Chelsea Manning’s leak of classified documents, including video of an attack helicopter killing civilians and journalists, forever changed how people view the US military. Despite paying for her crime with seven brutal years in prison, she is still relentlessly targeted for unapologetically criticizing the United States government. Most recently, Harvard disinvited her from its visiting fellow program, intended to “provide short-term engagement with the student community” after intense pressure from CIA figures. This shameful event shows a disturbing truth about the realms of acceptable discourse in the US.
Regardless of how one feels about her actions, Manning’s impact is undeniable. In disinviting her, Harvard denies that impact and sticks its head in the sand. Manning exposed the inner workings of the US military, uncovering abuses and inspiring a generation of new activists. In this way, she is the godmother of the resurgent American left, after her leaks created a swell of anti-government sentiment. Millions of Americans were suddenly faced with the revelation that our military was an extrajudicial apparatus that could kill with impunity, and that nearly no politicians or generals cared to reign in that power. There’s a clear ideological progression from her leaks to the anti-imperialist, anti war left that is so influential today.
Manning didn’t expose the leak out of any desire for fame, but instead because of her moral conflict for participating in the pointless, violent Iraq war. She stated in military court that she leaked, rather than selling the information to a foreign power, to foster “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.” Her identity wasn’t disclosed in the Wikileaks report and wasn’t discovered until she was arrested and charged by the military. Her leak was intended to bring attention to a conflict that had fallen to the back of the American consciousness.
Supporters of the military didn’t take issue with their men killing innocent people, but they took issue with Manning breaking the law in leaking classified information. Manning’s critics hide behind a cynical ideal of patriotism and legal technicalities to justify their complicity in war crimes. If you see the military as above reproach, attacks against it are worse than anything that it could do. This dangerous mindset is one that Manning has been very vocally against, at the cost of her freedom and opportunities.
CIA figures using their power to sabotage Manning’s Harvard fellowship shows where influence truly lies in America. In this country, enabling the election of a fascist as Sean Spicer and Corey Lewandowski did won’t cost you your Harvard fellowship, but standing up to the state’s massive, unaccountable killing machine will.
Chastain-Howley is a rhetoric and writing senior from Dallas.