Ever since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was made law, gay and lesbian members of the military have chosen to either tough it out or turn themselves in for discharge. According to his attorney, Pfc. Bradley Manning chose a third option – he gave 75,000 military and State Department documents to WikiLeaks. Well, it’s an interesting defense – not guilty by reason of being gay. Doesn’t do much for gay rights, equating gayness with insanity, but, what the hell.
Manning’s defense team is also claiming that the 75,000 documents were no big deal, that nothing he sent to WikiLeaks was classified above “secret” – the lowest designation for docments. The Obama administration has claimed that the documents compromised collaborators and strained relations with several countries. In most cases, the diplomatic cables contained a lot of local gossip about government officials and the personal reflections of the ambassador. Not all of it was flattering. At least one ambassador has been withdrawn because of complaints about the contents of the cables. Of more significance are the names of Afghan and Iraqi collaborators. Following the release of the military logs, the U. S. military scrambled to evacuate these people and their families. There was nothing we could do for dissidents in countries like Zimbabwe, who had met with members of our diplomatic staff.
The charge that what Manning exposed was not important is almost true. Much of what was put on-line by WikiLeaks about our military in Afghanistan and Iraq was already known or suspected. Much of it was already being investigated or had charges filed over it. Most of it was just “we moved from point A to point B today” routine reports. What Manning’s actions did expose, in the final analysis, is that the American public is more interested in who’s being eliminated on American Idol and the latest bad behavior by some celebrity than it is interested in what’s going on in our wars. If one was shocked by the “disclosures” in the documents, one wasn’t paying attention.
Manning’s defense that his superiors should have known he was too unstable for duty in a combat zone and access to sensitive materials is a valid one, the most valid they have. Examination of Manning’s record shows the pattern of behavior that should have gotten him discharged for mental instability. The defense team is questioning witnesses to Manning’s time in the service and the decision to place him in the intelligence services and in the war zone.
But, back to the “gay” defense…..
For eighteen years, gay and lesbian soldiers and sailors, activists and supporters have busted their chops to convince America that being gay is not un-military. It does not pose a threat to unit cohesion. It does not diminish the power of our military but most especially, excluding gays and lesbians from service does violate the basic rights of Americans. There is a brief scene in Julie and Julia where Paul Childs is being questioned about his loyalty to his country. The scene includes a question about Childs’ sexual orientation. That was life in the paranoid 1950s, the McCarthy-Un-American Activities Committee era. And in a warped way, the gay-bashers were right. Being gay in a world that totally didn’t accept homosexuality was a blackmailable condition. Had gays and lesbians been able to serve their country, or do much of anything else openly, there would have been less abuse, less harassment, less potential for blackmail, less reason for someone to become a spy like the guys from Cambridge, fewer dysfunctional marriages and unhappy lives.
So, Bradley Manning is gay. Big freaking deal. His superiors knew. They suspected he was suffering from gender dysphoria. And his defense team is trying to paint that as an excuse, a cause for his crime. Is Dan Choi even listening to this shit? If the court martial accepts this as a contributing factor to Manning’s actions, as exculpatory, that destroys everything that gay activists have been fighting against – the perception that gays can’t be trusted in uniform.
This defense strategy is an insult to all the gay men and lesbian women who have served with honor and distinction. It is ammunition for those forces who would drive gays and lesbians out of the military and back in the closet. It is hateful. Blaming all of Manning’s problems on his being gay is a cop-out. It’s no better than the Twinkies defense.
Was Manning too emotionally immature to cope with the realities of the military? Yes. But others have suffered from the same problem without being gay. Was he subject to uncontrollable rages? Yes. But others have without being gay. Should his behavior have been cause for slapping him in a military hospital for a proper psyche eval instead of just removing his firing pins and sending him to war? Absolutely. There is a very valid defense for Manning in the way the military failed to properly treat a man who exhibited violent and erratic behavior. It is not necessary to blame that behavior on “the gay.” It should not be necessary to sacrifice the gains that gays and lesbians have made in order to prove that Bradley Manning was a loose cannon and the military failed him.