28 May 2011

The Madness of Bradley Manning - or - Where Does Responsibility Lie?

Whatever damage the whole WikiLeaks fiasco did or did not do to US Foreign Policy or Global Security, we can now be absolutely sure that the fault lies with neither PFC Bradley Manning nor Julian Assange. If there is "treason" (a charge leveled by, among others, the diseased mind of Bush U.N. ambassador John Bolton) involved, the crime is surely on the hands of a group of US Army officers.

We can watch the video below with deep sadness and deep regret (and we can be thankful that this century allows the global press to investigate the American government, meaning we are not limited in our information to whatever is decided in secret meetings between New York Times reporters and government officials), but I think that we, in education, need to take more away from this case than frustration with the government and the military...


Let us forget the Arizona Principal (in the above video) handing out private and protected information from Bradley Manning's school records, and focus instead on what we, as "the adults in the room," need to do to protect those in our charge. A lot of "adults" touched Bradley Manning's life. Parents, teachers, school administrators, neighbors, Army officers and NCOs, psychologists and psychiatrists, and government officials up to and including the United States' Secretary of Defense and President (as both Commander in Chief and political leader) - A lot of adults who either saw a kid in trouble or created and/or oversaw policies which created or exacerbated those troubles.

Did they all do the right things? Did they all do what they needed to do? Did they do what they could do? Did they all act in the best interests of Bradley Manning? Or in the best interests of their organizations and institutions?

Were there toxic school environments? Was there a toxic acceptance of homophobia in America's military? Was there an insufficient commitment to counseling and psychiatry in many places?  Did leaders set up an information security system designed to allow a "catastrophic" failure with private information?

"He was being picked on – that was one part of it. Because you know Bradley – everybody said he was crazy or he was faking and the biggest part of it all was when rumours were getting around that he was chapter 15 – you know, homosexual. They'd call him a faggot or call him a chapter 15 – in the military world, being called a chapter 15 is like a civilian being called a faggot to their face on the street."
"The kid was barely 5ft – he was a runt. And by military standards and compared with everyone who was around there – he was a runt. By military standards, "he's a runt so pick on him", or "he's crazy – pick on him", or "he's a faggot – pick on him." The guy took it from every side. He couldn't please anyone. And he tried. He really did. You know what little interaction I had with him personally – it was like he was seeking approval. And he was really good with me but … there were three guys cornering him up front and calling him a chapter 15 – calling him a faggot. There were guys refusing to go in the showers when he was even in the damn latrine. I mean, it was childish and it was hateful and this guy wasn't big enough to just stand up in your face and say: "Knock it off – quit picking on me", and I'll be damned but he tried. You know, there were several times which everyone called "emotional outbursts and tantrums", but what it was was him saying, "Leave me alone."' (Guardian Transcript of interview with soldiers who were with Manning)

"He was small, he was gay and he was a gay in hiding. You don't get into the military if you are gay. If you are gay and in the military, you lied to the military to get in. The recruiter told you, "Oh, don't say that," or someone coerced you and you ended up hiding that part of yourself. He was already a mess of a child to start with. Then you get him in there and expose him to sleep deprivation. When you are already unstable. When you are already incapable of having that mindset of suck it up and adapt and overcome. A soldier in basic training doesn't know that they are a soldier – they just know they have seen one too many war movies, played one too many war video games or listened to Toby Keith too much.

"Here's the reality: basic training is, we build you down then we break you up – or we break you down and we build you up. Manning was not coming back up." (Guardian Transcript of interview with soldiers who were with Manning)
I'm sorry, but I hear these types of stories all the time - from the military and from schools. People know, but people ignore. People know, but supposed leaders think they know better. It is the Elephant in the room when things go wrong.

Gus Van Sant's Elephant

And it is an elephant created by people from the top down and the bottom up. In Manning's case political leadership responding to - or embracing - a psychotic national minority so terrified of their own sexual longings that they build a homophobic nation (if you think homosexuality is a choice, or that people can be "converted" you obviously are struggling not to make that "choice" yourself). And a military and political leadership dedicated to bizarre outmoded visions of masculinity rather than creating an efficient and effective military. And a leadership devoted to knee jerk responses to technological challenges ("we're hiding too much from each other, so we'll share information with everyone"). And a leadership willing to ignore the obvious at every turn ("According to eyewitnesses, the security was so lax that many of the 300 soldiers on the base had access to the computer room where Manning worked, and passwords to access the intelligence computers were stuck on "sticky notes" on the laptop screens").

"Physical doctors and mental health professionals failed on him. Then you have the cadres, the drill sergeants in the DU [Discharge Unit]: they failed on on him. The first sergeant and the company captain at the DU failed him. The judge advocate group that everyone in discharge had to go through, they failed him. That is a lot of people in a lot of offices and this is for a boy who is pissing his pants and curled up in a foetal position on his bunk and constantly screaming or in terror. There are a lot of people and a lot of steps that got missed. That's what I am talking about with the system, or my frustration with the system and how all this happened.
"And yet he was in a DU and the army almost got rid of him. You know, they have no one to blame for everything that's going on except themselves. That's the only reason I'm saying anything. I can't help Bradley out. I tried to help him out then. A few others of us did but I can't do anything to help him. I'm not doing anything to attack the army or the government or the system or anything. I'm just saying a lot of people let him down. He is not the first one they let down and he is not the last one. That shit is going on right now at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. It is going on at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and it is going on everywhere there is a training facility. I appreciate you guys taking the time.

"You can't get mad at the bull for wrecking the china shop when you have trapped the bull inside it. Bradley should never have been there. They had the opportunity to get rid of him and they didn't. That was October and November 2007. It is now 2011 and all we are hearing about is Bradley, Wikileaks, and he is the bad guy.

"But the reality is that he should have never have been there. There are a lot of steps and a lot of people who let him down. Me and a few others in the DU tried to help him wherever we could. I'm not doing this because I am lashing out or I'm angry with the government or the system or anything else. I'm disappointed about the fact that no one has said anything to this day about how he was in a DU and that the army was going to fire him, they were going to get rid of him." (Guardian Transcript of interview with soldiers who were with Manning)
When I look at school disciplinary reports I often think of administrators and politicians who begin school too early for adolescents, or subject students to absurdly long bus rides, or who don't give kids time to adjust once they arrive at school. I think of leadership which creates "seat time" rules which force short passing periods in secondary school, which turn the time between classes into cesspools of tension and bullying. I think of teachers who don't let kids stand or move or sit on the floor. I think of national leaders who impose the pressures of standardized tests and the limitations of "common core curricula." I think of classrooms where "my way of doing things" becomes the rule. I think of those who force absurd texts onto kids, of those who strip kids' childhood away via homework. I think of of those adults throughout our community, from parents to Governors, who behave like bullies and think kids won't imitate them. I think of educational leaders who sit back and do "research" while generations of children are destroyed. I think of those who'd rather get rich or get famous than do the right thing for kids.

But mostly I think that we overlook too much. That we ignore our human instincts to often. That we allow things to happen to children despite knowing exactly how wrong it all is.

So when I read the tale of Bradley Manning, I felt sad, but I also felt disappointed in "us." And I think we all need to think about that.

- Ira Socol

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