I once read an article about a Marine Corps boot camp and found myself rooting not for the red-blooded all-American boys who were all too willing to turn themselves into killing machines, but by the “weak, uninspired recruit”—apparently one materializes in every platoon—who just couldn’t make the grade: a laggard, always falling behind, who sat staring listlessly at the dirt while the others completed the three-day ordeal known as “The Crucible.”

“FTA”—Failure to Adapt—they gave as the reason for eventually kicking this misfit out. To me, he was the sanest person in the group.

Failure to adapt has always been a theme dear to my heart: the prison guard at Huntsville, Texas, who snapped after witnessing one too many executions; Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian conscientious objector, husband, father of three, and sole inhabitant of his village who refused to join up with Nazis, for which he was guillotined; and now whistleblower Bradley Manning, caught in the crossfires of a military whose credo re homosexuality—Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell—could as well be applied to its entire secretive,  doublespeak raison d’être; to a political, economic and judicial system that is based on so many layers and dimensions of contradicting lies that the only sane response may be to crack; to a culture that has honed mean-spirited ridicule to a high art but has no room for the anguished human heart that asks, Who am I? What was I made for? Who can I trust?

In 2010, Manning was a PFC serving in Iraq. [from wikipedia]: “He said the incident that had affected him the most was when 15 detainees had been arrested by the Iraqi Federal Police for printing anti-Iraqi literature. He was asked by the army to find out who the ‘bad guys’ were, and discovered that the detainees had followed what Manning said was a corruption trail within the Iraqi cabinet. He reported this to his commanding officer, but said ‘he didn’t want to hear any of it’; he said the officer told him to help the Iraqi police find more detainees. Manning said it made him realize, ‘i was actively involved in something that i was completely against …’

Manning, who is gay, confided to a man named Adrian Lamo that he felt isolated and fragile, and was reaching out to someone he hoped might understand. ” im not a source for you,” he emphasized. “im talking to you as someone who needs moral and emotional f____support.” Naturally the guy, a fellow hacker, betrayed him.

Manning is certainly no “believer”: in his isolation cell, he thinks it would be interesting to read Richard Dawkins. Just as the crack mother (or crack baby) is never the poster child for the pro-life movement—we’re for life, but not that kind of life; not real life—a scrawny 5-foot tall, 100-pounder in gender identity crisis has yet to be adopted as a poster child for the gay rights movement. Not nearly sexy enough, plus crazy, skulking around at night in a wig and spilling government secrets!

But the great thing about Manning is he’s not a poster child for anything. He’s a human being. And in his out-of-the-mouths-of-babes, emperor-with-no-clothes way, he has managed to present evidence of something very simple, very deep, and very true—namely, that much as most of us love our country, that it is “the land of the free and the home of the brave” is possibly the biggest PR scam ever devised.

When Lamo asked what kind of material he was dealing with, Manning emailed back: “uhm … crazy, almost criminal political backdealings … the non-PR-versions of world events and crises …” “say… database of half a million events during the iraq war … from 2004 to 2009 … with reports, date time groups, lat-lon locations, casualty figures …? or 260,000 state department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world, explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective? […]”

He wrestled with his conscience, asking Lamo:

(12:15:11 PM) bradass87: hypothetical question: if you had free reign [sic] over classified networks for long periods of time … say, 8–9 months … and you saw incredible things, awful things … things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC … what would you do? […]

He continued, almost apologetically: “i cant separate myself from others. i feel connected to everybody … like they were distant family.”

You could say Manning betrayed the entire U.S. Army. But isn’t “I can’t separate myself from others” exactly what the authentic human being should feel, down to the marrow of his or her bones? Isn’t that exactly what a person can’t think and still pick up a gun or a grenade-launcher or the controls of a drone? Isn’t that what a person can’t feel and lie down on the table in an abortion clinic, or inject lethal chemicals into the veins of a convicted prisoner, or take up his own personal Bushmaster .223 M4 carbine, an assault-type rifle similar to a weapon used widely by troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, walk into an elementary school, and start firing?

