The reaction to Bradley Manning being selected and then deselected as Grand Marshal of this year’s San Francisco Pride Parade exposed a divide in the community of gays and our allies: a divide between those who generally support U.S. foreign policy and those who generally oppose it; between nationalists who may disagree with this or that decision by a particular president but generally believe in the good of American power around the globe, and internationalists who recognize the U.S. as an imperial power led by individuals and institutions who’s goals are not in the best interests of most people – even most Americans – and who recognize the destructive nature of American militarism to people across the globe, gay and straight.
If you believe that U.S. foreign policy is largely guided by the goals of liberation and human rights (or at least keeping Americans safe), then Manning is right to be shunned since his action impeded that. On the other hand, if you understand that U.S. foreign policy is neither about keeping Americans safe nor about human rights but about global dominance at the expense of human rights (and often making the world more dangerous for the average American), then you can and should rally around Manning.
He has brought to light much of the backroom deals and outright criminality of many of our political, civil and military leaders, not to mention those of oligarchs in other countries, removing a veil of secrecy that hid war crimes and shielded dictators. He is a whistleblower whose actions have contributed to the fall of repressive regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and helped spur on uprisings elsewhere. The benefits of his actions are really too numerous to mention here; and while I wouldn’t call him a hero, I absolutely find his actions courageous and incredibly important.
Despite the fact that Manning is gay and possibly transgender, and despite the human rights perspective that his act was courageous, some in the gay community responded negatively when they discovered he was named one of SF Gay Pride’s grand marshals. A handful of gay militarists launched a campaign against the selection, calling Manning a “traitor” and his actions “treacherous” and “a disgrace.” Within hours the honor was rescinded and SF Pride board president announced as follows:
[E]ven the hint of support for actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform -- and countless others, military and civilian alike -- will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride.
That brought the divide between gay nationalists and gay internationalists to the fore. It also revealed a factual disagreement that mostly boils down to the same ideological divide. The factual assertion, as reflected in the statement from the SF Pride board president, is that Manning’s leaking of information caused harm. Usually this idea has taken the form of: “his leak put soldiers at risk;” but I’ve also heard: “his leak made diplomacy more difficult making the alternative of military action more necessary.”
If you believe that what the U.S. is doing around the world is wrong then it is clear that the people putting our soldiers in harms way are the leaders in the White House and the Pentagon, not a soldier who revealed some of the truth about our wars and foreign policy. The diplomacy angle falls the same way. If you believe our diplomats are conspiring with other regimes around the world, many unelected and unaccountable, to maintain U.S. hegemony at the expense of universal human rights, then it doesn’t really matter that their job is made more difficult, and it is not accepted that the alternative is military force.
Furthermore, if you are a critic of U.S. foreign policy and you have a human rights perspective, then you likely dig beyond official press releases for your facts, and you know that there is no evidence that Manning’s actions put any troops in harms way. You also recognize that the anger directed at Americans in some parts of the world has everything to do with what the people living in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere experience on the ground and nothing to do with Bradley Manning.
The destructive role the U.S. plays around the world is difficult to fathom, especially for many Americans who have never experienced occupation, the buzzing of weaponized drones over our homes, or the killing of hundreds of thousands within our borders at the hand of a distant, foreign power. Bradley Manning has played a critical role in revealing, to a broader audience, some of the crimes of our government – crimes committed against civilians, gay and straight. Furthermore, he did this brave act as a gay soldier of conscience. He deserves the honor of Grand Marshal at any parade honoring a history of struggle for human rights and ongoing liberation; but as a gay man working in an institution that, at the time, maintained a policy requiring him to keep his sexual orientation a secret, Bradley Manning certainly deserves to be Grand Marshal at Gay Pride.