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Chelsea Manning’s existential threat to American innocence


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As one of his final acts in office, President Obama commuted the thirty-five-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, who will now be released in May of this year. At The Baffler website, Chase Mader reflects on the hypocrisy and hubris exposed not only by Manning’s leaks, but by the way she has been treated at the hands of government authorities. Her real transgression, suggests Mader, was not violating laws around military secrecy but rather undermining the state of blissful ignorance that American’s would prefer to have about their foreign wars. Read an excerpt from the piece below, or the full text here.

It was violating this self-willed (and thoroughly bogus) innocence that was Private Chelsea Manning’s unforgivable crime. The young soldier had been deployed to Iraq, and the horrid things she saw in Iraq should of course have stayed in Iraq. True, none of the hundreds of thousands of documents she released to WikiLeaks in 2010 was Top Secret—a security clearance held by 1.4 million people by the way—and in her long court martial no concrete evidence could be produced to show actual harm to any soldier or civilian, with the possible exception of one Ethiopian journalist, mentioned in the diplomatic cables, who swiftly found political asylum in the United States. Yet many of the pols and pundits who backed the Iraq War, the Afghan escalation, Obama’s drone strikes, and then the Libya War suddenly became gushers of humanitarian sympathy for the purely hypothetical victims they imagined had been harmed by this young private. Manning was the reckless one, not themselves. How dare she?..

But if new knowledge can’t change politics, it does have the terrible power to pollute our national innocence, or rather, ignorance. Intellectuals badly need to understand ignorance. It’s not just a vacant lot prime for development but very often something jealously fenced off with barbed wire, not even empty space but something solid, opaque and very dense. We have deep and conflicting cultural attitudes about knowledge and ignorance. At the beginning of one widely read book, the entire plot is set in motion by a nice young couple getting evicted from their garden apartment because they dare to partake of forbidden knowledge, though toward the end there’s a nice punch line that “the truth will set you free.” La ignorancia es atrevida in the words of nineteenth-century Argentine writer Domingo Faustino Sarmiento: Ignorance is shameless and its in-your-face brass impregnable. As public intellectual Chris Rock has pointed out with undue specificity about his own ethnic group, there’s nothing that a man likes better than not knowing something.

Image via Daily Dot.