Bring a Torch

For ten months, a now-23-year-old man has been held in solitary confinement by the United States military, on charges of sharing classified military information with WikiLeaks. Included in this information was a video of an Apache helicopter crew firing on civilians in the streets of New Baghdad in 2007.

While this young man named Bradley Manning spends his days alone in prison, and faces charges that could keep him there for life, the soldiers who murdered the civilians have been charged with nothing.

“All’s fair in love and war.” (John Lyly)

“War is hell.” (William Tecumseh Sherman)

“No one cries like a mother cries for peace on earth.” (U2)

Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabelle. (16th century French carol)

The official name of the Statue of Liberty, a gift of the French people to the people of the United States of America, is Liberty Enlightening the World. As a nation, we have held this ideal high, and mostly fallen short. By attempting to “spread democracy” with military force, and then keep secret the inevitable crimes like this one committed in our country’s name, our government has failed to let the light of liberty shine bright.

You can learn more by viewing the videos at collateralmurder.com (the testimony of Ethan McCord, the soldier who discovered the seriously wounded children, is especially eye-opening), and if you wish to support Manning, visit bradleymanning.org.

There are many facets to this story. If you read the “Wired” interview with McCord and the Wikipedia article about Manning, you will encounter some of them. Thinking about our nation’s military involvement around the world on a deeper level, including the right of citizens to access information about our military’s actions, is a vital part of maintaining the liberties we claim to be ours.

This letter written by McCord and fellow veteran Josh Stieber is a note of hope, and another opportunity for concerned citizens to act.

17 Comments

  1. Rule #1: Never, never, never again is a soldier allowed to use the word “engaged.” From now on, he says, “I just shot those human beings.”

    Rule #2: Never, never, never is a soldier allowed to say, “Oh well” upon learning he just shot a child.

    Rule #3: Never, never, never should a soldier be so conditioned to obey orders that he lacerates his conscience by leaving a wounded child.

    There are more, but that’s as much as I can handle right now. I could fill this comment box with cursing and shattered dishes.

    (Sometimes I imagine that if I imagine something hard enough it will happen. Right now I’m imagining Bradley Manning hearing your song in his dark cell.)

    • Rules like these are the type any decent parent would have for their child. They are the antithesis of military training, though, and for a logical reason – the job of the military is to breed soldiers, who, whatever noble spin we try to put on it, must be willing to kill. And in war, killing civilians comes with the territory. Even children.

      Did you watch the Ethan McCord video on the Collateral Murder site, and/or read the Wired interview with him? Both gave me a better understanding of just how dehumanizing the job of a soldier – at least a U.S. soldier – is. And perhaps it must be, in order for them to do what they are asked to do. It begs the question, what a “good soldier” would be like, what a “good military” would look like, and whether that is possible. Is war – and the military – a necessary evil? I am convinced that *this* war is not necessary.

      Regardless, I would advise any young person considering joining the military to listen to Ethan McCord’s testimony. And their parents too. Don’t be afraid to ask the question, is this what you want to become? Is this how you want your child treated?

      • Yeah, I watched the video and read the interview and I’m surprised by the intensity of emotion stirred by both of them. For me, the major issue that your post raises (aside from the obvious one about how Manning is being treated) is the question of whether or not it is ethical to train young people how to break their consciences and live with it. I’ve never looked at the military in that way before.

  2. I’m going to let this wiki video process a bit more and then comment on it, maybe back here or maybe somewhere else. For now I think I’ll just comment on this song.

    I searched on Youtube for other songs about or inspired by Manning and the leaked footage, there were some, and there was nothing wrong with any of them, some were much more produced then yours, some less, but none approached the pathos of this song, not even close. Of course I’m partison because I know you, but I also listen to music carefully, this song is heavy.

    I’ve only listened twice, I think my favorite lines (for now)are “It is wrong/when babies are sleeping/It is wrong/to make so much noise”–and this, in my tiny little opinion, is what separates higher level songwriting from what I saw on other Youtube efforts. Simply reciting details of this event with a bit of rhyme and hook does not, or I should say will not, penetrate or transcend the tragedy of that day in 2007, or of Mannings situation. This song comes from a place beyond the details, beyond rage, beyond “demanding change,” (although of course you do), it the song of a heart crushed nearly to death, now seeking to live by crying out in pain, although the cry is fully controlled and eloquent; it is a song.

