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Courage: Caitlyn Jenner vs. Chelsea Manning

By Robert Fantina - Posted on 12 June 2015

                There has been much talk of late about the courage of Caitlyn Jenner. A recent Vanity Fair cover showed the transformation of former 65-year-old Olympic gold medal winner Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn, an attractive woman who appears to be in her thirties.

                But let us look for a moment at the definition of courage. Merriam-Webster defines it thusly: “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty”.

                Does this really apply to Ms. Jenner?

                Let’s look at another transgender individual, one whose glamorous picture did not appear on the cover of Vanity Fair, and see if, perhaps, the definition of courage might better apply. In 2009, United States soldier Bradley Manning disclosed to the public secret U.S. documents. Among the information revealed is the following:

  • There is an official policy to ignore torture in Iraq;

  • U.S. officials were told to cover up evidence of child abuse by contractors in Afghanistan;

  • Guantanamo prison has held mostly innocent people and low-level operatives;

  • U.S. Military officials withheld information about the indiscriminate killing of Reuters journalists and innocent Iraqi civilians;

  • The U.S. Government had long been faking its public support for Tunisian President Ben Ali;

  • Known Egyptian torturers received training from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Quantico, Virginia;

  • The State Department authorized the theft of the United Nation’s Secretary General’s DNA, and

  • The Obama Administration allowed Yemen’s President to cover up a secret U.S. drone bombing campaign.

                Mr. Manning knew when he made these revelations through WikiLeaks that the consequences for doing so could be quite severe. He was betrayed by an online acquaintance, arrested, charged and found guilty of several ‘crimes’, including violations of the Espionage Act. He was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison.

                 Following his trial, Mr. Manning announced that he was transgender, and would thereafter be known as Chelsea. He eventually was able to force a hostile and unwilling government to fund the surgery he needed to transition to a woman. Chelsea Manning is serving her term in a federal penitentiary. 

                 Let us return for a moment to Ms. Jenner. From the time of her Olympic glory as Bruce Jenner in 1976, Ms. Jenner has been a popular public figure, even having her image on Cheerios boxes, the cereal known as ‘the breakfast of champions’. Her second and third wives were public figures; her net worth is estimated at $100 million.

          As an Olympic decathlete, Ms. Jenner showed talent and skill in various athletic pursuits. Certainly, excelling in these areas required hard work and dedication. But those accomplishments provided no benefit for anyone but Ms. Jenner, her family, and the corporations who hired her to endorse their products.

                The decision to transition to a woman must certainly have been a difficult one. But it must be remembered that Ms. Jenner had the support of all three of her former wives, and her various children and vapid step-children. The public continues to proclaim her a hero. She had sufficient funds to hire the best doctors, not only for the required surgical procedures, but also to transform her appearance from that of an older gentleman to a young woman.

               If we are going to hero-worship either of these two individuals, this writer would have no doubt about where he would cast his vote. Ms. Manning demonstrated real, and rare, courage, in opposing the U.S. government and disclosing some of its dirty secrets, secrets it was withholding from the U.S. citizenry.     

               Should not the citizens of the U.S. know that the U.S. government teaches how to torture? Is there anyone who thinks that U.S. contractors, or anyone else for that matter, should be excused for abusing children? And certainly, the incarceration of innocent people in a U.S.-owned torture chamber is information the public should have.

              Every year some U.S. elected officials are running for re-election to their low-stress, high-paying jobs. They use convenient sound bites to convince a lethargic electorate to re-elect them. Ms. Manning gave the citizenry a different view into the workings of the U.S. government, allowing them the opportunity to make more informed decisions about who to elect.

              Ms. Manning shed a bright light on horrific injustices perpetrated by the U.S. government, and was ‘rewarded’ with thirty-five years in prison. Ms. Jenner ran fast against various competitors, and has for decades received the fawning adulation of the general public.

             This writer has no issue with Ms. Jenner’s decision to transition from male to female; he does not know Ms. Jenner, and even if he did, would have no right to question her decisions. But he objects to her portrayal as a woman of great courage, when her so-called courageous decision impacted only herself and her loved ones. Yes, there may be some positive impact for the transgender community, and that should not be minimized, but there is a vast difference between favorable publicity and courage.

              Ms. Manning, on the other hand, drew attention to horrendous human rights abuses perpetrated by the U.S. government. She did so, knowing that her actions may not change anything, and could cost her her life; one of the charges for which she was not found guilty - aiding and abetting the enemy - is a capital crime. Yet she knew that disclosing that information was the right thing to do, and she proceeded. This is courage. Ms. Jenner may be admired for any number of reasons, but it is Ms. Manning who is the hero.







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