August 1, 2013

A Soldier Cannot Be A Rebel

"IMO the case was overcharged in the matters of "aiding the enemy" and the espionage statute. I think Manning is too trivial a person for that to have been his goal. Nevertheless, the BBC and other unfriendly propaganda organizations are drooling over the chance to bash the US for prosecuting a sworn member of the US Army for having massively broken his oath of enlistment and all the undertakings that he made to safeguard classified information.

He felt the army reveled in its role of killing? What did he think he was joining when he voluntarily enlisted, the Boy Scouts? I think that you Australians and Canadians and Brits would feel quite different if this were one of your "soldiers." Do you think that your people do not kill and keep secrets?" - Colonel Patrick Lang, (July 30).
It is hard to criticize someone with the courage of a Bradley Manning, whose heart is in the right place, and has goodwill towards his country and humanity. Any act of sacrifice, no matter what cause, truth, or war it is in service of, even if it is misguided, has to be respected. And on that level Manning deserves respect by all mankind.

But, once you choose to become a soldier, and take that sacred oath, you give up your rights as an individual. So if you are a rebel by nature it is a good idea to stay away from the army. You can't be on the fence about your personality and identity when you take the warrior's oath.

Either you sign up to become a soldier and instill the ethics and culture of the warrior deep into your being, or you can live as a rebel, and question the system from the outside of the institution. In most authoritarian countries citizens are not offered that choice. But in America and other places you're free to make that choice. It wasn't always this way. And so, if somebody is going to join the army on his own will, then he must accept the rules and abide by them, even if it goes against his conscience and personal sense of morality and justice. The army aka the killing machine aka the single greatest tyranny invented by man is no place for a rebel.

Once you're in uniform you can't change your mind about being a soldier, even if you come upon new information that makes you sick to your stomach and makes you question the morality of the war you are fighting in or certain acts committed in the war. That is not a soldier's right to judge. This is where Manning was wrong. As a soldier you're supposed to follow orders, not be a rebel and make your own path. You can't turn your back on your original commitment, which was to serve obediently.

The first thing the army does with a new recruit, even before shaving off his head, is to cut off his balls. A soldier doesn't have a voice. His job is to follow the chain of command, and that is for a good reason. It's a principle that has exited for thousands of years. People higher up generally know more, and what they say has to be respected. 

Many of the soldiers in Nazi Germany were honourable fighters, but they didn't rebel against their leader in the face of mounting evidence of his incompetence and failings because the warrior's code was so dear to them. Even if it meant they could save Germany by rebelling against Hitler they couldn't do it because such an act would go against their very being, values, and belief system. And you can say that is dumb, but it's actually very admirable. That is why warriors are cherished in every society. Their obedience to their commanders and the highest leader is a positive trait.

During the Islamic Revolution in Iran, one of the first things Khomeini did was create a separate Islamist military structure with commanders under his control that he could trust. The Shah's commanders were loyal to him but their hands were tied by the Carter administration and State Department who basically green lighted Khomeini's revolution and helped it along. So this wasn't a case of the army rebelling against the king, but a foreign power stepping in and taking sides. But it is true that the rank and file made the leap to Khomeini's camp, and a key reason was because they were "the least Westernized" in the Shah's army. They didn't believe their rebellion against the King was treacherous or disloyal, but in line with their religious beliefs and outlook.

Why am I mentioning this? Because it is important to remember that very rarely in history do officers, commanders, and soldiers rebel, especially in totalitarian and authoritarian nations. And when they do, the rebellion must mean something. Exposing a war crime is not a good enough reason to break your oath and rebel.

I'm not criticizing or supporting Manning. I don't know if his act of whistleblowing was heroic or foolhardy. That is a judgment that the American people must make. But I think much of what he revealed about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as the helicopter video, was not really that earth-shattering. Soldiers kill journalists - happens in every war. War crimes happen - not a big deal, because war itself is a crime, in which case you must stop the war before it starts, but after it starts, there is no point in highlighting atrocities.

Plus, everybody knew the invasion of Iraq was a war crime from the first moments of shock and awe, so there was no need from a legal or a cultural standpoint to enlighten the global and American public about the nature of this war through an act of whistleblowing.

I have a positive view of rebels. This post is not about criticizing rebels. But a soldier must not rebel, especially if it involves disclosing sensitive government information.