The Politics Of Propping Up The Wounded – Nicole Guiniling

By Nicole Guiniling

Dear Anti-War Movement: We are not Bradley Manning.

Most of us have said the words. I know, here in Toronto, we just did a photo shoot for 50 people last week, each holding a sign that said just that. We’ve signed petitions, saying we would “proudly” serve a part of his sentence. A few of us have even “blown the whistle”–a physical whistle, that is, to represent a metaphorical whistle–the one that Bradley courageously blew in order to out the truth. But I am not Bradley Manning–and neither are any of you.In a court room statement to the Judge yesterday, Bradley Manning said he was sorry–”sorry that my actions hurt people. I am sorry that it hurt the United States.” He goes on to detail that in the time of making his decisions, he was “dealing with a lot of issues–issues that are ongoing and they are continuing to affect me….Unfortunately, I can’t go back and change things.” It is a statement now pin-balling across the halls of social media and the hearts of social justice activists worldwide, as we struggle with the words and their meaning.

The first sober reflection I read was on Facebook, where activist folk singer Ryan Harvey put it this way:

“Blaming his statements simply on his treatment, which is not a baseless claim, takes away Bradley’s agency and ability to self-rationalize, reflect, and come to his own conclusions. Are these skewed by his treatment, and by the punishment he faces? Probably, and surely he knows this too. But perhaps his apology didn’t come off “revolutionary” enough for some, regardless of the fact that his actions were. Perhaps he is not acting as the martyr that some want him to be, or as the revolutionary hero who experiences no fear, human emotion, or reflection. Until you have gone to such lengths to expose such disturbing, embarrassing secrets to the public, and until you have risked the rest of your life for something you felt needed to be done, please don’t make such demeaning, politically-shallow comments about Bradley’s statement. If you turn your back on him now, then what was your “support” ever worth in the first place?”

For me, as a family member and active supporter of combat veterans and war resisters, it smacked of a greater problem–and really crystallized the reality that none of us know the first thing about what it means to be Bradley Manning.

In Dalton Trumbo’s classic anti-war novel, Johnny Got His Gun (1939), Joe is the greatest casualty of the Great War. A bomb blast has taken both his arms and his legs–in addition to his vision and hearing. He lacks the ability to speak. He grows accustomed to sensing the presence of others through the vibrations of footsteps felt through the floor to his hospital bed, where he lays day to day, utterly alone.

In the end he learns to communicate with the officers at the hospital by tapping his head on his pillow–Morse code, which gets translated and handed to the Brass. He explodes with movement when they tap on his head: “WHAT –. DO–. YOU–. WANT–.?”

He explains that he wants them to put him in a glass case and tour every town, to show the American people what war does to a man. He explains, in the darkest of words, wanting to bring his message of the truth about war to the next generation:

“Take me along country roads and stop by every farmhouse and every field and ring a dinner gong so that the farmers and their wives and their children and their hired men and women can see me. …Take me into the places where men work and make things… Take me into the schoolhouses all the schoolhouses in the world… Take me into the colleges and universities and academies and convents… Call all the young men together and say here is your brother here is your best friend here you are young men. Take me wherever there are parliaments and diets and congresses and chambers of statesmen. I want to be there when they talk about honor and justice and making the world safe for democracy… I want to be there to remind them I haven’t got a tongue to stick into the cheek I haven’t got either.”

Joe–Trumbo, rather, chose this morbid exhibition, I believe, to leave two things lasting on the reader’s mind. One is the unquestionable reality that a display of a soldier like Joe would turn an entire generation against war. But the second message is that Joe is at wits’ end. His willingness to “display” his obliterated body has come only through the Hell of being able to do absolutely nothing else. It is after months of Joe recoiling in the presence of his nurses, who see him although he cannot see them. It is deeply macabre. Not the least of which because being propped up and put forward is one of the last things a wounded person wants to do.

Here we are, a dozen wars later, and the wounded still go on display. As the wife of a combat veteran, I know that the willingness to participate doesn’t come willingly. My husband left the U.S. army in a time of great personal turmoil. By the time he got to Canada, he had begun the first step to overcoming the trauma, which was to face it. We would have late nights confronting those terrible things together. And soon it became a part of me. Could you believe that, come morning, when the calls came in from anti-war activists pushing—pushing–him to speak at this rally or on this panel, with this news agency next to this banner supporting this cause, that I wanted to say, but couldn’t, “You don’t know the first thing about what these guys are going through.”

