Pfc. Bradley Manning, the intelligence analyst who allegedly leaked more than 90,000 intelligence reports to Wikileaks last February, may have buckled under the pressures of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the “New York Times” reports in a profile on the 22-year old soldier. Manning, who is currently under suicide watch in solitary confinement at Quantico, Virginia, reportedly felt isolated in the military, describing himself to a friend as “emotionally fractured” and “a wreck”.
Through interviews with members of Manning’s neighbors and former classmates, writer Ginger Thompson paints a portrait of a Don Draper-esque figure leading a double life, an ambitious figure with a troubled past and a literal drawer full of secrets (it doesn’t take an English major to find the uncomfortable symbolism in reports of the toy fairy wand that Manning kept in his desk drawer).
By connecting reports of Manning’s checkered career in the military to details from his private life, the “Times” article argues that Manning’s decision to reveal military secrets was directly related to the circumstances that kept him from revealing his own. And anyone with first (or second or third)-hand experience of the psychological duress that comes with living in the closet knows that this very well may be the case.
But while this is an attractive argument from a journalistic perspective (and from the perspectives of those who support Manning, myself included), it’s also a limiting one. What could have been a complex, multi-faceted profile of a man who (depending on who you ask) did something that was either very noble or very dangerous is now an effort to brand Bradley Manning as the poster child for gay military rights.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a bit reductionist, as is the author’s treatment of Manning as a flamboyant homosekshill (a tidbit about Manning lip-synching to GaGa while uploading thousands of classified military cables is rather irrelevant within the context of the article; to me it only proves that Manning has good taste).
More importantly, being the poster child for gay rights doesn’t seem to be a label that Manning has actively courted. “I wouldn’t mind going to prison, or being executed so much,” he wrote before his arrest, “if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me plastered all over the world press.” Although Manning opposed DADT, even posting Facebook photos of himself holding a sign demanding “equality on the battlefield” at an LGBT rights rally, anyone who chooses execution over public exposure is probably not the ideal public face for a cause.
Moreover, such a designation also provides ample ammunition for the assholes who oppose gay admission to the military altogether, with one op-ed piece on conservative website Aim.org attributing the Wikileak to the U.S. military for their “obvious mishandling of this homosexual ticking time bomb.”
It’s debatable whether or not the leaked reports actually posed a threat to national security, but those who take the Pentagon’s stance on this issue will certainly continue to do so—and they’d be more than happy to blame it on their favorite scapegoats, the homosexual ticking time bombs who they they blame for dissolving the nuclear family, transmitting HIV, corrupting moral values, and for the inexplicable success of Adam Lambert.
Unfortunately, as homophobic assholes’ worst fear has come to fruition, so too has Manning’s; his face, along with his sexual and musical preferences, is plastered on the pages of every newspaper in the country. Ultimately, we can attribute his actions to a variety of motivations, but what it really comes down to is this:
Bradley Manning was unhappy serving under DADT, but according to the “Times” profile, Bradley Manning was unhappy in the Army for lots of reasons. He felt that he was underutilized and “regularly ignored” by his superiors, and he was formally reprimanded twice, including once for assaulting an officer.
This was someone who, for all intents and purposes, was completely unsuited for a military career; this was a person who felt inadequate, powerless and angry when forced to blindly submit to authority. Whether or not these feelings of inadequacy, powerlessness and anger were motivated entirely by “don’t ask, don’t tell” is something that only Manning really knows for sure.
To paraphrase an old Barney episode (you know, the one about LGBT policy in the U.S. military), secrets come in all shapes and sizes, and Bradley Manning was harboring some pretty big secrets.
No one should have to keep who they are locked inside a desk drawer; no one should be forced to keep who they are a secret. But only Manning knows why he chose to leak the Wikileaks documents. And as convenient as it may be to assert that one enforced secret begets another one leaked (or another 92,000 leaked, as the case may be) the reality is probably more complicated than than that.