Monday, May 13, 2013

The Nationalist-Internationalist Gay Divide and Bradley Manning

The reaction to Bradley Manning being selected and then deselected as grand marshal of this year's San Francisco Pride Parade exposed a divide in the community of gays and our allies: a divide between those who generally support U.S. foreign policy and those who generally oppose it; between nationalists who may disagree with this or that decision by a particular president but generally believe in the good of American power around the globe, and internationalists who recognize the U.S. as an imperial power led by individuals and institutions who's goals are not in the best interests of most people – even most Americans – and who recognize the destructive nature of American militarism to people across the globe, gay and straight.

If you believe that U.S. foreign policy is largely guided by the goals of liberation and human rights, then Manning is right to be shunned since his action impeded that.  If you believe that, human rights or not, U.S. foreign policy prioritizes keeping Americans safe, again, honoring Manning would be problematic.  Even if you only think those things when your political party is in the White House, you still recognize the threat his action posed to your leader's agenda.

On the other hand, if you understand that U.S. foreign policy is neither about keeping Americans safe nor about human rights but about global dominance at the expense of human rights (and often making the world more dangerous for the average American), then you can and should rally around Manning.

He has brought to light much of the backroom deals and outright criminality of many of our political, civil and military leaders, not to mention those of oligarchs in other countries, removing a veil of secrecy that hid war crimes and shielded dictators.  He is a whistleblower whose actions have contributed to the fall of repressive regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and helped spur on uprisings elsewhere.  The facts he leaked have been used in countless news articles in many of the same outlets that also condemn him or ignore his plight.  The benefits of his actions are really too numerous to mention here; and while I wouldn't call him a hero, I absolutely find his actions courageous and incredibly important.

Despite the fact that Manning is gay and possibly transgender, and despite the human rights perspective that his act was courageous, some in the gay community responded negatively when they discovered he was named SF Gay Pride's grand marshal.   A handful of gay militarists launched a campaign against the selection, calling Manning a "traitor" and his actions "treacherous" and "a disgrace." Within hours the honor was rescinded and SF Pride board president announced as follows:
His nomination was a mistake and should never have been allowed to happen ...

...even the hint of support for actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform -- and countless others, military and civilian alike -- will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride.
Bradley Manning protest at SF Pride board meeting.
That brought the divide between gay nationalists and gay internationalists to the fore.  It also revealed a factual disagreement that mostly boils down to the same ideological divide.  The factual assertion, as reflected in the statement from the SF Pride board president, is that Manning's leaking of information caused harm.  Usually this idea has taken the form of: "his leak put soldiers at risk;" but I've also heard: "his leak made diplomacy more difficult making the alternative of military action more necessary."

If you believe that what the U.S. is doing around the world is wrong then it is clear that the people putting our soldiers in harms way are the leaders in the White House and the Pentagon, not a soldier who revealed some of the truth about our wars and foreign policy.  The diplomacy angle falls the same way.  If you believe our diplomats are conspiring with other regimes around the world, many unelected and unaccountable, to maintain U.S. hegemony at the expense of universal human rights, then it doesn't really matter that their job is made more difficult, and it is not accepted that the alternative is military force.

Furthermore, if you are a critic of U.S. foreign policy and you have a human rights perspective, then you likely dig beyond official press releases for your facts, and you know that there is no evidence that Manning's actions put any troops in harms way. You also recognize that the anger directed at Americans in some parts of the world has everything to do with what the people living in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere experience on the ground and nothing to do with Bradley Manning.  If anything, his actions demonstrated the problem with saddling the citizens, and even the soldiers, of any particular nation-state with the crimes of that nation-state.

As a gay man, an internationalist and someone who feels strongly that human rights are universal, I believe the conventional wisdom about foreign policy coming from Washington D.C. and the corporate media must be challenged.  The destructive role the U.S. plays around the world is difficult to fathom, especially for many Americans who have never experienced occupation, the buzzing of weaponized drones over our homes, or the killing of hundreds of thousands within our borders at the hand of a distant, foreign power.  Bradley Manning has played a critical role in revealing, to a broader audience, some of the crimes of our government – crimes committed against civilians, gay and straight.  Furthermore, he did this brave act as a gay soldier of conscience.  He deserves the honor of grand marshal at any parade honoring a history of struggle for human rights and ongoing liberation; but as a gay man working in an institution that, at the time, maintained a policy requiring him to keep his sexual orientation a secret, Bradley Manning certainly deserves to be grand marshal at gay pride.

I was happy to add my name to a complaint filed with the San Francisco Human Rights Commission against SF Pride regarding the Manning matter.


Glenn Stehle said...

