Holding our soldiers accountable
The US Army is holding Specialist Bradley Manning incommunicado in Kuwait on charges of leaking to WikiLeaks video of Apache helicopter pilots gunning down two Reuters cameramen and a number of Iraqis in a Baghdad neighborhood. The video is devastating in what it reveals about cold-blooded hi-technology warfare in a place like Baghdad. See it at: http://www.collateralmurder.com/
WikiLeaks has arranged for three pro-bono lawyers to assist Manning in his case. However, Manning must request they be allowed to see him. Since the Army will not inform Manning of their existence, he cannot ask for them to see him. Joseph Heller would love it, a perfect Catch 22.
For me, Manning is an American hero, part of a strong tradition of soldiers who conclude in their conscience that they cannot morally remain silent on the nature of the war they have been sent to fight. One Iraq vet told me recently he lost confidence in the war he was fighting when he realized in his attitudes and behavior toward the Iraqi people he was becoming the monster he thought he was sent there to fight.
As there is a tradition of antiwar soldiers, there is also a tradition that seeks to damn people like Manning and keep their views far from the American consciousness.
In recent memory, this tradition starts with the image of antiwar protesters spitting on returning soldiers from Vietnam, a right wing myth that arose during the Gulf War as part of the effort what George Bush Senior called “getting beyond the Vietnam Syndrome.” That’s the conclusion of Jerry Lembcke in The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam.
Lembcke looked and could find no evidence at all of spitting. Instead, he says, the image was part of a concerted effort to demonize the antiwar movement and, especially, to distract national attention away from the many instances of returning soldiers and veterans who sympathized with the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War.
No one was actually spitting on our soldiers. Instead, pro war elements allowed their metaphoric imaginations to express their feelings about the antiwar movement with the spitting image. So it is not surprising to see someone like Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal dredging up the spitting image in his recent fraudulent posing as a Vietnam veteran.
Look up the documentary Sir! No Sir! to understand the fear the antiwar soldiers’ movement sent into the hearts of our leaders as the Vietnam War derailed. The fact this significant movement is little known shows how effective things like the spitting myth have been.
Ever since the rise of the spitting image, and especially with the Iraq War beginning in 2003, the antiwar movement in America has walked on eggshells when it came to distinguishing the war it opposed from the soldiers sent to fight it.
“Support the troops, not the war” became the mantra. Sometimes the word “troops” is exchanged for “warrior,” a term that calls up images of men hacking away at each other with swords and pikes.
In the film 300, the Spartans live a code of "Come back with your shield or on it." When wars begin to fail, this kind of classic Warrior Myth feeds into the first cousin of the Spitting Myth, the Stab In The Back Myth, which suggests that those questioning wars are, somehow, the reason for their failures.