Bradley Manning is not Edward Snowden and he is most definitely not a hero. Let’s get that straight, for starters.

Manning is not a whistleblower motivated by either ideology or principle. He did not deliberately and methodically set out to expose a discrete government program that he had come to believe was unconstitutional. Instead, he simply spilled every secret he knew, the equivalent of screaming as loud as he could in the hope that all that noise would bring with it some attention.

After he leaked the documents, Manning did not flee to Hong Kong or Russia. He failed to plan that far into the future and so he will not avoid the worst consequences of his actions. Perhaps he was too unsophisticated to predict them. Perhaps he got in over his head.

The real question is how did Manning wind up with access to classified documents and national security secrets? The answer is, he did not get there alone.

Over the past decade the Defense Department made a series of conscious decisions to lower the bar for entry into the military and to accept candidates whom it had once deemed unfit for duty. In order to sustain wars on multiple fronts, fought without a draft, the standards for enlistment and service overseas dropped conspicuously, and in some cases, as with Manning, even those who could not meet the new, lowered standards were waved through.

With no great expansion in the size of the military to accompany these fights, we have plugged the holes with civilian contractors, like Snowden, and with obviously unfit soldiers, like Bradley Manning. We have imprisoned lower-enlisted men and women for their very real crimes, while allowing our presidential, congressional, and military leadership to act with relative impunity. Now, we reap the rewards.

What Kind of Soldier Was Bradley Manning?

When I was in the army, soldiers used to talk about, “dirtbags,” “shitbirds,” and “shammers.” We applied these cruel labels to the kids who, for whatever reason, just couldn’t hack it. Some of the “shitbirds” had legitimate personality disorders, and others seemed damaged in different ways—they were just off—too idiosyncratic for soldiering, or maybe too sensitive. The “dirtbags” lied to you when they didn’t have to. You couldn’t trust them not to go into your wall locker and steal your stuff. They were the borderline or actual criminals. Then, finally, there were the “shammers,” the troops who actively tried to get out of duty by citing injuries or hardships, real or imagined.

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