A birthday tribute to a real war hero

Saturday December 17 was Bradley Manning’s 24th birthday. He spent it in front of a military court hearing. He has spent the last 18 months in prison, including 9 months of solitary confinement.

For those of you who don’t know, Bradley Manning was an intelligence analyst in the US Army who allegedly leaked thousands of classified documents depicting US war crimes in Iraq, including the video “Collateral Murder”, which shows the army killing 11 civillians and wounding 2 children, including a van that had stopped to help the initial victims.

There actually is significant doubt as to whether Bradley Manning was the one who leaked the documents. There is a reason it’s taken 18 months to charge him. It will be interesting what comes out of the trial, because Bradley has not been able to speak publicly, and so far the allegations are based on pretty flimsy evidence from an internet chatroom and a government informant. More on that here.

That evidence though, quotes Bradley saying:

god knows what happens now – hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms – if not, than [sic] we’re doomed – as a species – i will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens – the reaction to the video gave me immense hope; CNN’s iReport was overwhelmed; Twitter exploded – people who saw, knew there was something wrong . . . – i want people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.

If Bradley Manning is guilty, I think he is a hero.

We live in a society where the myth of the war hero is pretty strong. We are told that war is the epitome of the values of courage, selflessness and altruism that make our society great. All the rights and freedoms we have came from fighting wars.

The case of Bradley Manning shows up the war hero story for the myth that it is. It does take a lot of courage and selflessness to be a soldier, but it is shameful that the government and war mongerers in our society try to co-opt these values for their cause, which is rarely altruistic and mostly selfish, violent and exploitative.

If it wasn’t already apparent, this whole episode makes it obvious that war has nothing to do with human rights or justice. If you actually attempt to stand up for these values in the face of the war machine, they will attempt to crush you at any cost. Be prepared to be stripped naked for extended periods of your nine months in solitary confinement.

For an example of the supposed values of war, of courageously standing up for truth and justice at great personal cost, you couldn’t possibly find a better example than Bradley Manning. Yet he gets no medals, no presidential visit, no monuments in city squares.

But the legacy of Bradley Manning can be much more than these gestures, greater even than the riches and glory that are the spoils of war. If Bradley’s only legacy was to put to death the myth of the war hero (if only), that would be pretty significant, but I think and hope that Bradley’s actions can have an effect and reach we could never measure.

Because Bradley Manning’s actions remind us all that even as bad as things get, real heroism is possible – our individual actions do matter, and one person can make a difference. The “Collateral Murder” video was watched by millions around the world, and led to greater scrutiny and debate of the American involvement in Iraq. While it doesn’t seem to have soothed the US Government’s thirst for war, the efforts they have gone to against Bradley and against Wikileaks show that they don’t consider these things trivial.

Meanwhile, this year, people-led movements for social change have erupted across the globe, from the Arab Spring to the Occupations; mass movements in Spain, Israel and Greece; plus groups we will never hear of in the corporate media, like the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, who are courageously standing up for peace  and against violence in the face of the Taliban, the US, and warring tribes in Afghanistan. And then there’s you, if you’re sitting there and feeling even the slightest urge to take action and live out the values of justice, peace and respect for humanity.

Bradley is not only a living example of someone who chose to put the values they believed in ahead of their own personal gain. While he is imprisoned for telling the truth in the face of war crimes (and it could be quite a while), his chains are a very real representation of the same injustice he was standing up against.

Those of us who believe in peace and justice can’t just sit back and allow the status quo to rule. We need to stand up and act for Bradley Manning, and for everyone else who is imprisoned, killed or oppressed unfairly around the world as we speak. This is where we need the real heroes to stand up.

Lest we forget.




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2 responses to “A birthday tribute to a real war hero

  1. Pingback: My hero is facing life in prison | andypaine

  2. Pingback: What does solidarity look like? (Chelsea’s in prison again) | andypaine

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