One of the sadder things about the life of Chelsea, formerly Bradley, Manning is that she always seems to have been in the wrong place—at a time when there surely is a right place for her. As a kid, Manning was a gay, geeky, opinionated atheist growing up in a conservative Oklahoma town she once described as having “more pews than people.” She was all those things—and a foreigner, too—in the next place she lived, Haverfordwest, Wales, where Manning moved with her mother, an alcoholic who struggled with everything. She was all those things, plus cross-dressing and opposed to the war in Iraq, while she was deployed to Baghdad, working in computer intelligence to advance that very war. A profile of Manning that ran in the Times in 2010 described a brief period when she was hanging out in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a boyfriend, a student at Brandeis who was a classical-music-loving, self-described drag queen, and the boyfriend’s circle. Reading about that interlude, it’s hard not to think this was where Manning belonged, with the kind of cyber-nerds and gender activists who feel most at home in the penumbra of a college campus. If only she’d been on a track to join that milieu, as opposed to, say, the Army, where she was stranded with people she saw as “a bunch of hyper-masculine trigger happy ignorant rednecks,” things would have turned out so much better—at least for Manning. Whether we would have ever found out some of the things Manning leaked that we deserve to know about the prosecution of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is another matter.
[Update: On Thursday evening, Parliament rejected military action in Syria by a vote of 285 to 272.]
Not before time, the public and its elected officials have taken a stand against the rush to bomb Syria—an action that could embroil the United States in a bloody civil war and lead us down a path to goodness knows where. The public in question turned out to be the British, but no matter. All popular movements have to start someplace. Now it’s up to the American people and their representatives to demand a similar pause for reflection and political debate.
After yesterday’s dramatic developments in London, which culminated in Prime Minister David Cameron delaying a parliamentary vote to authorize British participation in an American-led attack, President Obama faces the choice of putting off the bombing or going ahead without the support of America’s closest European ally. Should he choose to hold off for a few days, which seems likely, it will give Congress time to consider the matter, and to schedule a vote approving military action. Until now, the White House has resisted such a vote, and the Republican leadership has stopped short of demanding one. But now that Britain has allowed the people’s representatives to have a say, and also given the U.N. inspectors in Syria some time to complete their investigation of last week’s awful gas attack, the political dynamic in Washington may change.
Update, Wednesday afternoon: Major Nidal Malik Hasan has been sentenced to death.
On Friday, military courts in Washington State and Texas rendered decisions that, with a bit of bad luck, will create a nasty dilemma for President Obama.
At Lewis-McChord, an Army Air Force base near Tacoma, a six-member jury sentenced Staff Sergeant Robert Bales—who, on March 11, 2012, murdered sixteen civilian villagers in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan—to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
At Fort Hood, a jury of thirteen Army officers found Major Nidal Malik Hasan—who, on November 5, 2009, killed thirteen of his fellow-soldiers and wounded dozens more, none of them armed—guilty of forty-five counts of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder.
There was never the slightest doubt, reasonable or unreasonable, about the culpability of either man. There was nothing “alleged” about their crimes. Because of the certainty of a guilty verdict, Sergeant Bales pleaded guilty. For exactly the same reason, Major Hasan did the opposite.
For months, Bashar al-Assad, in Syria, has been suspected of using chemical weapons against the rebels who are trying to remove him, in violation of international treaties and the Obama Administration’s threats. Syrian opposition groups say that Assad has used chemical weapons as many as thirty-five times, often with low concentrations of sarin gas. In each case, the attack appears to have been intended to cause as much panic as death, and without provoking a Western response. The result—carefully calculated by the Assad regime, no doubt—is that the death toll from chemical weapons has been kept low. In June, Benjamin Rhodes, President Obama’s deputy national-security adviser, said that between a hundred and a hundred and fifty people had been killed in all of the gas attacks together. This, in a fratricidal war that has killed more than a hundred thousand people.
A half century past its zenith, the civil-rights movement has been invested with the kind of moral authority that is derived only from being on the right side of history. We’ve compressed the grand scale of the March on Washington—which took place on August 28, 1963, fifty years ago this coming Wednesday—into succinct quotes, a vine of grainy footage of Martin Luther King, Jr., at the crowded dais, and a dream metaphor whose ubiquity is matched only by its anodyne appeal. There’s an easy certainty afforded to the cause that drew a quarter of a million people to the Washington Mall in August, 1963, not only because of its subsequent success in ending legal segregation and disenfranchisement but also because the fruit of its efforts is currently evident in the office of the Presidency. Yet the massive gathering in Washington, D.C., was driven by the concern that, in the nearly ten years that had passed since the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, the movement had yet to achieve meaningful legislative change—and the uncertainty that it ever would.
When Salvador Allende, the democratically elected socialist President of Chile, was overthrown by his country’s military—with the awareness, and possible assistance, of the C.I.A.—on September 11, 1973, he committed suicide rather than surrender. By then, Chile’s Air Force had already bombed the Presidential palace, where he had decided to make his last stand. When the smoke cleared, the country’s new leader, the Army commander-in-chief General Augusto Pinochet, told his fellow-countrymen that he had taken the step of removing Allende from office on behalf of the fatherland to save it from Marxist terrorists. “The armed forces of Chile have acted today solely from the patriotic inspiration of saving the country from tremendous chaos into which it was being plunged by the Marxist government of Salvador Allende,” he said. In the days, weeks, and months that followed the coup, thousands of people were hunted down, rounded up, held, tortured, and killed. Their bodies were hidden by, in many cases, secret executioners, all in the name of “freedom” and “the fatherland.”
The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy led directly to the passage of a historic law, the Gun Control Act of 1968. Does that change your view of the assassinations? Should we be grateful for the deaths of these two men?
Of course not. That’s lunatic logic. But the same reasoning is now being applied to the actions of Edward Snowden. Yes, the thinking goes, Snowden may have violated the law, but the outcome has been so worthwhile. According to Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who was one of the primary vehicles for Snowden’s disclosures, Snowden “is very pleased with the debate that is arising in many countries around the world on Internet privacy and U.S. spying. It is exactly the debate he wanted to inform.”