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The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning
April 18, 2012 Press Night performance, live-streamed from Cardiff High School
'Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.' (from The Idler, 1758) Samuel Johnson
This very important play, The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, about the brave U.S. soldier working in military intelligence who responded to the senseless brutality in Iraq and Afghanistan by releasing 250,000 secret embassy cables and military logs to WinkiLeaks, is the ‘first hyperlinked theatre production being streamed free to viewers round the globe. It began its tour in Tasker Millward School, in Haverfordwest, which Arizona born Manning attended as a teenager in Wales where he lived for two years after his Welsh mother and American father divorced. I watched the live stream of the play from Cardiff High School on press night via its website. A number of informative links appeared to one side of the action, and it’s my understanding that such information does not appear on the many small screens in the auditorium where the performance is taking place, though places and times of scenes are similarly stated.
Twenty – four year old US soldier Bradley Manning has endured punishing, maximum security, solitary confinement, sans exercise, oft in chains, for allegedly, “aiding the enemy” simply because he acted as any good citizen of any country should, blowing the whistle on widespread corruption in the aftermath of one particularly savage incident (of many) perpetrated by a sadistic group of U.S. Marines in Iraq in 2007, during which they murdered an innocent group of civilians, two employees of Rueters among them. During Manning’s incarceration, it is said conditions have ‘been a breach of international standards for humane treatment of an untried prisoner.’ Amnesty International have reported that Manning will soon be moved from the maximum security brig at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia to a pre trial facility in a new, medium-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Manning’s abuse at the hands of his government is a breach of the rights of advocates of freedom everywhere. We all have a right to know the truth about what our governments do – accountability is a key element of trust, of which there is precious little between U.S. citizens and Uncle Sam these days. But that does nothing to diminish the dogged spirit and determination of the army of Manning supporters the world over. This is a global issue, as much as the world’s banking system’s double-dealings, only more so, as it strikes at the very heart of our human rights. As Marine Sgt. Shamar Thomas, who served in Afghanistan shouted at a mob of Occupier-harassing police in NYC last Oct., ‘There is no honor in hurting unarmed civilians.’*
The setting for this production, with few, well utilized props, is suitably stark, reflective, first of all, of the institutionalization of Bradley Manning, an unexpectedly potent reminder that for most of us, our trajectory has been eerily similar to his – i.e. school to job and in Manning’s case, on to the military then, prison. We’re also able to get a sense of Manning as a person through this play, from his awkward teen school days in Wales, troubled sexuality, skivvy job in a Stateside Starbucks after, right up to his turbulent days in the U.S. military where 5’2”, 105 pound, gay Manning was harassed and bullied as a matter of course. The play’s swiftly driven transitions back and forth through time offer scenes vivid enough to encourage viewers to empathize with Manning’s uncompromising inclinations towards justice, and appreciate the fact that he was always a person who questioned authority and refused to participate in injustices of any kind, regards of the consequences. This built in sense of justice was, no doubt, the driving force behind Manning’s decision to leak confidential U.S. Government documents, because he rightfully felt that people were entitled to know the truth, and within the context of the play, repeated viewings of the video of the ‘Collateral Murder’ massacre are the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Thanks to Manning’s bravery and selflessness, videos of the massacre and countless other evidence relating to US war crimes (circa 1966-2010) have been noted by countless outraged individuals the world over, effectively marking the wanton bloodletting of 2007’s murderous incident as ‘shots heard round the world, a phrase attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem Concord Hymn (1837), about the beginnings of the American Revolutionary War. Hold on to your principles, like minded allies round the world, for Revolution is upon us once again, this time round, on a global scale!
During the fast paced performance, a whistle stop tour of pivotal events leading up to Manning’s arrest and sequestering, six talented, versatile actors rapidly interchange roles, easily slipping from one character and accent to the next, as scenes quickly move back and forth through time, enabling viewers to gauge his influences. Though the play is seen as fictional, most of the events portrayed are factual, so as is generally the case with plays about real people, though based on Manning’s life story, conversations are generally, imagined. The actors all take their turn at playing Manning, including two actresses, each, seemingly, capturing various aspects of his personality, depending on what needs emphasizing when, and where. Rapid fire lighting morphs, sometimes seemingly, instantaneously, from brittle blue through bright yellows to glaring white, setting the tone of each scene, as one fades into another. Sound also plays a pivotal part here, with music, and intermittent atmospheric sound-scapes, including actual recordings from US Military maneuvers and atrocities, heightening tension; the peppering bullets of Collateral Murder resonating after the play has ended.
In addition to the issues of freedom of speech and citizens’ right to respect and transparency from their governments, the play also touches on the fact that many American youths cannot afford to go to college and even if they did, jobs requiring their skills are in very short supply in the States these days. Then there are the issues of gay rights the play explores, namely, the military’s discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy about homosexuality that the US government unbelievably, enforced until it was finally overturned in September, 2011. Although the law supposedly prevented discrimination, it was not enough to protect Bradley Manning from harassment and worse.
This unique, essential production ironically, flies in the face of upcoming plans by the Con-Dem coalition to place the publics’ internet interactions under ‘random’ government surveillance, to allegedly, protect us from terrorists, so it seems its uncanny context reflects its’ equally canny subtext. The staging of the play couldn’t be better timed, as Manning’s next court appearances were set for 24th – 26th of April. However, as a recent newsflash on Indymedia UK revealed, ‘The US Army has changed the start of next week's hearing from Tuesday to Monday. Of course this means almost no supporters, and very few media will be in the courtroom for the start of the hearing (which is still scheduled to continue through Thursday). The military announced a couple of days ago in a press release that the hearing would start "Tuesday, April 23" -- as Tuesday is actually the 24th, everyone assumed this was simply a typo’ In the words of Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, “History will remember Bradley Manning better.” **It’s great that this play is touring schools in Wales, but it should tour much further afield, for much longer.
In the course of the many campaigns around the world to free Bradley Manning, recently named winner of the 10th annual Human Rights Award voted for by the people, (to be awarded May 10 in San Francisco), who thousands of pollsters also chose as their number one choice for the Nobel Peace Prize, countless members of the global community have been photographed with a likeness of Bradley in one hand and a sign saying, ‘I am Bradley Manning,’ in the other, in solidarity. I too am Bradley Manning, as, in reality, are all of us.
* Sgt. Shamar Thomas in NYC Oct. 16, 2011 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmEHcOc0Sys
** Amy Goodman on Bradley Manning: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/dec/21/bradley-manning-history-wikileaks-uprising
Guardian 3 part documentary on Bradley Manning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKvp_bhuSi4
Amnesty International: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?newsId=19415
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