Even though I tend to agree with what you call the "internationalist" stance -- that US militarism and US imperialism are baleful for all except a handful of transnational elites -- I'm not sure that I would agree it has always been that way, at least for those who live within the empire. Certainly for commoners who lived outside the empire, it was never anything but evil. "Our perspective of the United States," wrote Carlos Fuentes in The Buried Mirror, "has been that of a democracy inside and an empire outside. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

The Russian scientist Peter Turchin in War and Peace and War says that “The critical assumption in my argument is that cooperation provides the basis for imperial power.” And no one can argue that the US has not been a powerful empire. Whereas Nazi Germany based its imperial ambitions on the racial strategy of Pan-Germanism and the naming of supranational enemies – e.g. the “Jew in general” is a “Jew everywhere an nowhere” – and searched for internal as well as external enemies, the US employed a strategy of tribal nationalism and concentrated its search for enemies outside of the nation. “Politically speaking,” Hannah Arendt writes in The Origins of Totalitarianism, “tribal nationalism always insists that its own people is surrounded by ‘a world of enemies,’ ‘one against all,’ that a fundamental difference exists between this people and all others. It claims its people to be unique, individual, incompatible with all others, and denies theoretically the very possibility of a common mankind long before it is used to destroy the humanity of man.”

“Historically speaking,” Arendt goes on to explain, “racists (and I would put Nazi Germany in this category, but not so much post-1940s USA) have a worse record of patriotism than the representatives of all other international ideologies together, and they were the only ones who consistently denied the great principle upon which national organizations of peoples are built, the principle of equality and solidarity of all peoples guaranteed by the idea of mankind.”

Glenn Stehle said...


What evidence can be offered up to substantiate this theory? I would cite the following:

A Class Apart, video documentary from PBS:
Then came WWII… And it is this generation who fought in WWII who begin to demand civil rights for Mexican Americans. They form important social organizations like the GI Forum. These organizations are committed to fighting for equality for Mexican Americans as well as fighting for pride in Mexican origins.

Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, David Montejano:

Social conflict and national crises provided the necessary impulse for the decline of the old race arrangements. World War II, in particular, initiated dramatic changes on the domestic front. The need for soldiers and workers, and for positive international relations with Latin America, meant that the counterproductive and embarrassing customs of Jim Crow had to be shelved, at least for the duration of the emergency. In more lasting terms, the war created a generation of Mexican American veterans prepared to press for their rights and privileges. The cracks in the segregated order proved to be irreparable.

The cracks did not rupture, however, until blacks in the South and Mexican Americans in the Southwest mobilized to present a sharp challenge from below in the 1960s.

In addition to greater racial equality, the US imperial strategy and militarism also brought about greater class equality, as Arendt argues in “Thoughts on Revolution”:

Marx may have said that the proletarian has no country; it is well known that the proletarians have never shared this point of view. The lower social classes are especially susceptible to nationalism, chauvinism, and imperialistic policies. One serious split in the civil-rights movement into “black” and “white” came as a result of the war question: the white students coming from good middle-class homes at once joined the opposition, in contrast to Negroes, whose leaders were very slow in making up their minds to demonstrate against the war in Vietnam. This was true even of Martin Luther King. The fact that the army gives the lower social classes certain opportunities for education and vocational training naturally also plays a role.

I would further argue that US imperialism and militarism have now become so decadent that they serve the interests of no one except a highly privileged transnational capitalist class. What keeps imperialism and militarism propped up, however, are their past glories. The popularity and appeal of US imperialism and militarism amongst those who have to work for a living is due, at least in part, to their usefulness in the WWII and post WWII eras in achieving greater racial and class equality.

Glenn Stehle
Santiago de Querétaro, Querétaro

Carlos Villarreal said...

I'm not sure I would agree with much of this comment from Glenn Stehle, and certainly not the central thesis.

It is true that, as a military superpower, the U.S. requires lots of soldiers and personnel; and often the jobs are not so desirable. So the military has been more open to recruiting, hiring, and drafting people of color, at times, than the private sector. That has had an effect on opportunities available to people of color, and also an impact on a culture of racism. But that is a minor point that shouldn't reflect on militarism or imperialism and the enormous costs to people of color around the world and in the U.S.

It was people of color who were killed by the thousands in Veitnam and people of color who were disproportionally put on the front lines by the U.S. It is people of color who continue to be targeted by the U.S. military today with enticements of college tuition and job training (that are often over stated). And it is mostly people of color being killed by the U.S. around the world. So the fact that some more opportunity was afforded to blacks, Latinos and other people of color by the military when many private companies may have resisted, is worth noting, but not really significant to the fact that U.S. imperialism is condemnable.