Isn’t “I feel connected to everybody” the essence of the “Love thine enemies” command that forever gnaws at our own consciences; the life-and-death dilemma at the intersection of the Cross?

(1:11:54 PM) bradass87: and … its important that it gets out … i feel, for some bizarre reason
(1:12:02 PM) bradass87: it might actually change something
(1:13:10 PM) bradass87: i just … dont wish to be a part of it … at least not now … im not ready … i wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me … plastered all over the world press … as [a] boy …[Manning had posted photos of himself incarnated as “Breanna” on Youtube and Twitter].
(1:14:11 PM) bradass87: i’ve totally lost my mind … i make no sense … the CPU is not made for this motherboard … […]
(1:39:03 PM) bradass87: i cant believe what im confessing to you :’

Interesting that Manning uses the word “confessing,” another concept for which politics and the legal system have no room. Interesting that a country that spends 900 billion dollars a year on “defense” is so terrified of one of its own 100-lb. PFCs that it locked him in a solitary confinement cage for the better part of a year.  Interesting that in a country presided over by a godlike “Supreme Court,” Manning’s lawyer, himself a member of the military, has consistently complained about the Kafkaesque obfuscation of the prosecution.

Just as statisticians estimate a person has driven hundreds of times drunk for every one DUI arrest,  can anyone possibly believe that the video Manning released of U.S. troops laughingly gunning down two Reuters reporters, several children, and other civilians on a Baghdad street depicted an isolated incident? Can anyone possibly believe that draping the stars and stripes over, say, the School of Americas in Georgia where the U.S. government trains military from around the world to torture, maim, and kill imparts the imprimatur of the God who said, “Love one another as I have loved you?” Can anyone look at the jubilation over hunting bin Laden down and killing him like a dog and be shocked—horrified, yes, devastated yes, brought to our knees, yes, but perhaps the biggest scandal of all, not shocked—at the shootings in Connecticut?

That is not to derogate from the soldiers, chaplains, generals, and families back home who  faithfully serve, which constitutes its own kind of nobility: it’s to state the simple, non-negotiable truth that violence always, always, always leads to more violence. To be for all of life and to want no guns requires a complete conversion of heart, mind, and being. If our government ever began to move in that direction, it would change the world.

In the meantime, I think of my own failure to adapt. I think of the violence of all kinds I’ve perpetrated in my life. I think of how even those of us who profess to hate guns have our own version of target practice. I get to a place where, as if I were a child, tears spring to my eyes and I whisper, Lord, help us to stop hurting each other.

Manning’s crime, for which he’ll probably spend the rest of his life in military custody, wasn’t endangering national security. It was telling the truth. That was Jesus’s crime as well. He, too, told the “non-PR-versions of world events and crises.” We crucified him for it.

“What is called into question…now,” observed novelist Walker Percy, “is the very enterprise of human life itself. Instead of writing about this or that social evil from a posture of consensus from which we agree to deplore social evils, it is now the consensus itself and the posture which are called into question.”

“i cant separate myself from others … i feel connected to everybody … like they were distant family.”

That’s as good a definition as I’ve ever heard for the Mystical Body of Christ.


  1. And it would seem that the only politicians who'd be interested in stopping the wars (which, Heather, you rightly point out are only a symptom of a deeply diseased world-view) and in working toward a culture of peace are the unelectable politicians. The misfits within the two major parties, and the members of misfit third parties.

    But as I was saying to someone elsewhere in cyberspace a few hours ago, the politicians (even the noblest among them) can only do so much. My faith (I hope) is not in the political parties, nor in armies, nor in the well-adjusted, but in the poets artists mystics saints who are closer to healing the world than are the people who currently run it or who have run it at any time in history.

    "Failure to adapt"–some of us could write entire autobiographies under that rubric!

  2. Thank you Heather. Words to a large degree fail me. Just thank you and God bless you.
    Mary Beth

  3. Wow! My heart is beating so fast.
    My eyes are welling up. Thanks Heather.