The other day I came across an interesting tweet in my timeline, RT’d by someone I follow. Although I don’t remember the exact wording, the tweet called on the U.S. government to stop persecuting PFC Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking classified information about our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The word that caught my eye, and I remember it clearly being part of the tweet, was “persecuting.” In my mind, Manning isn’t being persecuted … he’s being prosecuted. Manning violated military regulations — that he was well aware of, I may add — and now he’s being held accountable for his actions. The government didn’t seek him out for punishment based on his views.
I certainly do not agree with what Manning, or NSA leaker Edward Snowden, did in revealing classified information. There were, in both cases, internal means for these individuals to address any concerns they had about ongoing operations or policies. I do acknowledge these internal methods have limitations, and may not have ideally satisfied the misgivings of Manning or Snowden.
I can respect an individual who has the courage of his or her convictions and is willing to act on beliefs despite knowing such actions have consequences. That is how real change often begins: with individuals willing to sacrifice their own liberties for the greater good. By being court-martialed, regardless of the outcome, Manning may do more to further his own views than Snowden, who is on the run and trying to find a way to avoid the consequences of his actions.
It is interesting to note the U.S. House of Representatives defeated a measure to defund the NSA’s phone tapping program, meaning what I suspected all along: many in our government — elected and appointed — are completely in favor of the snooping and do not want to see restrictions on how the “war on terror” is fought. Act shocked and talk about privacy all you want senators, representatives and directors, but at the end of the day you want to know what the NSA is currently digging up.
The fact is, the NSA isn’t doing anything illegal as currently defined by our government; to change the game, you have to first change the rules. If Snowden found the courage to stand up and face the music instead of telling and hiding, a subsequent trial could — perhaps — lead to real change in how the NSA and other government agencies do business. Even if it doesn’t, there is value to having such issues weighed by the courts and not just the media.
But first, Snowden has to stand up and be counted.
I recently re-read Fields of Fire by Senator James Webb, a outstanding novel about the Vietnam War. I greatly admire Webb, who was a highly decorated Marine officer in Vietnam and later Secretary of the Navy when I was a Petty Officer Second Class.
There is an strong scene late in the book in which Will Goodrich, who leaves Harvard out of apathy and ends up in Vietnam as a draftee, is visited by his former roommate Mark, who avoided the draft by fleeing to Canada. Goodrich’s father, a lawyer, calls the police and the roommate is arrested. In this passage, quoted at length, Goodrich and his father discuss what happened:
Goodrich held his buzzing head in both hands. The world had just succeeded in finding the final little nudge that sent it topsy-turvy. “He didn’t do anything really wrong, Dad. I think I have the standing to say that.”
“You were arguing with him when I came in—”
“I don’t want him to tell me about Vietnam. But he isn’t wrong.”
“You know what we’ve lost, William? We’ve lost a sense of responsibility, at least on the individual level. We have too many people like Mark who believe that the government owes them total, undisciplined freedom. If everyone thought that way, there would be no society. We’re so big, so strong now, that people seem to have forgotten that a part of our strength comes from each person surrendering a portion of his individual urges to the common good. And the common good is defined by who wins at the polls, and the policies they make. Like it or lump it.”
…“What about the duty to protest? What Mark was doing is as old as Thoreau. Civil disobedience is as American as—killing Indians!”
His father smiled, just the smallest curving of his mouth. “That answers itself, Son. Thoreau went to jail, not to Canada. That’s civil disobedience. The other is self-interest, cloaked with morality.”
— Webb, James (2008-11-19). Fields of Fire (pp. 442-443). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
“Self-interest, cloaked with morality.” I like that phrase, because to me it sums up a lot of behavior I see these days. I certainly don’t advocate a totalitarian government, but as a group we Americans seem to have forgotten the importance of individual sacrifice for the greater good.
I suspect Manning will be convicted of most if not all charges. The case seems cut-and-dried, and as we always said when I was on active duty: They don’t court-martial the innocent. Still, as an individual Manning stood up for what he believed in and he will pay the cost of that. He was prosecuted, not persecuted.