    I think your songwriting and Cabin of Love’s music capable of commanding a large audience, I wish I could send your song(s) to somebody big and suddenly well, you know, a bunch of stuff happens. But I’m a little person, I’ll post a link to this on my FB and hope a few more people hear you. Maybe if everyone reading this blog did the same thing….
    Nnox

    • Thank you, Nnox. It is so good to know that there are thoughtful listeners like you in the world!

  3. America is the grandest of all puppet shows. None of this will change until more people realize who we are all really working for. The nation is enslaved to a private and secretive financial corporation and it is in their interest (no pun intended) that we accrue massive debt on an imaginary currency. Don’t have a cold war to feed the war machine? Create a an enemy out of a religion, create an organization, give them a scary sounding name, tell Americans that these people are against their fundamental Christian values (capitalism, consumption, sexual freedom) and that they are everywhere among you, blow them all to hell, profit.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to be that guy… But I am that guy. Nice song, btw.

    • Thanks for your input, Keith. Alright, since you are that guy, go ahead and tell me more. What is this corporation? How did you learn about it?

      • Federal Reserve Bank. It is a brilliant name. It would lead one to believe that it has something to do with the federal government, but in fact it is a private entity that does not answer to the US government. Stock in the Fed is owned by private banks. We the people pay interest on every dollar they create for us. That includes the trillion plus dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nearly trillion dollars of the “stimulus” package. A stimulus that the fed said we needed because of a market crash caused by the controlling members of the Fed. Trillions of dollars that exist simply because they say they do.

        President Kennedy was assassinated shortly after he dared to defy the Fed by issuing “silverbacks”, US treasury notes. They disappeared from circulation after Kennedy’s death.

        • I just re-read what I wrote and I wasn’t as clear as I should have been. Forgive me for my somewhat incomplete thoughts. My main point is that banking institutions profit from war. We are living in a country where criminal banker mobsters are not prosecuted, but rather become regulators, presidential advisers, cabinet members, newscasters, etc… There is a small club at the top and we the people are not party to it.

  4. Any ‘soldier’ who leaks classified information is a traitor and should be tried for treason. I have no sympathy for Manning whatsoever, and I’m vaguely offended that you would perform a song supporting him.

    While it is true that a minority of our soldiers have committed horrible atrocities at times, why are you focusing on that, instead of the atrocities committed on a regular basis by the 3rd world dictators, the Muslims terrorists, etc…?

    I cannot help but think of Lt. Calley who was convicted for the My’Lai massacre in 1968. The enemy then used children with live grenades to attack our soldiers. They blended civilians with soldiers, and of course we killed them along with the soldiers.

    How do we know that this isn’t a similar situation? We don’t know because we weren’t there on the ground.

    Just a thought. . .

    • As someone who feels the military should be strong and has a purpose, and someone who has some level of confidence in the military and the wars we are in right now, can I respond to your thoughts?

      There are higher issues at stake here than classified information. I believe Manning must answer for his crimes, and if people die because of the information he leaked he should be held responsible for that, but to suggest a blanket “treason” for any leak of classified information is to ignore issues of morality and higher responsibility that are needed in humanity.

      The fact that the enemy puts the mistakes of our military to good use in causing horrendous acts does not excuse the original crime, nor should it be papered over. It’s the price we pay, and we pay that price in so many ways.

      I agree we weren’t there on the ground, but anyone who has seen the video can understand the horror that took place there that day. Even if those children were blended in with military men, how should we respond? The callousness of the men in that video should not be acceptable. You do not need to agree with those who wish to free Manning or those who oppose all war in order to be outraged by this video. If this isn’t enough, then look at the Kill Teams exposed by Rolling Stone. It is right to be outraged when our military men take the solemn trust and responsibility we have given them and abuse it.

      War is hell, be careful of minimizing those who point that out.

    • I’ve been reading a lot about Rwanda lately, and your comment brought to my attention some parallels between what happened in that country and what is happening right now in the United States.

      Most people know about the genocide that occurred in Rwanda during the spring and summer of 1994, but few have heard of the less sensational injustices perpetrated for decades (possibly centuries) against Hutus which set the stage for what happened during those horrifying months. I have to tread carefully here, because I want to communicate clearly that the Rwandan genocide was not in any way justified. The Tutsi victims are and were in no way responsible for what happened to them. However, years of what seemed to onlookers to be more minor injustice against Hutus created an emotional landscape that erupted in the most shocking genocide of modern history.

