Nobel Peace Prize (she was nominated with 258 other individuals) — well, that would be a pleasant turnaround, considering that historical choices for that dubious honor include Barack Obama, Henry Kissinger, and Woodrow Wilson. But if Manning’s document leak says nothing inherently antiwar, winning the Nobel Peace Price would say even less. She definitely deserves better that that insult.

15 thoughts on “Chelsea Manning Rejects Antiwar, Conscientious Objector, and Peace Activist Labels (and That’s Okay)”

  1. Heard from a veteran working at the local Veteranss Affairs Office, organizing meetings for veterans with PTSD and other mental disorders: he has never seen as many transvestites as he does among the visitors at the office.

    Why? They break down in the field and want to distance themselves from their lives. Some choose alcohol and drugs. For some of them, the escape becomes claiming another name and another sex, as if they were another person. (Especially with the media actively encouraging this route.) That is what happened to Bradley Manning, after the traumas in the field and after the torture he was subjected to for years as a prisoner. (Often forced to sleep in a tiny cell with no clothes, no blanket or mattrass, and with the lights on.)

    It is a pity. They broke him mentally for the "crime" of exposing the state. They probably encouraged him to become a transvestite too, so that he would look crazy and people would pay less attention to the documents he had revealed.

    1. While I am on Manning's side and think he did a noble deed that few would have the courage to do, it does bother me that he is now being referred to as 'she' by those who follow politically correct orthodoxy. As he is still a male, I find the constant references to him being a 'she' downright creepy.

      1. Sex and gender are two different things. It's not "politically correct orthodoxy," it's a question of respect. Some things are choices (religion, other stances), but gender identity is not.

      2. I think they are less following a "politically correct orthodoxy" than following Manning's own wishes and requests.

        The belief system is this: 1) for reasons we may not grasp by introspection, so we'll just have to take what others say about their experiences at face value, some identify as another gender than the sex they were born (as a kid I often felt of the other gender, adulthood ended all that) 2) people have a right to such self-definition.

        If a person quibbles it's on #2 but respecting #2 seems more in-line with respecting a persons individuality (hey noone is asking anyone to date a woman turned male if they'd rather not).

      3. I agree. Aside from his psychological disposition, he has male physical characteristics. It is silly to refer to him as "she". Perhaps, if he undergoes surgical and/or hormone treatment, he may become more female-like. He's clearly mixed up, not only in his gender ID, but with his political positions as well.

    2. People wearing the clothes of the opposite gender are transvestites.Bradley Manning is not a transvestite unless he has started wearing women's clothing. Transsexuals are people that have had sex changes. Bradley will not become a transsexual until the sex change if that ever happens.

      1. Transgender: (from wikipedia)

        "Of, relating to, or designating a person whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender roles, but combines or moves between these."
        "People who were assigned a sex, usually at birth and based on their genitals, but who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves."
        "Non-identification with, or non-presentation as, the sex (and assumed gender) one was assigned at birth."

        Chelsea Manning is transgender. She was assigned "male" and "man" at birth, but identifies as a woman. Her genitals have exactly nothing to do with this.

        A transvestite is a person who (generally) identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth but enjoys dressing in clothing traditionally worn by members of the opposite gender. Chelsea Manning is not a transvestite… and if she is, she's only a transvestite when wearing MEN'S clothing (as she is a woman).

    3. Actually, a lot of transwomen join the military hoping it will "cure" them of the feeling that they are women. It's not that the military "turns them into transvestites", it's that a lot of transwomen join the military because thousands of people like you who do not believe in trans* people push them to try to "fix" what isn't broken by entering an environment of extreme masculinity.

      Can you not see that when a whole society (and often a whole family) impress upon you that "you're a boy you're a boy you're a boy!" sometimes you overcompensate by joining the military and "butching it up" in a hope you'll stop being a woman? It doesn't work, and the stress of the war & of the facade of being a man becomes too much. Folks come out as trans*.

      Chelsea Manning has always been a woman. Because of her sex she was designated a "boy" at birth, and tried for most of her life to act like a "man"… but she's not. She's a woman. And I'm proud of her for coming out.

      She set up a twitter account as "Breanna Manning" before she was even arrested. It's not the (legitimately horrific) torture she endured that "made" her a woman.

      And I don't care what you feel about all this, but she explicitly asked to be referred to by feminine pronouns. So use them if you have any modicum of respect for her.

      1. Right on. She deserves our respect – the least we can do for her is believe her when she tells us she was intended to be born a woman and respect her when she asks to be called by the name she identifies most with – Chelsea.

  2. Who gives a damn what sexual orientation S/he wants to be; It was a failed attempt at transparency as all the media did was release crap and once again buried truths.
    The real message was squashed just as that now worthless lump that sits in military prison just a shell of no import.
    The public would and did dismiss even the hints of the meanings behind why the releases should have import,
    Uncomfortable in face of need for action they turn away and pretend and forget the messenger .

  3. I pick up a cat and if it's got a penis and testicles it's a male and if it has a vagina it's a female. The supreme sophism of humankind that thinks it is any different for them. But, if I was looking at 35 yrs I might want to order up some female parts to keep me occupied.

    1. You'd be referring to the sex of the cat if identifying it by it's reproductive organs. Totally different thing from gender identity.

  4. And… mission accomplished. Now all we talk about is gender identity instead of war crimes. Woosh!

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