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May 31, 2013

World Lit to Wikileaks

Crititcal skills learned in the College are critical to finding truth.

After four expensive years of classes and discussions, have I reached the point where I am “empowered to challenge conventional thinking?” That’s what the University’s Web site claims that its education does. I ask this question because I’m nervously approaching an opinion that I would never have held four years ago. I am starting to think that Bradley Manning is a hero and that he is innocent of the charge of ‘aiding the enemy’ despite having violated several Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) regulations. The choices he made that led to the violation of these regulations were calculated, necessary, and moral. And it’s possible that UChicago—or, more specifically, the development of my self over the past four years as facilitated by UChicago—has led me to this conclusion.

This isn’t to say that everyone who has spent the last four years here will necessarily come to the same conclusion about Manning. That would be absurd. I can only speak for myself. My opinions in the past have never been my own simply because I couldn’t disassemble a lot of data on my own. For instance, I have never sat and read a healthcare policy in detail, and consequently whenever I’m asked how I feel about Obamacare I don’t have much to offer beyond a smile and a shrug. Normally, I need some sort of synthesizing Guardian article (which is, obviously, editorialized to a certain extent) to help me out, whether it’s about geopolitical events or an assessment of the new French talent that my preferred soccer team is about to sign but whose games I haven’t seen.

In the past I would have turned to The New York Times or The Guardian to compile the information for me and, after comparing a few different commentators’ takes on the issue, I would form a hodgepodge opinion that I might name my own. However, given the public nature of Wikileaks and the public availability of Bradley Manning’s statement at the pretrial hearing, Manning’s situation is one political issue about which I feel competent enough to form my very own opinion from the data. I think that is what my college education has given me: the confidence to bypass designated interpreters of data and do it for myself.

The single largest misconception that I’ve encountered among people while discussing the Manning case is that he endangered the lives of U.S. military personnel. In none of the leaked documents was there any information that could justify such fears. People have claimed that Bin Laden ordered all the Afghanistan War Logs to be scoured for information, but that doesn’t necessitate any worthwhile information in those logs. That’s the sort of argument that wouldn’t cut it in fall quarter Hum.

Another belief that seems to have resulted in a lot of anti-Manning sentiment is that his violation of the UMCJ means he’s wrong. However, if the UMCJ regulation in question is there to protect active duty personnel rather than higher-ups afraid of being embarrassed, then Manning still acted on moral grounds though he may have violated the letter of the law. In fact, even if he violated both the letter and the spirit of the law, and if by the existing military regulations he should not have provided those documents to Wikileaks, breaking those regulations is the right course of action in the interest of transparency, war-crime prevention and democracy. Is that not heroic?

The final misconception that surrounds this case is that Bradley Manning’s homosexuality has anything to do with his actions. Nothing sells papers like sex, and by sexualizing a case like this one, at a time when sentiments on the status of homosexuals in the army are so often discussed, it’s sure to take away from Manning’s actions. They become the actions of a gay member of the military rather than those of a man who, disgusted by the behavior of some within the army, decided to take a stand.

Bradley Manning will go to trial soon. That it has taken so long for that to happen is a travesty. Please, UChicagoans, form your opinions without aid from the media. In this instance, you have the ability to do so: More often than not, reality is obscured and our access to it is moderated by the media and the government. I believe Manning and Wikileaks are trying to dispel this obscuring cloud. Our education empowers us to draw conclusions from information. So shouldn’t we stand by those who want to empower us with information in the first place?

Raghav Rao is a fourth-year in the College majoring in English.

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