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On Thursday, Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley) confirmed what has long been suspected by folks following her story, she is not a gay man, she is a transgender woman. If only her confident-sounding official announcement could have been made in happier circumstances. On Wednesday, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for various charges — including violation of the Espionage Act —  related to her leak of hundreds of thousands of documents related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and numerous private diplomatic communications.

During the 1,293 days between her arrest in May, 2010 and this statement, there were hints at Manning’s status, but no confirmation. Now Manning herself has stated her preference, which is all that matters. The often oft-amusing Erin Gloria Ryan wrote a good enough Jezebel post on respecting Manning’s transition and not being horrible about it. But Ryan didn’t really delve into the the reason Manning faces such a long time behind bars. Indeed, Jezebel itself (and this is a sign of a bigger problem for the blog, with rare exceptions) seems to be unable to translate caring about feminist issues such as being an ally to the trans community into bigger issues like embracing more radical politics than the dreaminess of the Commander in Chief.

Certainly Manning’s status is not unimportant, especially now that she is set to begin her sentence with the knowledge that the military will not be respecting her gender identity. (Not to mention her torturous treatment during some of her pre-trial detainment.)  Also, her less-than-hetero status has been used by critics ever since her name appeared in the press. Back in 2010, conservative commentator Ann Coulter decided that Manning leaked the information because she was a gay man “in a snit” and therefore couldn’t be trusted with sensitive intel. Other right-wingers like actor Adam Baldwin reacted to the confirmation of Manning as Male-to-Female by charmingly wondering “which came first: Manning’s insanity, or his treason?” Manning’s identity seems awfully convenient for folks who already thought “he” had done wrong by leaking.

But even now, to focus solely on Manning’s MtoF status is myopic. She is more than a trans woman who warrants support because there’s no real reason not to use someone’s preferred gender. She didn’t leak because she was suffering great stress partially due to — but not entirely because of — her difficulties adjusting to the military. She definitely did not leak because she was trans. She leaked because, in her own words, she changed her mind about the war on terror after seeing how up close. She committed an anarchic, arguably reckless act fueled by very clearly expressed principles of opposition to government secrecy, the occupation of Iraq, and the deaths of innocent civilians. She saw things during her stint as a military analyst in a warzone, and she thought people should know some of the things she knew. She wanted a more transparent society.

Yes, you might argue she could have leaked more judiciously. She certainly shouldn’t have trusted hacker and eventual-rat Adrian Lamo with her confession of criminal guilt. But to talk about Manning should be to talk about concepts arguably even more radical than complicated aspects of gender. Government leaders, police, the military, all have special privileges and immunities not granted to the average person. Individuals in the U.S. and more violently abroad bear the brunt of that privilege often. Iraq is a fucking mess, thanks in large part to the United States. Afghanistan, too. Drone strikes throughout the Middle East kill and psychologically torture civilians, and breed more resentment of the United States and more terrorists. Manning’s release of war-logs helped paint a much clearer picture of how these wars are fought, something U.S. society, with its constant refusal to depict the real, bloody cost of conflict, sorely needs. By pushing hard against the stifling, dusty room of government secrets, Manning changed the world and let some sunshine in. She may have even helped jump-start the Arab Spring. And her actions lead to Snowden (even if he looked at her partially as how not to leak). Snowden in turn sparked the current, snowballing debate about what powers the national security sector has, what powers it claims to have, and what Congress, and the President, and the public should do about it.

Knowing the questions her actions raise, it doesn’t make sense to ignore Manning’s status as a political figure. Jezebel has broached the subject of less-sympathetic prisoners who were also trans slightly more cautiously in the past. (Though there’s nothing wrong with expressing some empathy for anyone caught up in the United States’ fucked up, enormous prison system, guilty, violent, or not.) Support her or not (and I argue you should), Manning is a woman who committed a bold and lawless act. She is not just a reason to discuss the rotten treatment of trans individuals by society, the military, or the prison system. That conversation is important, but it’s not the one Manning sacrificed her freedom to start.

Let’s respect Manning by referring to her by chosen name and prefered pronoun. But let’s also respect the woman who is now stoically facing 35 years in prison by continuing to talk about what she did, and how we’re going to respond to the next whistleblower.

  • Any excuse to post this, in the years to come.I recently discovered the adsorbing Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog. Its author, an academic, invented various incarnations of a NukeMap, in which you can use Google maps (or Google Earth, for those not saddled with a Chromebook) to see the effects of various atomic bombs — from Hiroshima to the full, unused iteration of the Tsar Bomba — on various cities.
  • The author also wrote a “Why Nagasaki” post yesterday, which is soft on the whole thing, but is enlightening as to the debated motivations of those involved in nuking the shit out of that bonus city.
  • The Onion said it best on Nagaski.
  • I am reminded of the time a few months back where I asked my would-be engineer friend to explain why nuclear stuff is measured by half-life. Drunk friend fluctuated between condescending over-explanation to poor, sweet liberal arts majors, and baffling science attacks (to poor, sweet liberal arts majors). Somehow it eventually made sense, but God knows I couldn’t explain it.
  • Once-classified US government footage of rebuilding Hiroshima.
  • Matt Novak’s sweet Paleofuture blog seems to have wandered over to Gizmodo.
  • Cato’s Julian Sanchez was deliciously sassy on Chris Hayes on Friday, talking NSA and Obama press conferences. And The Guardian‘s Spencer Ackerman was himself, and was therefore great. And Robert Gibbs said the word debate so. many. times. and it was terrible.

