The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, 1963
There is a gift in losing everything and everyone that you love ... freedom. And while being outspoken can still cost me friends and potential jobs, I have already lost the only thing that I still feared losing. So if I can't muster the courage of my convictions now then every history lesson, civic class and sermon went to waste.
This week I have probably spent no less than 20 hours a day on various social media sites trying to update my profiles, trying to sell products, writing and editing installments of my book and trying to rebuild my life. During that time I have read an abundance and a wide range of opinions on the case of Bradley/Chelsea Manning. The comments ranged from calling him a "hero" and a "patriot" to calling him a "traitor", "coward" and "wimp who is pretending to be a transsexual in order to escape punishment" What I didn't read, or maybe I just missed it, is that Bradley/Chelsea looks like a teenager who should be out shooting hoops and wondering about school instead of being a soldier who is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
I am 53 years old and Bradley/ Chelsea Manning is young enough to be my child. In fact most of the young men and women that we send off to fight our battles are. They always have been. But today's young men and women aren't the "grunts" and "foot soldiers" of generations past. These young men and women are provided with weaponry and technology that would be the envy of the ancient gods. Satellite imagery, bunker busting missiles, drones, and computer surveillance have redefined the rules of war. Who teaches these 18-20 somethings the ethics and critical decision making to wield that much power?
Bradley/Chelsea Manning is currently 25 years old. He stands 5'2" tall, making him about the size and weight of your average 16 year old. I look at his face and I see a young person who when faced with a moral and ethical decision that would have tested the soul of a much older and seasoned person, acted on his conscience. Did he violate the military code of conduct? Yes, he did. Did he breach national security? Yes, he did? Does he deserve to be punished, yes?
Does he deserve to be vilified, ridiculed, psychologically abused, and confined to prison for the next 35 years? NO!
While Bradley Manning's actions may pose a national security threat, so did outing CIA agent Valerie Plame. For the latter, Scooter Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison and fined $250,000 a sentence which was commuted in June 2007 by President Bush, voiding the prison term. The convictions still stand on the record.
If Bradley/Chelsea's actions made the US more vulnerable, so did the actions of the Wall Street banks and hedge funds who nearly brought the US economy to its knees. To date, no one has been sentenced to jail for that.
If Bradley/Chelsea's actions were a breach of the military code of conduct so are the rampant sexual assault and hazing incidents.
"One night in October, an Army private named Danny Chen apparently angered his fellow soldiers by forgetting to turn off the water heater after taking a shower at his outpost in Afghanistan, his family said.
In the relatives’ account, the soldiers pulled Private Chen out of bed and dragged him across the floor; they forced him to crawl on the ground while they pelted him with rocks and taunted him with ethnic slurs. Finally, the family said, they ordered him to do pull-ups with a mouthful of water — while forbidding him from spitting it out.
It was the culmination of what the family called a campaign of hazing against Private Chen, 19, who was born in Chinatown in Manhattan, the son of Chinese immigrants. Hours later, he was found dead in a guard tower, from what a military statement on Wednesday called “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound” to the head."
This past July the New York Times reported:
A military jury on Friday convicted an instructor at Lackland Air Force Base of raping one female trainee and sexually assaulting several others, the first major case in a sex scandal that has rocked the Air Force’s basic training system.
" The sexual abuse scandal is among the worst to hit the military in over a decade. In 1996, dozens of women at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland accused male supervisors of rape, sexual assault and other offenses in 1996. A few years earlier, more than 80 women were assaulted during several days of drunken revelry at the Tailhook Association convention in Las Vegas, a case that led to the resignation of the Navy secretary and two admirals.
There is clearly a precedent for pardoning Bradley Manning, in spite of the fact that Scooter Libby was a civilian and Bradley/Chelsea Manning was active duty military. With such a range of sentiment in the nation, I would not want to have to make that decision. But then again, I would not have to want to make the decision that Bradley Manning made either. At least President Obama has a few more years of experience to draw upon. Whatever the President decides will be within his legal right. However, if President Obama does not pardon Bradley Manning, neither those on the far right or the far left of the political aisles can claim the moral high ground.
In the meanwhile, I will keep Bradley/Chelsea and all of our service men and women in my prayers. I hope that you will too.
Dr. Martin Luther King said, "Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men." I am certain that he never imagined this.