Darkest Before the Dawn?

“So we cheated and we lied
And we tested
And we never failed to fail
It was the easiest thing to do.”
“Southern Cross”
– Crosby, Still and Nash

The other night the girlwife and I went to go see CSN at the Beacon Theater. I had wanted to see them since 1984 and since they’re not getting any younger (neither am I) I figured it was time. And they were good. Not great. They played what I wanted to hear. It was also nice being some of the youngest people at a concert for a change. But let’s face it, these guys are in their mid to late 60’s and, well, the years they’ve lived have taken their toll. But they can still harmonize, they have an amazing catalog of songs and Stephen Stills is a killer guitar player.

But I left really impressed with their commitment to the hippie ideas. Even after all these years, they’re not afraid to let their political freak flag fly. On the night we went, CSN had someone in the lobby handing out “Free Bradly Manning” post cards. Admittedly, I walked right by. I didn’t recognize the name and you may not either. He’s the guy who released all of those military files to Wiki Leaks a few years ago.

Mid-way through the first set, Graham Nash announced they were doing a new song. Nash then told us it was a song about Manning and how he is being treated while awaiting trial. Someone in the audience bellowed “WHO CARES?”.

Well, all of us should. If what my cursory search about his incarcerated treatment is in any way true “In early April (2011), 295 academics (most of them American legal scholars) signed a letter arguing that the treatment was a violation of the United States Constitution.” , then this is exactly the type of shit we should be caring about. If we are the lone democratic superpower, what does it say about us as a country if we treat our own citizens so poorly, especially given that our entire legal system (even the military one) is built on the “innocent until proven guilty” ideal? What does this say about our government? What does it say about us as humans? Right about now someone might say “Whadda ya think he deserves, backrubs and steak?” No. I don’t think that at all. I think he should be held accountable…and treated fairly. As a human being. I don’t think he should be stripped of all basic human rights under the guise of “suicide watch”.

Do I think Bradly Manning is a scumbag? It doesn’t matter what I think. What matters is how we treat him. Does he deserve to be treated HUMANELY? Of course. And the cynic in me says that he, more than anyone, deserves fair treatment because the eyes of the world are on us and our treatment of him.

Almost as alarming as his treatment is the lack of media coverage. The news media should serve to keep the government in check and from what I can tell, the news media has been co-opted by Washington and Wall Street and has ceased doing that. That is not to say some media outlets do not report this stuff, they do. Here in the states, it is usually way left media and blogs, both of which are not widely read. Elsewhere in the world, it is more traditional media. But who in the states is really watching Al Jezeera or reading The Guardian? Comedian David Cross once said “Why do I have to read newspapers from outside my country to find out what’s going on in my country?”

I understand that people have very strong feelings about this guy. I do too. While I agree with him releasing the information and I agree with the care in which Julian Assange took with the data. Like it or not, and most people do not, Assange is doing what traditional media should be doing. Reporting facts and not opinion. Ultimately, I have very real doubts about Manning’s motivation. He is not Daniel Ellsberg, the guy who released The Pentagon Papers (which helped stop the Vietnam War). The main difference, for me, is that I believe Ellsberg truly had the countries best intentions at heart. Ellsberg was part of the Vietnam build up so he knew what he was talking about because he helped create it. From what little I know, Manning was an enlisted IT/Communications guy who, for whatever reason, had incredible clearance and just comes across as a disgruntled punk.

There is also something more thoughtful, more planned about a middle aged father sneaking into the RAND Corporation on weekends, with his kids, and copying reams of classified information versus a twenty-something hitting “send”. One requires a great deal of planning and thought and one requires limited motor skills.

This is not to say the information Manning released shouldn’t be available. It should. Without a doubt. As citizens it is our right to know. Whether we choose to exercise that right is a different argument. Did the information cost American lives? Yes, but I submit, no more or less than the actual war would have without their release. Did it put Americans in harms way? Yea, probably, but I would argue no more and no less than any soldiers superior officer or some private enforcers boss. Ultimately, what Manning did proved to have little effect on much of anything. Unfortunaltely, it did not yield the same results as Ellsberg. We’re still there, our soldiers and others are still dying. For me, it begs the question if Ellsberg’s secretary had released the Pentagon Papers, would it have had the same effect? Conversely, if a four star general had given this information to Wiki Leaks, would he be on trial?

I believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be noted in history as epic fuck ups. Not as a result of any of our soldiers or military. This mess lands, rests and lives on one mans shoulders, George W. Bush. George W. Bush and his brethren of “intellectual idiots” who spent 8 years bullying and running amuck over our civil liberties, padding the wallets of the wealthy and pretty much giving the finger to the world community.

If Bush’s goal was to kill native Iraqi’s and Afghans and then screw the soldiers who return home, mission accomplished. If his goal was to invade those countries and act like a drunken frat boy on a Friday night, mission accomplished. If he goal was to spread democracy, crush Al Queda and push out the Taliban. Epic failure. For a great read about the war in Afghanistan and its inevitable conclusion, read this Rolling Stone article. For a great read about our treatment of returning soldiers read this NYTimes article.

So, to the lady who bellowed “Who cares?” I do. Crosby, Stills and Nash do. And you should to. How we treat each other is one of the defining principles of us as a people and as a nation. It was also one of the guiding lights of the hippie movement that gave us Crosby, Stills and Nash. We don’t always get it right, personally, professionally or with our government, but it doesn’t mean we stop trying.

“And we never failed to fail, it was the easiest thing to do”
It’s easier to paint Bradly Manning as a villain and treat him like a piece of shit. It’s easier to make him the scapegoat. It’s harder to understand the failings of our system that led us to this place. It’s harder to stand up for an alleged treasonous soldier being mistreated. When we take the easy way out we fail, and to fail is easy. To succeed takes work.

Bradly Manning should be tried and if found guilty, punished. That does not mean he should be tortured beforehand. We fail as a society when we mistreat people that are in our care. We fail as humans when we allow that to happen.