Five non-link tweets I have recently favorited, for your enjoyment:

Today’s video(s):

Willie Watson, the lamented and departed member of Old Crow Medicine Show, singing “High Dice Blues/Shooting High Dice” with guitar that sounds exactly like the Mississippi Sheiks version of the song. Check ’em both out:

I love the Mississipi Sheiks so much. But you would know that if you have been listening to my radio show, now tragically nearing its end.

 

Memorial Day is now three days behind us. The patriotic fervor of the day has dulled to a low ebb. Citizens, more distant than ever from the military, can once again forget about the soldiers dying far away. For most Americans it’s time to go back to their daily grind until the shadow of Veterans Day reminds them to wave flags and post thank yous on social media.

As for libertarians, it’s downright antithetical to celebrate a day like Memorial Day, so it’s a relief when the day passes. The idea of memorializing soldiers, the guns in the itchy trigger fingers of the State’s hand, seems loathsome. These are the people who kill enemy and innocents alike, unquestioning, based on orders given by men who view battlefields as chessboards, soldiers as pawns, and blood as a lubricant in their geopolitical ends and means.

Over on AntiWar.com, Lucy Steigerwald (my sister) writes in her critique of Memorial Day that “It is not morally neutral to join the military, and so it’s not morally neutral to mourn war dead.” Sheldon Richman at the Free Association blog also views Memorial Day in a negative light, (to say the least).

Richman writes:

Today is Revisionist History Day, what others call Memorial Day. Americans are supposed to remember the country’s war dead while being thankful that they protected our freedom and served our country. However, reading revisionist history … teaches that the fallen were doing no such thing. Rather they were and are today serving cynical politicians and the “private” component of the military-industrial complex in the service of the American Empire.

But this ignores the millions of soldiers killed who were drafted in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. They didn’t choose to join the military, they were coerced. It also ignores the fact that the world only exists in its current capacity because of the blood spilled in the American Revolution. Was that war just? What about World War II? How many civilians have to be killed before some kind of intervention becomes necessary or moral?

You don’t have to believe in the morality of war to honor those who died. But by all means parse out each individual soldier. Play St. Peter and judge them on their worthiness of being honored. Go ahead and memorialize the 53 percent that meets your criteria while making sure none of the 47 percent receive any of your well-wishes. If you want to find someone to blame, there’s a much more worthy target than soldiers — especially the dead ones.

The blame for wars lies squarely at the feet of the government. It’s easy to excoriate soldiers for being the weapons of war, but that ignores the fingers pulling the trigger. With drones replacing front line soldiers, the impetus to change the way our government operates grows exponentially. When war becomes as cold and sterile as playing a video game, it doesn’t bode well for a peaceful world.

You cannot hope to put an end to warfare by heaping blame on the soldiers. It’s counterproductive and only inflames the passions of the citizenry. To spur change, our words and efforts have to be focused on the highest halls of power. The State will try and deflect, to blame the rest of the world for forcing their hand, for coercing them into war. It will arouse patriotism through statues and songs and through co-opting days of memorial.

It is far too easy to get caught up in celebrating Memorial Day the way the government wants us to. They want us to forget the endless wars, the needless interventions. But that’s not the point. Memorial Day wasn’t started by the government as a way to stoke patriotism. It was a simple day of remembering those who died in battle, no matter who or why.

Memorial Day isn’t a once a year quote thanking the military for their service. It’s not an excuse to wave a flag and proclaim our country the greatest in the world. It’s not an excuse to hate anti-war activists and those who would dare speak out against our foreign policy. The State has equated the day with patriotism to dull the senses of the masses. To cow those who would speak out against the heroic American solider serving selflessly overseas to protect our freedoms, Democracy; whatever the buzz words of the day are. But that’s not what Memorial Day is for.

It is a day to honor American soldiers who have died in battle. That’s all.

It’s really that simple. There’s nothing pro-war or pro-government about it. If anything, the concept of remembering the hundreds of thousands of dead American soldiers is decidedly anti-war. If more people remember the cost of war in human terms then it becomes harder for the government to abuse its powers.

The government may have stolen Memorial Day for their own means, but that doesn’t mean remembering the fallen should make us uncomfortable. Remember that as long as government has the power of life and death, there will be more and more soldiers who die and become merely statistics in a book. So celebrate Memorial Day, and remember the soldiers — maybe more than once a year — but do more than that; fight for a world in which they no longer have to be memorialized.

As you might know, Sen. Rand Paul, that curly-haired moppet from Kentucky, has been filibustering the nomination of would-be CIA director John Brennan for more than four hours now. In his quest to get Attorney General Eric Holder to say that no drone strikes can be used on American citizens on our soul, he has been backed by GOP Sens. Mike Lee and Ted Cruz, and Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden. Rand has quoted Lysander Spooner, Friederich Hayek, flirted with, but then unGodwin’d just in time, by dropping some nuance re Hitler comparisons (currency run amok and the dangers of democracy, it’s okay, folks).

Here are some important sources for all your questions, such as, why is CSPAN suddenly so interesting — why is government suddenly so interesting?