I felt the same way in Madison this past weekend, at the Veterans for Peace national convention. I sat at a table with many respectable anti-war veterans and activists, including Scott Olsen of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). At some point during the night, Scott had gone for a walk. I had a hand rest on my shoulder while I was mid-sentence with another person at the table. “Where’s Scott?!”said some man I’d never met. “I don’t know–probably went to the bathroom or something.” Who was this guy? “OK just so long as he’s coming back. Gotta talk about him speaking out–gotta put that guy to work!”

…Excuse me? Through no act of his own, Scott, quite literally, had fame shot in his face by Oakland police during the peak of the Occupy Movement in 2011. It seems to me that he will “get to work” doing whatever he wants to do–when he’s ready to. Not the least of which is his lawsuit against Oakland Police Department.

Soldiers and veterans are not your trophies. It’s not a malady of one group, or tendency, or generation. It’s a reminder to me that our fight for human rights sometimes lacks humanity.

Bradley Manning is at the top of this list. He has been seized, imprisoned, caged, tortured, psycho-analyzed and scrutinized from every angle and dimension. Certainly he has been silenced as well as given things to say. I fear that we, the anti-war movement, make grave mistakes to put words into his mouth, or figure out his thinking or thought process for him.

“Bradley Manning’s apology” wasn’t a good one for your cameras. Sure. Sometimes life is just a little more complicated than that.

We have perhaps made it feel all too easy to say, “I AM BRADLEY MANNING” when, in fact, as I held that sign and took my photo last week, felt deep in my heart that No, I don’t know the first fucking thing about what it is to be Bradley Manning, to face the darkness by which he has been swallowed. Today he is on the front line in the fight for his life.

And this is not to discount the tremendous work that is being done by the Bradley Manning Support Network, who has used this statement to reach millions. But now it’s time to take our “support” to a higher level of understanding. Surely, letters come in; the pitch of drums and voices of support come through the bars as a prisoner, I know this. But as it stands, Bradley Manning’s body is utterly theirs for the next century. This, I cannot fathom.

It is with that said that I ask you to question your thinking. I hope you read this because you disagree with me, and now are considering what information I offer, from my limited perspective. The voices of soldiers are as valuable as they are because their opposition to war is so thoroughly genuine. For many, they can do nothing if not work from their experiences and speak from their hearts. It is for us to support this authenticity–and to remember that the military is a machine whose relationship to its rank and file is definitively exploitative: soldiers get used, chewed up, and spit out. We are doing the greatest disservice if we parrot the same motions in a movement that claims to be the antithesis of a war drive.

I spoke about this during the Veterans for Peace rally toward the tail end of the Madison convention:

“We are Bradley Manning… but I mean that not only in the sense of his heroism but of the great potential that each and every one of us has to make change. Each and every one of us is an organizer. Each and every one of us is a mentor. Each and every one of us is a healer. And I say this especially to the veterans here today, however they choose to use it. We as non-veterans and veterans of past wars need to step back. Give them the space. Give them the space to learn, grow, figure things out on their own, and their truth will burn through the lies. They will light up the skies for the next generation, if you give them that chance.”

It is for us to understand that that chance… is entirely on their terms, or not at all. Bradley Manning has already changed the world. The Afghan War Diary gave my husband and other war resister claims traction in the Canadian immigration system, to the extent that some have received new refugee claim hearings on grounds that there is now voluminous third-party evidence of human rights violations at the hands of U.S. military–in both Iraq and Afghanistan. That was Bradley, and I am indebted to him. I thank him. I salute him. But I do not speak for him.

My job is to support him as long as he is in prison, and until he is free: End of story. Case closed.

And for those looking to display the wounded in their glass cases–to mold them to fit the various fighting positions that you think best suit “the struggle”–not their struggle, but your struggle, “The Struggle”–I urge you ask the simple question of Joe’s command… the words that exemplify how little you really know.

“What do you want?”

What do you, the veteran, the soldier, the resister, the whistle-blower, the wounded… What do you need?

Or are you afraid of what they will say?

Nicole Marie Guiniling is an American-Canadian activist who has spent the last 12 years organizing against war and occupation in various capacities. She lives in Toronto with her husband, Jules Tindungan, an Afghanistan combat veteran and U.S. War Resister currently seeking asylum in Canada.


  1. Steve Zimmett says:

    So Bradley gets 35 years. So much for protests. They apparently did nothing for his release. I live in a small town in PA and most people do not care or could give a shit about Bradley. So what are we going to do now. I seriously doubt that Obama will give him a pardon. The appeal for his case will be forth coming.
    Scott Olsen gets shot in the face but the news media gave him no news coverage except Democracy Now.
    I watched Democracy Now yesterday and Jacob Applebaum spoke of democracy. He also said that he is afraid of being n the United States. He is now in Brazil. Glen Greenwald is also afraid as are many other journalists.
    I now get AlJazeera America now and watched the verdict on Bradley. Perhaps AlJazeera wil give us more of an insight as to this Bradley Manning case.
    So much for the Main Stream Media. They are for the wars because their ownership by big corporations such as GE.
    I read an interesting book by Smedley Butler, War is a Racket. The work is divided into five chapters:

    War is a racket
    Who makes the profits?
    Who pays the bills?
    How to smash this racket!
    To hell with war!

