Letter to an American Hero
This letter is being sent to PFC Bradley Manning at the following prison address in Kuwait. For obvious reasons, I’ve left my return address off this posting.
Inmate PFC Bradley Manning
TFCF - Theater Field Confinement Facility
APO AE 09366 USA
Dear PFC Manning:
The New York Times just reported on 92,000 classified military field reports from Afghanistan that graphically underscore what a demoralizing mess that war is. The leaked material has stirred new opposition in Congress to funding the war, and WikiLeaks is now seen by many as a much needed instrument to crack open the grip that secrecy has on the truth in America.
On the other side, there are powerful enemies. General James Mattis told a Senate confirmation hearing for his new job as Commander of Central Command that the leak was “an appalling act.” But then he assured the senators the leak revealed “nothing new.”
The point is such leaks are finally fueling robust debate over the war in Afghanistan. And the leak you are alleged to have made that resulted in WikiLeak’s web video “Collateral Murder” was the beginning of it all.
I’m a veteran who worked in radio intelligence in Vietnam. I was a radio direction finder in the Army Security Agency, the service wing of the National Security Agency. The ASA was disbanded in 1973, and its activities were assumed by various intelligence commands.
Like you, I volunteered to join the military, in my case, at age eighteen, seven days after my high school graduation. My job in the ASA was to locate enemy radio operators with a WWII era box & antenna called a PRD-1. We mounted it on a jeep and set up next to villages or off the road; sometimes, we put the PRD-1 on top of an armored personnel carrier and crashed through the woods finding high ground, and a few times we were dropped on mountaintops with a squad of grunts to protect our rear-echelon butts. We had three such teams and triangulated our bearings on a map.
Sometimes we located a unit by tracking its roving radio operator over time. A lot of times, of course, our intelligence was faulty. One, the large mountains played hell with radio signals, and, two, there was always operator error. The fact is, we were kids and we really didn’t know what the fuck we were doing. We did the best we could. But, as you know, that’s how war works.
All the screw-ups tend to be forgotten, or, if they’re really serious and involve lives, classified.
There I was, a kid just out of high school, being flown around on choppers with no doors over amazing expanses of jungle. I’ll never forget the sensually winding Se San River that looked in the dawn sunlight magically like a shimmering golden snake. I was in awe. But, the truth be known, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing there or why Vietnamese kids just like me were trying to kill me, and me them.