The Wrath of the Bureaucracy

Excerpt: Part III — The Case of Bradley Manning

Full original article at Brave New World

Private Bradley Manning is just such an individual. I first wrote about Manning in August of 2010, and here is how I described him and his situation:

Bradley Manning was an army intelligence analyst with U.S. forces in the Middle East who became deeply disturbed by what his job revealed to him. Essentially, it made him a front row witness to what he described as “incredible things, awful things.”This primarily entailed the careless killing of innocent civilians. As an act of conscience he gave to the website WikiLeaks over 200,000 classified documents as well as a graphic video showing an attack on Iraqi civilians.

Manning confirmed his status as a prisoner of conscience in a statement he read at a pre-trial hearing on 2 March 2013. In the statement he described how (1) the high number of civilian deaths in Iraq, (2) the stubborn refusal of army authorities to admit to and deal with this issue, and (3) the lack of U.S. media coverage of all this “collateral damage” disturbed and “emotionally burdened” him. His response was to release the material noted above. He continued in his statement to say,

I hoped that the public would be as alarmed as me about the conduct of the aerial weapons team crew members [this refers to a particularly egregious army helicopter attack on civilians recorded on video tape and leaked to WikiLeaks]. I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan are targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in a pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare. After the release I was encouraged by the response in the media and general public.

However, the U.S. military has shown no serious concern about what its soldiers have done, and continue to do, to civilians in the Middle East. This is because those soldiers have acted in ways compatible with the bureaucratic rules of the organization they serve. Under these conditions the killing of civilians, no matter at what frequency or number, is deemed accidental as long as the soldier follows the military’s self-prescribed “rules of engagement.” Having done so, civilian casualties become “collateral damage.” Therefore, no one is culpable. It is, of course, possible to force the military to change its behavior by making “collateral damage” so distasteful to the U.S. public that it becomes a political problem that civilian leaders must address. That is exactly what Bradley Manning was trying to do.

That is why the military has shown dramatic concern over what Bradley Manning has done. He has gone outside the box. He has broken free of and actually publicly challenged the military’s thought- collective. Since the Viet Nam War the U.S. military has eschewed the draft and embedded the journalists, so as to minimize public awareness of battlefield realities. They are not now going to let one private with a conscience bring public revulsion down on their heads. So, they have accused him of “aiding the enemy” and hope to send him to jail for the rest of his life. They hope this will be a lesson that prevents others from following in Manning’s footsteps.

It is the leaders of the military bureaucracy, and not the out-of-step private, who will probably succeed in this contest. That is because Manning’s hope that the data he released might “cause society to re-evaluate the need or even the desire to engage in counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the affected environment every day” has, to date, failed. Why so?

There are some U.S. citizens who see Manning as a hero (I am one of them), and some who see him as a traitor. Manning’s target population was and still is all of the rest. Yet the sad truth is most of this remainder doesn’t care much about Manning’s fate and will, in the end, accept the government’s verdict on him. This is how I reasoned out the situation back in 2010, and I think my conclusion is still sound. On the assumption that most people are locally focused and apolitical I conclude that this vast majority are unconcerned about the Manning case because it seems not to touch their lives. And, on the assumption that the government and its allied mass media control the information flow, I conclude that most of the minority who are aware and concerned share the official view that Manning is a traitor.

That leaves a minority of the minority who are aware of the significant implications for justice and human rights involved in this case, and who are aware of the broader contextual circumstances that led to Manning’s actions and their implications for future U.S. international relations. The prediction that this minority of a minority totals “millions,” as some suggest, is almost certainly an exaggeration. However, whatever the number of his sympathizers, it is far less than is needed to either obtain justice for Manning or save the United States from its own criminal policies.

About the author: Dr. Davidson is the Professor of History at West Chester University. His areas of expertise include history of Modern European intellect and sciences as well as American foreign relations with the Middle East. He has published several books such as ‘Islamic Fundamentalism — An Introduction’, ‘A Concise History of the Middle East‘ (Eighth Edition, co-authored with Arthur Goldschmidt) and ‘Foreign Policy, Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest’. 

Dr. Davidson is also the Contributing Editor of Logos, a journal of modern society and culture. Click here to visit his website.

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