Bradley Manning and Howard Zinn

Post by Saul Shanabrook

An impromptu interview
between Howard Price, a leftist activist, and Barack Obama highlights,
what I think, is the heart of the Bradley Manning discussion:

Obama: Well, what he did was irresponsible and risked the lives of
service-members abroad. He did a lot of damage. So people can have
philosophical views on

Price: But I havent seen any evidence of that, and how can you say that
the leaks did more harm than good? What about their effect on the
democratic revolutions in the Arab world? And isnt this going to help
the war on terror?

Obama: No, no, no, but look, I cant conduct diplomacy on an open source
[basis]. Thats not how the world works. And if youre in the military I have to abide by certain rules of classified information. If I were to
release material I werent allowed to, Id be breaking the law. Were a
nation of laws. We dont let individuals make their own decisions about
how the laws operate.

Obama’s last sentence highlights the contention, between believing if
civil disobedience should be the right thing to do. I refer you to “The
Problem is Civil Obedience” by Howard Zinn [in text
in Matt-Damon-reading form]

But maybe when Obama says that “We don’t let…” he means that he has a
duty, above that of what he thinks is right. He is speaking as though
the rules of the military and the duties of his position are the
ultimate decider. It seems curious to me that he can detach himself so
much from the moral issue (whether it is somehow “good” for either
society or Manning himself to be sent to jail. Or if what Manning did
was “good”). On the other hand, Obama is not the judge. I assume
(although I could be wrong) that he could acquit Manning, however.

I have to assume that he is conflicted as well, however certain he may
seem to the outside world. He might have even read Howard Zinn and maybe
even agree with him on principle. What ropes are holding Obama back from
doing what he knows is right? Or am I only projecting my idea of right
and wrong onto his decision making. Maybe he really does believe Manning
is guilty of something very bad and, if anyone deserves to prison it
should be him. Does it matter if Obama thinks this? Is he “corrupted” if
he puts his job before his morals? Is there a problem if those things
are in conflict? If he thinks something is good for the country and
right, is he not obligated to do it? Or is he obligated to follow some
other rules? Rules that might acknowledge the fact that Obama judgement
may not always be correct. So he is placed within bounds so as to limit
his possible harm?