Monday, August 9, 2010

Three Stories

We do live in times of great change. We are responsible for bearing witness, for staying awake and alert to the great heroism displayed in the course of the fight. In the light of that charge, here are three noteworthy characters, moved by a common impulse to defend their honor and highest ideals. Their stories display what I would call the invisible hand of altruism, proof to me that we are not just material beings motivated by self-interest alone.
Pfc. Bradley Manning is being held in solitary confinement in Quantico, Virginia, charged by the military with passing secrets critical to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel. Most famously, the website Wikileaks posted Mannings files directly to the Internet, including an onboard military video of the helicopter strike in Baghdad in 2007 when soldiers heedlessly gunned down civilians, among them two Reuters employees. Although President Obama rightly noted that nothing in the files was a totally new revelation, it is Manning's impulse, nonetheless, to disclose the full brunt of the hypocrisy that passes for our country's notional effort at self-defense that should interest us. Branded a traitor for his efforts, and facing a life-sentence, if not execution in the military courts, Manning acted out of an impulse for truth telling honed by his years as a non-conformist growing up in Oklahoma and Wales. Think what you want of him, you have to admire the soldier who wears a customized dogtag of "humanist". That's clear thinking in a world gone mad.
Lt. Col. Terence Lakin, is an army doctor with a distinguished educational and military record, including six tours of duty in our country's South Asian and Middle Eastern battles, who now faces court martial for refusing orders based on his lack of confidence in Obama's status as a natural born citizen. Here is a man clearly not just a right wing nut, but someone who genuinely feels dismayed to the point of rebellion at what he perceives as the duplicity of a President who has failed to produce a document. To most of us, it is pretty clear that Obama was indeed born in Hawaii, not in Kenya, but Lakin, now the hero to the millions of Americans of the "birther" persuasion, wants the proof of the original birth document, which the state of Hawaii does not routinely provide. So the country now is looking at the court martial of an officer two grades below general, with 17 years of tremendous service and expertise, refusing to deploy and facing dishonorable discharge and up to two years in the brig, out of principle. I call him misguided, but millions would not. I have no doubts, however, that Lakin's rebellion would not have happened if the war effort were moving in a positive direction instead of being Obama's flush down the toilet of Bush's mess.
Anne Rice is a novelist best known for her gothic New Orleans vampire novels, the forerunners of this season's trendy vampiretas. She grew up a Catholic, became an atheist in her fashionable beatnik years and some years ago rejoined the Church. This week she announced she was "quitting Christianity, for Christ's sake." Unable to fathom the dictates of organized Christianity, including calls to reject abortion, gay rights, and a female clergy, Rice decided her disappointment was just too much to bear and went walkabout.
This is undoubtedly a complicated and personal decision. However, it leaves me with a feeling of anger. To me it is akin to saying "sorry, Jesus, dude. That cross is getting a little heavy. You're on your own." Yes, the Church is deeply flawed and this Pope is a man with questionable impulses, as was John Paul, in terms of bringing us into a truly enlightened communion. But you either believe we are the body of Christ or you're just intoxicated by the candle smoke and statuettes.

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