Patriotism is the old-fashioned path to celebrity. These days just acting out can punch the ticket to fame, if not fortune. Just ask Bradley Manning, aka Chelsea Manning, the American soldier who sold out his country, then his manhood — not necessarily in that order — to WikiLeaks. He/she emerges from prison Wednesday through the intercession of Barack Obama, but the United States will pay the price for the treachery he/she flaunted if the military risks a repeat.
A male soldier trained as an intelligence analyst, Mr./Mzz Manning admitted in 2010 being uncomfortable in his own skin and told his superiors he was suffering from a gender identity disorder, that he was actually in a woman’s skin. Slow on the uptake, his/her superiors declined to act in a way to arrest the soldier’s downward spiral. It was in this mental no-man’s land whence sprang classified documents dealing with U.S. military secrets to WikiLeaks. A trickle became a flood and three-quarters of a million pilfered documents later, Chelsea Manning was caught and charged with 22 criminal counts, including aiding the enemy, convicted and sentenced to 35 years.
It could be argued that the Manning leaks gave WikiLeaks the momentum that made Julian Assange an international sensation, and awakened the world to the threats posed by leakers and hackers gaining access to supersensitive documents. That impetus has accelerated since and is now manifest in what some are calling “World War Web,” the global “ransomware” attack that is holding hostage computers in more than 150 nations until users pony up $300 or more in bitcoin to regain access to their files. Hacking is no longer just a pastime for bored teenagers — billions of dollars could be in play or worse, with lives at risk when locked files with critical medical records are unavailable at hospitals.
Chelsea Manning is not directly responsible for the mischief, of course, but clearly he/she helped scales fall from the eyes of cyber experts about how a nerd with a laptop can change the world, and not for the better. Whatever higher purpose his/her addled mind meant to serve in betraying the United States was not his/hers to choose. Certain obligations come with the privilege of putting on the colors. Loyalty to flag and country is one of the larger obligations.
Unfortunately, Mr. Obama chose to honor clemency over punishment in letting Chelsea out of prison after serving seven years, six years earlier than he/she would normally be eligible for parole. The former president showed no such compassion for a U.S. Navy midshipman who was sentenced to jail for taking photographs of classified areas inside a nuclear attack submarine to show his kids someday where he worked. While Kristian Saucier sits behind bars, Chelsea leaves Fort Leavenworth and returns to active duty, though without pay, awaiting appeal of his/her court martial. All the while, the soldier will receive health care, including surgical mutilation at taxpayer expense.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the Manning saga, it’s that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who express confusion about their sexual selves should be hustled out of the service before their upside-down thinking drives them to believe, like Bradley/Chelsea, that betrayal is an act of valor. With more than 100 other Chelsea Mannings among the armed forces reportedly seeking treatment for gender dysphoria, the U.S. military must stick to its mission of defending the country and leave sexual confusion and “reassignment” to the civilian life.
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