John Proctor: (with a cry of his whole soul) Because it is my name!Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang!How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!
Rev Hale: Man, you will hang! You cannot!
John Proctor: (his eyes full of tears) I can. And there's your first marvel, that I can...
The extract above comes from Act IV of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. The play is set during the Salem witch trials of the 17th Century and is an analogy for the McCarthyism of the 1960s. In it, half of Salem is accused of Witchery by a group who had become unquestionable. When John Proctor threatens to expose one of the group he, and is wife, are accused of witchery. The choices open to such people were to confess or be hanged - the word of the accusers was unimpeachable. John Proctor had held out until the pre-dawn morning of his execution when he was broken by the imprisonment and threat of death and confessed. This extract is his even-later-minute rescinding of that confession.
We all want our heroes to have the, eventual, strength of John Proctor, or Giles Corey who, according to Elizabeth Proctor in the play, "Great stones were placed upon his chest until he [plead] aye or nay. They say he give them but two words. 'More weight,' he says. And Died".
It's the strength of John Proctor, Giles Corey and Rebecca Black that I wanted to see from Manning yesterday when he made his unsworn statement to court as part of the sentencing phase of his trial for whistleblowing. It's John's speech that my mind went to when I saw first the descriptions, then the transcript of the statement. It's John's speech that makes me feel all the sadder for Manning's statement.
Others went, understandably, to Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-four who, when faced with his worst fear chose to betray the one he loved. The broken and irredeemable man who will believe that 2+2=5 if that's what he is told is true.
I like to think that I am more hopeful. Proctor's confession is replaced by heroic strength where Smith's never can be. Manning is fighting for his life, for his future. Like Proctor, Manning is faced with the choice of begging for mercy or facing horrific punishment. Manning has already spent over 1000 days in detention including periods that the UN Special Rapporteur describes as torture. To beg for freedom is understandable, however much we on the outside may want the strong defence of actions that came with his first statement to court.
One other thing did trouble me about the defence's tactics at this late stage, and that's the sudden focus on Manning's emotional state as an excuse. The day consisted of testimony from psychologists and psychiatrists talking about Manning's diagnosis of gender identity disorder/gender dysphoria*. Manning's statement included reference to "a lot of issues". I worry that this is setting up the media for a trans*==deceptive narrative or a "leniency for the trans* PC gone mad" narrative (as already suggested in the New York Post headline "Leaker Manning uses cross-dressing 'wig' out pic in bid for leniency after spy, theft conviction").
I just hope that his statement today is worth it. That he does get a low sentence, he does get out, he does get a life, he does get the support he needs and that one day the whole truth behind the statement can come out.
(*There has been a lot of talk about whether Manning identifies as male or female but I have been generally following the line taken by the Bradley Manning Supporters Network: Manning has not asked, through any channel, for us to refer to 'Breanna' or what pronouns to use - 'Bradley' and male pronouns have been used by all parties to this case. I have been trying to avoid gendering at all in this post however.)