    This book in believe was written in 1939. Nothing as changed since this book has been written.
    This Afghanistan war is notrocious.. Obama has no intention of getting us out. The military complex has us many of its US people brain washed into this system.
    I’ve given some money to the Bradley team support network. But now I am wondering what any of us are going to do next.

  2. Radfax says:

    Accounting For War: Press Conference 2013

  3. But what about taking action to drive back his persecutors and snatch him from their teeth?
    Sure, it’s important to help soldiers who’ve seen the light to shine it for others and bring them on board.
    But what’s the point of this if generation after generation the hordes of broken soldiers are welcomed back into the world of the “enlightened living” only to see their sons go off in blissful ignorance under the same spell of the same psychopaths in the same psychotic system because we failed to fix the problem.
    This generation has coalesced in the destruction of the anti-war institutions that were built to do that.
    Are we just going to let this happen and start again from nothing? Are we not going to fight for a decent world?
    And NO – I’m not talking about illusions of violent revolution! If you can’t see that we can fight this without violence (there will be enough from the other side if we start to be effective) then you are part of the problem.
    There needs to be a new conversation based on the assumption that we plan to be effective, not just perpetually bemoan the situation. Time for a better conversation. Commiserating is not enough. Endless philosophising about “support for Bradley Manning” is becoming idle prattle – more becoming of STWC.

  4. Catherine says:

    Thank you for this very human, wise and compassionate communication. I hope many people read it. I feel that those who are wounded, who are physically, emotionally or morally injured, those who are tired of fighting wars, who have seen first hand what fighting wars does to people, they also need deep healing, rest and to come home to themselves, and not to be used again to fight (for any cause), but to be held safely in a caring community until they may feel ready themselves to speak in their own voice, free from fear. To articulate what they know is a huge, weighty and important task. Culpability for war involves all of us in a big web of interconnections. Those who have been on the front line in my view should not shoulder that burden alone, and it is all of our job to heal, respect and listen to them, it is our job as the ‘general public’ to stop living our lives in ways that collude with our governments sending soldiers to war – or using drones, or any other weapons or violent means against others.
    I have said too much but like you, I care, and I support Bradley Manning in his situation now as much as I respect the actions he took before. Few people have such an intense life journey. My prayers are for his safety and wellbeing and that he can feel to as large a degree as possible, supported deeply by the love of good people.

  5. Nicole Guiniling says:

    Thanks for reading.
    I think the necessary prerequisite to supporting Bradley Manning is to identify with him, which has gained mass support from thousands, internationally, in the “I Am Bradley Manning” photo campaign. However, neither consciousness nor movements can remain stagnant. We must take this act of solidarity and connect it to a larger understanding that veterans and those who have suffered on the front lines of war –our most valuable voices in the anti-war movement–cannot be relegated to the position of mere figureheads and trophies. They are more to the rest of us than that.
    How shall Bradley Manning be free? That struggle is a marathon, not a race, brother. And we shall reach it through better understanding what soldiers, whistle-blowers, and other insiders have been through… and giving them space to help us shape the true “movement” against war.. a movement that have just barely begun.

  6. Last week I attended a meeting of that gutless, treacherous shit-pile that rightly calls itself a “movement” and rightly has found it’s place at last in the bed-pan of history because it can’t rally together more than 120 people for an issue that is probably going to be the most critical of this century.

    A more shamefully self-congratulatory fountain of crocodile tears one could never imagine!!

    I have written about it at length at for anyone with time to wade through it but in essence it was this. Their meeting was titled “War and Whistle-blowers – Why Bradley Manning Should be Free”; this of itself stands as a condemnation of STWC and perhaps all of us. Where is the meeting titled “HOW Bradley Manning Shall be Freed!”.
    Obviously, a lot of us have tried. Obviously it’s NOT ENOUGH. If we want to be effective then we need to talk very seriously about what WILL BE ENOUGH. That conversation is being avoided by all this phoney, philosophical bullshit that will go on ad nauseum until no-one remembers Bradley Manning’s name.
    That’s NOT GOOD ENOUGH. We need to start having a serious conversation that has as a fundamental assumption – that we will be effective. Otherwise we are just wanking

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