Allegories of Oligarchies
Individualism is to individuals as Christianity is to Christians
By David Heitfield
The following is an open letter to Pfc. Bradley Manning, who was arrested in May in connection with leaking a 2007 video showing a U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq that killed several civilians, including two reporters. Manning is under investigation as the source of other classified documents obtained by Wikileaks; he currently is in solitary confinement under suicide watch in Quantico, Va.
I think I love you.
I guess now that the New York Times dragged you out of the closet – poor Midwestern boy alienated by his sexuality, first in Oklahoma then in the Army – I should qualify that my love for you is rooted in respect for your ballsy action, your youthful idealism and the pathos of shared experiences: was a Korean linguist in the Navy about 30 years ago.
So one of the things I’ve found most amusing about your story is the media-expressed horror that such a 22-year-old enlisted kid would have access to classified information. As we both know, you are the ideal candidate for this work: intelligent, young (the older you are, the more you’ve done that could be used as blackmail), single and lacking the social connections or economic status to find a more lucrative vocation.
Who else would do this work – in a war zone, no less – or under $20k a year?
While I don’t remember the details, I recall having many conversations with people I worked with along the “What would the public do if they actually knew what was really going on?” hypothesis.
Back then, for instance, no one had any idea that the National Security Agency (NSA) dwarfed the CIA in budget and manpower or how many millions of dollars we spent on pointless war games – such as the annual war games that always cause the North Koreans to threaten retaliation. Or how we would deploy aircraft-carrier battle groups just to show the Russians we were badass.
During the Cold War, when nation-states still mattered a little, the government feared other governments, not news organizations. We would watch government-produced films about cunning Russian spies offering us a lot of money or blackmailing us over some personal character weakness. We were lectured about how some of the local Korean prostitutes were known North Korean spies who were happy to get the smallest amount of information, such as where you might be going for deployment.
I don’t recall anyone ever warning us about Walter Cronkite.
It was all a little surreal. So I well understand access to that information has a heady impact on youthful idealism, regardless of your politics or patriotism. It literally changes your perception of the world forevermore.
I recall the 1981 kidnapping of Gen. James Dozier by the Italian Red Brigades as a seminal moment of my youth (this information has long been in the public domain, so no secrets here). I don’t know how or why I had access to the intelligence – I worked on Far Eastern stuff, so I lacked a “need to know” any of it.
And yet I did, and I was amazed at how our information was so at odds with what was being widely reported in the media – namely, that the deputy chief of staff of NATO’s Southern European land forces was secluded in an unknown place by evil communist terrorists, and we were unable to do anything to secure his release. The media fed the “communists are evil and secretive and bad and you should be very, very scared” narrative so popular during the Cold War.
The fact was the Red Brigades “plumbers” who kidnapped the general were bumbling idiots, and we knew where he was every moment of his 42 days in captivity. It was all about the sausage-making of politics, something government would rather not have its subjects think about too much. The Italian government did not want to do anything and would not allow the U.S. to do anything. Political stalemate.
President Reagan then enlisted the help of his good buddy Ross Perot – yes, that Ross Perot – to use his “private forces” to rescue the general. Being the good patriot, Perot left Texas, and while flying to Italy, the Italians got wind of the effort and decided to do the rescue themselves to save face – and they got him without firing a single shot.
Dozier was pronounced a hero, the Italian government was strengthened from increased pride and confidence of its people, the Red Brigades were all but destroyed and Reagan got a bunch of roads named after him.
At your age, Brad, I was impressed by several things in that story: 1. Our intelligence-gathering is far more awesome than anyone was remotely aware; 2. Rich people are capable of amassing their own private armies at will; and, free of messy democratic accountability, apparently have more clout than Presidents; 3. The role of the “free press” is not to inform the public, but to reinforce the narrative of the ruling class.
So, Brad, your venal sin, for which you must be sacrificed, is revealing how the sausage is made. We don’t want confirmation of what we already know: The war is an abject failure and a senseless waste of money and lives; drone aircraft don’t work all that well, despite 60 Minutes propaganda about how awesome it is; Pakistan sucks; Afghan police are drug-addled corrupt rapists; and civilians are being killed at an alarming rate, increasing the power and sympathies of the Taliban instead of suppressing it.
Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, your story was already downplayed and discredited by the media and the White House soon after Wikileaks published some of the documents. It’s only classified “Secret,” it doesn’t tell us anything new and you’re just a confused young boy seeking attention because Mommy didn’t love you enough.
Unfortunately, you also fit into the most powerful narrative in America today: Everything is the fault of the bottom-feeders; those at the top of the food chain are always blameless. The unemployed are to blame for unemployment; the homeless are to blame for homelessness; welfare is to blame for poverty.
Positive psychology is the law of the land today: The cure for all the evils of the world is simply to change how you think about them. Got cancer? Focus on the positive and see it as a spiritual opportunity to be a role model! Middle-aged and unemployed? Time for a spiritual renewal! Anger is a destructive emotion – get rid of it! If you’re depressed, we’ll give you some pills. All better now?
Our Brave New World is rapidly taking shape – although it’s not so much a government conspiracy as a cooperative conflation of corporate, academic, religious and government interests all serving the same master. Repeat the mantra: The top of the food chain is blameless. You have the power to make yourself happy or miserable. Jesus loves the winners.
Individualism today is all about your individual responsibility to conform to the will of the oligarchy.
Know that you’re not alone. The Obama administration has shown its propensity toward blaming the whistleblowers or sacrificing personnel who might cause bad press on Fox News. At least two other leakers have been punished: In May, FBI linguist Shamai Leobowitz was sentenced to 20 months in prison after pleading guilty to passing classified information to a blogger. In April, former NSA senior executive Thomas Drake was indicted on charges that he passed classified information to a reporter who wrote a series of articles about the NSA in 2007.
And that’s why this love letter, Brad. You saw something, it made you angry, you thought your fellow citizens should know about it. You thought about future consequences (not your own) instead of “living in the moment.” You were disturbed by what you knew, and you did something about it, instead of placating yourself with positive thinking.
Consciously or not, you had some idea that sacrifice and redemption are actual concepts that matter (to people and their institutions), that Prosperity Jesus is a sham, that liberty has nothing to do with either Glenn Beck’s bastardization of Thomas Paine or Obama’s hopenchange illusion.
Your epithet in modern America, in which the ideal of individualism is exalted while the value of the individual is rapidly becoming extinct, is probably best summed up by Marge Simpson, after her campaign against cartoon violence resulted in the town’s covering the genitals of Michelangelo’s David: “One person can make a difference … but probably shouldn’t.”
Former military analyst
Current unemployed lawyer and positive-thinking meditator