Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning was convicted by court-martial in July 2013 for violations of the Espionage Act after disclosing hundreds of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks.
While some laud him as a hero for being a whistleblower and others highlight the fact that he was charged with “aiding the enemy,” the fact remains that he put many service members lives at risk.
Neither opinion matters when determining whether or not Private First Class Manning is a “decorated veteran.” Truth is, the majority of media organizations know very little about military personnel, their culture and hardships.
While CNN Defense Correspondent Barbara Starr, and Associated Press senior defense correspondent Lolita Baldor may be considered authorities when reporting on military policy or the progress in the fight against ISIS, they know very little about what military personnel actually do on a daily basis.
Even Harvard University, one of the most prestigious academic institutions for over 100 years, lacks a basic understanding of who service members are or what they do. When the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School announced that Manning was going to be a visiting fellow, many thought “a convicted felon?.”
However, as a veteran, I was in disbelief that Harvard (as well as the Guardian and New York Times) consider Manning to be an expert on “intelligence.”
How could anyone think a former Private First Class -the third lowest rank from the bottom- in the Army, who was court-martialed is expert on anything? I was surprised it to me so long to come to the conclusion that it could be because these institutions are led and mostly staffed by civilians.
Even for myself, as an Army veteran who did not work in intelligence, I had no clue what Private First Class Manning would have done for the Army or what he was qualified to do. After speaking with an Army intelligence non-commissioned officer, who if he was in Manning’s unit would have likely been his direct superior, I learned that Manning would have had very little responsibility for making any decisions regarding intelligence matters.
As a intelligence analyst, who only achieved the rank of private first class, Manning would have been preparing collected intelligence reports for actual decision-makers. Essentially a secretary or an entry-level position in the civilian sector.
“He would have been taking other people’s work and putting it together in slides,” the sergeant said.
For media organizations, anyone who served in the military is “decorated.” Just take a look at any news headline having to do with someone who served in the military. It will almost always include the word “decorated” before “veteran, soldier, Marine, etc.” This term is used regardless of the rank the person achieved, what military occupation they have/had, or what awards and or decorations they have received.
If a Navy Seaman Recruit (the lowest rank) whose only award is the National Defense Service Ribbon, which everyone receives for joining the military during a time of war, dies in a motorcycle accident, the headline the next day would be, “Decorated Sailor dies during motorcycle accident.”
Since the term “decorated” is offered to those with the bare minimum level of distinction, it can be assumed it is awarded by the media to encompass all who serve or have served, versus simply being classified as a Soldier, a Marine, or a Veteran?
Have we all become “decorated” just for signing the dotted line? Where does this leave those who have gone above and beyond the call of duty during battle or committed thirty years of their life to the military? Should we refer to them as the “extra decorated?”
It seems as if the years of advertising propaganda supporting our military service created this idea that we all returned home as “heroes” in the decade-plus arc that is the Global War on Terrorism.
For some, “decorated” is a great term to sensationalize a story for the sake of ratings. For others, is just a genuine, reverent adjective to better describe honorable Americans.
In hindsight, however, it seems that its intended effect has faded (just as the interest in the wars has faded) but it has left a major impact in the public mind.
Service members are held in such a high regard because of this “decorated hero” idea that holds no truth, other than the fact it was implanted by years of constant marketing messages being processed by the American public.
Believe me, we don’t all think we are “decorated”- to include those of us who are.
There is a distinct difference between those who actually wore the boots and the civilians controlling the large media establishments: we “who have seen” know who is really decorated (and who isn’t)- and many of us cringe when we are described as “decorated” or “heroes,” especially if we personally think we are not.
With that said, one thing is for certain- we know those are not terms we associate with a low-ranking private, who disobeyed orders and put his fellow comrades in danger.
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