Poor Bradley Manning. The kid can't catch a break. Not only does the military have him locked in some inhuman solitary hole where they can slow-torture him using the latest approved methods, now his troubled private life is being broadcast for all to see.
After running 75,000 secret military field reports released by WIkiLeaks, The New York Times assigned a reporter, Ginger Thompson, to find out personal details about PFC Manning, who is being held at the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia.
What she found was a sensitive, smart kid who did his best to survive the mess he landed in when he was born. A dysfunctional family life seems to have pushed him into the loner category. Then, as kids are encouraged to do by recruitment posters, he chose to join the Army, as Thompson writes, "to give his life some direction."
Nothing out of the ordinary, here. A recruiter realizes the kid is quite smart, maybe a bit nerdy, but he's a wiz with computers. As a former employer told Thompson, Manning was blessed with "an almost innate sense for programming."
But then the Times reveals that Manning is homosexual, which means, because the military's absurd "don't ask, don't tell" policy is finally being discussed in an adult fashion, the Manning story is a potential bomb in that discussion.
The formation of a loner
Smart yet unable to fit in and the subject of ridicule for being gay everywhere he went, Manning became a loner with a keen sense of survival. He also exhibited a temper, or as the ex-boss who fired him put it, he had "the personality of a bull in a China shop." Thompson reports he "assaulted an officer" in Iraq.
A friend from Manning's early childhood in Oklahoma told the British Daily Mail Manning identified as gay at age 13. Then, he's off to live with his mother in her native Wales, and a friend in the high school there describes the anti-gay taunting as "like going back in time to the Dark Ages."
Next, Manning is ping-ponged back to Oklahoma to live with his father, who had a career in the military. When his father learns his son is gay, he throws him out of the house. Manning ends up living in his car.
It is, here, he joins the United States Army and is accepted as an analyst in its intelligence branch with a top-secret clearance. No recruiter would likely have confused him for a macho, knife-in-the-teeth killer. He's the classic nerdy kid with great computer skills, a character type even General Stanley McChrystal recognizes, in his famous Rolling Stone interview, as highly valuable to the military.
The final act of the Manning story begins in Massachusetts, while he is at Fort Drum in New York, before deployment to Iraq. He becomes involved with a young male musician studying at Brandeis University. His name is Tyler Watkins and, according to Thompson, he's connected with various antiwar and computer hacker communities in the area.
Here you have a very smart, troubled kid who feels he's been kicked around, desperately seeking some kind of shelter from the storm, some kind of social anchor to make sense out of his crazy young life. He has joined the military for practical reasons, and just like in school, it's a nasty, hostile climate. His identification with the military seems quite negative.
So it makes sense someone like Manning would fit in with a lively, artistic and computer-smart community like the one he apparently fell into in Massachusetts and that welcomed him with open arms apparently quite literally, in one case. And it needs to be stated, it's not a crime to be lively, artistic and opposed to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The fact Manning is homosexual has zero relevance to the importance of the WikiLeaks story, which is about confronting the US military's regime of secrecy that keeps information about its wars from the citizens who pay for them and in whose name they are fought. Manning's sex life has no more relevance to the issues at hand than Daniel Ellsberg's heterosexuality did to the Pentagon Papers and the Vietnam War.