      The terrorist attacks of 2001 caught the world’s attention, as they should have, in a way similar to the Rwandan genocide. Those acts were horrific and immoral and are without justification of any kind. However, they did not occur in a vacuum. We have been (unknowingly or otherwise) involved in carrying out injustice against people in other countries. The My Lai Massacre would be an example of that, as would what has been happening in Iraq. The episodes of violence against civilians seen in these videos may seem very small to us in comparison to the number of lives lost at the World Trade Center, but the pain experienced by the families is just as intense as that experienced by families who lost loved ones in 2001. And who’s to say that one day of astonishing suffering is greater than many years of less newsworthy pain?

      The hatred stirred by the immoral acts of these soldiers (and our government’s lack of action in publicly disciplining the soldiers involved) makes us vulnerable to more of the kind of terrorism we’ve already experienced. In that case, it’s more likely that the soldiers in that helicopter compromised my security than that Bradley Manning did.

      I’m thankful that Julia is bringing attention to this seemingly smaller atrocity. If more people had done so in Rwanda before 1994 and here in the United States before 9/11, maybe both terrible events would have been avoided.

  5. Kelly, thank you for joining in the conversation here. You are certainly not alone in your perspective, and these are valid points to consider.

    Thanks also to James and Jodi – much of what you had to say reflects how I too would reply.

    I had been aware of the arrest and imprisonment of Bradley Manning for months, but it was recently when I was having breakfast with my four-year-old son in my kitchen, when I heard on the radio that new charges had been levelled against Manning including “aiding the enemy,” which could include the death penalty, when the story more poignantly grabbed my attention.

    I thought of my own little boy. How would I feel if one day he became aware of something like the “collateral murder” video, and he felt that secrets like that should not be kept from his people, and he was willing to break one law to obey a higher one? I would be proud of him. I would understand if he would still need to face trial for breaking the narrower law.

    But I would be ashamed of my nation, my people, if they placed my son in solitary confinement for months on end before any trial had even occurred. I would be further ashamed if my nation, in all that time, never investigated the war crimes my son had exposed. And I would be heartbroken and outraged that my nation would charge my son with “aiding the enemy” and even hint that the death penalty was a possibility for his “crime.”

    I’m convinced that solitary confinement is one of the darker forms of torture invented by humans. And it has become such a common practice in our justice system. It chills me that “justice” in our culture has become so very hateful, corrupt, believing the worst about people. Last week I watched the 1998 movie of the 1862 Victor Hugo novel Les Miserables and reflected on how little progress we as a society have made in administering justice.

    Ah, but I’m afraid I’m rambling into what should be the territory of another post.

  6. It seems like you’re trying to exhonerate Manning simply because he exposed a tragic act. Manning is still guilty as sin for releasing that and all of the other classified information. He knew the rules – he broke them big time. He’s getting what he deserved. If the Apache pilots are not getting justice that’s another issue completely.

    • Thanks for contributing here, Dick. Have you read the comment thread started by Kelly above? I think your concerns have been addressed there.

      I’ll just add that since the above post and comments were written, Manning has been moved to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, and as I understand it, he is no longer being held in solitary confinement, thankfully. I wouldn’t wish such treatment on anyone, including the Apache crew.

      You have declared Manning guilty, but he has yet to face trial. He has been imprisoned for roughly a year and still awaits even a date to be set for a trial. Our tax dollars at work! And the government hasn’t bothered to investigate the war crimes he allegedly exposed. I don’t think we’re making friends in the world.

      • Yes, yes, presumption of innocence – of course. I would wager a fair sum that he is pronounced guilty at trial. I don’t hear of anyone else being investigated for the leaks in question.

        As far as his detention – I would expect it has something to do with the idea that he is likely to be tried in a military court. In civilian courts people will put up bail and walk until trial – that is, unless you are a flight risk. His situation is also made unique in that he was leaking intelligence. Solitary confinement, while grotesque to you, doesn’t sound so unreasonable given what he was charged with.

  7. Tears
    Streaming down a hard mans face
    This is so wrong
    A human exposed
    A human punished
    Unjust

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