The military is a curious mixture of cultures. On the one hand it provides stable employment, a regular wage, job security for a set number of years, training in a useful skill and a reliable pension – ideal conditions in which to marry and raise a family; whilst at the same time relentlessly training you to have hair trigger responses to unexpected ‘disturbances’ to your equanimity, to be merciless in your response, to take lives without agonising, and to assume a natural position of control over each and every situation – none of these qualities being exactly conducive to the rough and tumble of family life. Small children waking you at dawn with loud bangs, wives ‘disobeying’ orders, children displaying teenage truculence. It is no wonder that the military have long understood the necessity of employing several psychiatrists to attend to the confusion in some military minds.
I used to know one of the US military psychiatrists extremely well. He and his wife were great friends of mine right up to his (sadly too early) death. Tom, as I shall call him, had been an army man once, but now having completed his medical training, he was stationed on an RAF base far from the US. He had been given an honorary rank way above the relatively humble rank he had earned in the army; with that rank, such is the military focus on hierarchy, went a palatial suite of offices in a prime position on the base – right opposite the Base Commander’s office. He should have been delighted; such ‘honours’ are the way the military operate after all. He wasn’t, Tom had spotted the elemental flaw in the arrangement.
He and his wife had become customers of my little hotel during the early days of their arrival in the UK; those ‘resettlement’ days before he had to start work and was enjoying discovering the local area. He had struggled with alcoholism himself, and was now determinedly teetotal, so carried copious bottles of carbonated water with him everywhere. One hot day he asked me if I could put them in the ‘icebox’ to cool them down. I dutifully complied. An hour later, the door of the freezer blew off, showering a busy lunchtime restaurant with frozen peas….the ‘icebox’ is the ‘fridge’ in US-speak, not the place where you make ice…the incident cemented our friendship.
So it was that he asked a favour of me; would I lend him my little cottage in the grounds for one or two afternoons a week? No, not an extra marital relationship! Purely so that military personal who had come to the conclusion that they would benefit from professional help with their mental health could appear to be entering my tea rooms, but discretely walk round the back and consult their psychiatrist in my cottage without marching past the window of the Base Commander and announcing to the entire upper hierarchy that all was not well in their mind. It was an arrangement we continued for several years – I thought no more about it other than being slightly perturbed at the thought that some of the young men who flew over our heads in their lethally equipped flying machines were patently not the ‘full shilling’. One in particular used to come in his military uniform but was quite obviously wearing make up – we naturally christened him ‘Hotlips’ and would laugh about him, so unsympathetic were we. ‘Hotlips’ was eventually invalided out of the force after a mind blowing incident during ‘nuclear war games’ which would have been funny had it not been so potentially serious.
I was minded of ‘Hotlips’ when I first read a few years ago of Bradley Manning’s struggles with his gender identity. The military is an obvious choice for anyone who believes that with just a tad of ‘push’ they might become more manly; it must also be the hardest place in the world to escape from once it dawns on you that it hasn’t worked. You are still heading inexorably towards your feminine traits. Bradley Manning consulted an army psychologist in Iraq. He has testified:
Capt. Michael Worsley, a clinical psychologist and military reservist who treated Manning between December 2009 and May 2010 and, ultimately, was the one to diagnose him with gender identity disorder, testified today that Manning was placed in a “hyper-masculine” environment with “little support or key coping skills” to deal with pressure he faced as well as his gender disorder.
“Being in the military and having a gender identity issue does not go hand in hand,”
At the time of Manning’s therapy and ultimate diagnosis of gender identity disorder, being homosexual was a UCMJ violation, Worsley said, and placed a soldier at jeopardy of being court martialed.
It is indicative of the military mind that ‘being homosexual’ and having a ‘gender identity disorder’ are considered one and the same thing. Now both the transgendered community and the Gay community are trying to clasp Bradley to their bosom.
Manning tried other routes to escape his military commitment. He e-mailed his superior officer a picture of him dressed as a woman and wearing a woman’s wig:
The email [PDF] begins:
This is my problem. I’ve had signs of it for a very long time. It’s caused problems within my family. I thought a career in the military would get rid of it. It’s not something I seek out for attention, and I’ve been trying very, very hard to get rid of it by placing myself in situations where it would be impossible. But, it’s not going away; it’s haunting me more and more as I get older. Now, the consequences of it are dire, at a time when it’s causing me great pain it itself.
His superior officer ‘buried’ the e-mail and picture for fear that it would be leaked and Manning would become a laughing stock. No escape there then.
I am not seeking to defend Manning, his leak of secret material inevitably put lives at risk, and was unforgivable if for no other reason that that he HAD made that military commitment; what does concern me is that his cries for help were ultimately ignored, maybe he thought that doing something so utterly reprehensible would see him out of the army for good? What concerns me more is that the publicity seeking Julian Assange – and let us not forget the equally publicity seeking ‘hacitivst’ Adrian Lemo who identified him, and indeed the Guardian – were prepared to exploit his frail mental health for their own ends, to build their career, massage their ego, increase their circulation.
I cannot see how it profits the military to hang onto people like Bradley – or ‘Hotlips’ from long ago. They are a danger to everyone, not least their own colleagues. There should be a better way of escaping the military if you discover that you just cannot hack it than a court martial or a firing squad.
More and more we are seeing evidence of a media which is prepared to use anyone in their bid to force their version of the news on us. Karin Ward, Bradley Manning – there is not a lot of difference. Nobody cares about the original whistleblowers – the story becomes larger than them.
Assange, an autistic, now lives in his perfect environment; closeted away with his computer, no need to earn a living, girl friends ferried in for his sexual needs; a hermetically secure environment doing exactly as he pleases. Bradley Manning is further away than ever from being able to sort out his gender issues, possibly facing 90 years in an all male environment – demonstrably tougher and more macho than the military. He is seen as the villain of the piece, whilst Assange is still viewed as a Hero in some quarters, as is Adrian Lemo.
Curiously, the reasons why Bradley became an outsider within the military have received almost no publicity in the UK, although extensively covered in the US – it is only today that the US army have realised a salacious picture of Manning demonstrating his gender distress that the UK media have pricked up their ears. Just shows how shallow they are.