At the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club‘s annual dinner, on Wednesday, July 24th, 2013, Daniel Ellsberg accepted the “In His Footsteps” award on behalf of Bradley Manning. (The footsteps are Harvey Milk’s.) He pleasantly surprised the audience by including an provocative call to redefine masculinity (that starts about 6:23 in).
A “self-hating” Democrat
For a while now I’ve had the opportunity of representing my hero Bradley Manning. And I think I will sport an award that I got from a former Grand Marshal, Joey Cain, [Ellsberg pulls out and dons a pink feather boa, laughter in the audience] for representing Bradley Manning, Grand Marshal of the gay pride parade. Very proud moment for me. I’m especially impressed by the way Dan Choi, my friend, was talking about identity and I wanted to say a few words about that tonight. It’s not very serious, but one aspect is that this event is helping me in an identity problem I’ve had for more than a decade now, almost a couple of decades, and that is in my self-identity as a life-long Democrat. [laughter]
To have a Democratic Club, at last – it may be the only one – recognize Bradley Manning as a patriot and a hero, could almost make me proud to be a Democrat again. [laughter, cheers] I have to say “almost”, because it’ll take more than that. It’s been a long period of looking at timidity and passivity and virtual cowardice in what I’ve always thought of as my party. As a Jew like myself who is critical of Netanyahu or Likud can expect – I have had this experience – of being called a “self-hating Jew”, and that just rolls off my back, that’s ridiculous and I brush that off. But if someone were to call me a self-hating Democrat, that would be harder to refute. [laughter] You really do a good job here and I certainly would be proud to be a member of this club. I heard a recruiting pitch here and I would, uh it got to me. So this is the right thing.
It is a Democratic administration, of course, who allowed Bradley Manning to spend three years prior to trial, ten and a half months in isolation, solitary confinement, called by UN Rapporteur for Torture cruel, at least, cruel, inhumane, degrading treatment. That’s a shame for Democrats, a shame for America that that’s happened. [applause]
Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden
I talk about a man who should not have spent a day in jail, who deserves the gratitude of his country, Bradley Manning, and another one, who is inspired in part by Bradley Manning and learned from his example, that’s Edward Snowden. [cheers and applause]
… going around the world and our Democratic president is lecturing Putin, no particular friend of liberty or democracy or anything, telling him that he should return a fugitive from justice. Well, that doesn’t describe Edward Snowden. He’s a fugitive from injustice! [applause]
And it’s a shame for America that he has to do this, to tell us the truth about NSA, the National Security Agency, and the fact that they’re listening to all of our communications, the content as well as the metadata, and everybody here everybody in the country right now [inaudible] at Fort Meade, where Bradley Manning is facing a life sentence, and this isn’t entirely, obviously, a happy time for somebody who identifies, as I do, with Bradley Manning.
He is facing closing arguments, I think, tomorrow, he’ll have a couple weeks of sentencing. He has, I’m sorry to say, every prospect of experiencing a large part of a sentence Richard Nixon had in mind for me, which was a life sentence, at that time. My trial was ended by the revelation of government misconduct against me, it’s no secret, no revelation that there’s been misconduct against Bradley Manning with his ten and half months in solitary, harsh, naked, and as I said, this outrageous charge of aiding the enemy.
The trial could have been ended long before this for that reason. Instead, his judge, who will be sentencing him shortly, not only didn’t drop the aiding the enemy charge, but after hearing the outrageous treatment of Bradley Manning in my old base of Quantico, Virginia, the Marine base there, did take some time off his sentence – 112 days off his possible life plus 184 years. He’ll get 112 days off of that. [boos, hisses]
So the whole thing is a mockery of justice as a matter of fact and Snowden is exactly right to be outside the country in order to tell us [inaudible, applause]
I would give almost anything to have Bradley here tonight, a free man, to receive this award. I’d have him almost anywhere than where he is, at Fort Meade and facing the sentence that he is facing. [inaudible] I am very unhappy at the prospect of what he does, in fact is likely, to face – but he not only has done a number of achievements here, one of them being to inspire Edward Snowden, by the way, by his civil courage, with others that I won’t go into tonight, that I think he deserves a lot of gratitude for.
An alternative meaning of masculinity
But I want to just draw on what Dan Choi was saying, a little bit more about identity. Because I think Manning not only shows us an alternative meaning to the identity of American and patriot and gay and man and various things, not just an alternative, but points the direction that this species must go in and in particular the male half of the species, the male part of the species. Bradley as you undoubtedly know is confronting the question in his own mind whether he represents T here as well as gay, as well as G. He has at the least ambivalent feelings about appearing as a man, but the fact is that he shows a kind of characteristic that men in the world and not only Americans, must learn from in the sense of what it means to be a man, and what the requirements of masculinity really are. Unless, unless, the character, the image of masculinity changes, from what it has been for thousands of years and what it is right now, this country will [inaudible].
First, not gay, not unmanly. In other words, to be a man it’s a requirement almost to be not womanly in any way, not caring, not nurturing, and above all not gay – essentially to be homophobic or to appear homophobic, even if in your heart you aren’t.
I would say that I worked for a president, Lyndon B. Johnson, whose biographer Norris Kern said that what made him do what he knew in his own heart was hopeless and murderous, was his fear of appearing an unmanly man if he didn’t do it. Appearing weak, appearing…. 58,000 Americans died and millions of Vietnamese, because Lyndon Johnson and other Democrats, who knew the Vietnam War was a disaster and a wrongful war, could not bring themselves to be accused of such words as being weak on terrorism, or weak on Communism, now weak on terrorism, same thing with Iraq.
Those people died also because there was no Bradley Manning, no Edward Snowden, with the courage, the civil courage, to tell the truth, to put out documents about where we were going at that time. 4,000 Americans and perhaps between 100,000 and a million civilians, many of them exposed, their deaths exposed by Bradley Manning, died in Iraq, for a very simple reason: the Democrats, whether in the opposition or not, could not bring themselves to be manly in the sense of standing up to authority and doing what they thought was right in the way that Bradley Manning has done.
So I want to say congratulations to the Harvey Milk Club for honoring him in this way, but much more broadly, much more broadly, I hope that the world will learn, the world will learn, that manliness must change its meaning in the direction that Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden have pointed to us. They are American patriots, but they are also patriots of humanity. Bradley Manning is [inaudible, applause].