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What If Chelsea Manning Was Russian?

Dan Savage won't speak up for the whistleblower, who Jamie Kirchick thinks deserves to die. What gives?

by Michael Arria
Aug 23 2013, 7:00pm

This past week, Jamie Kirchick, a gay American journalist, went on RT to talk about the Chelsea Manning’s verdict, but didn’t want to talk about her. Instead, Kirchick spent two minutes decrying Russia’s despicable anti-gay laws.

“I’m not really interested in talking about [Chelsea] Manning," Kirchick said. "I’m interested in talking about the horrific environment of homophobia in Russia right now, and to let the Russian gay people know that they have friends and allies in solidarity from people all over the world, and that we’re not going to be silenced in the face horrific repression that is perpetrated by your paymaster, Vladimir Putin. That’s what I’m here to talk about.”

The Washington Post referred to Kirchick’s ambush as “heroic” and he was celebrated throughout the internet as a brave individual who stood up to the evil, and shadowy, forces of Russian repression. Kirchick, like every conscious human being, is justified in believing that Russia’s homophobic policies are inhumane, degrading, and disgusting. They should be condemned in the most direct of terms.

However, Kirchick’s refusal to talk about Manning is telling. The American solider, who exposed vast examples of American corruption and crime, highlighted a myriad of human rights abuses. Not just the ones she leaked, but the indefensible treatment she received and her connection to the Obama administration’s much wider war on whistleblowers.

Kirchick has attacked Manning consistently in print. He wrote an article dismissing the view of Manning as an LGBT icon for Out Magazine, arguing that LGBT individuals should adamantly support US wars of aggression, rather than take the treacherous step of actually taking their oath to The Constitution seriously. “Rather than claim Bradley Manning as a hero of the gay community and campaign for his release,” Kirchick wrote, “We should be the ones advocating most loudly that [she] face the strictest possible punishment for his treachery.”

The euphemistic allure of “strictest possible punishment” was soon nixed by Kirchick, who wrote a piece for the NY Daily News declaring that Manning deserved to be murdered by the state. “[Chelsea] Manning should consider himself lucky not to be headed to the electric chair,” the celebrated human rights advocate bellowed. Kirchick’s hawkishness is well known. His output is a perpetual defense of United States military intervention and justifications of Israeli aggression. That is to say, he’s a shill for power when he’s connected to it in some capacity.

Enter Dan Savage. Regarded by many as a humorous sex columnist, Savage has recently taken up the cause of banning Russian vodka as a means to end the country’s homophobia. The vodka Leave aside the Kony 2012/white privileged nature of this slacktivist protest for a moment, as well as Dave Zirin's brilliant criticism of the Olympic boycott that many vodka activists support, to ponder Savage’s exuberance for Kirchick’s RT stunt. Savage took to Twitter to the move as “brilliant,” presumably because Kirchick rocked rainbow suspenders while refusing to talk about Manning. When sent Savage a tweet asking if he agreed with Kirchick’s belief that Manning should be fried, Savage promptly blocked me.

The defense of a transgendered Private responsible for the most important military leak since Daniel Ellsberg isn’t a safe political position, but there’s additional reasons that Savage would be so touchy about the question. During the run up to the Iraq War, Savage dismissed critics of the intervention as idiots in a piece called, “Say Yes to War on Iraq.” Savage explained, “To stop Islamo-fascism, we're going to have to roll back all of the tyrannous and dictatorial regimes in the Middle East while simultaneously waging war against a militant, deadly religious ideology.”

Many people backed the Bush administration for stupid reasons, but Savage’s belief that the destruction of Iraq would “make the Saudis aware of the consequences they face if they continue to oppress their own people…” is, perhaps, the dumbest of all intervention defenses. To believe such a thing for more than a few seconds demonstrates an ignorance of world affairs far more striking than any neoconservative claptrap that emerged during the Bush era. Just this past week, the United States inked a $640 million deal to sell Saudi Arabia 1300 cluster bombs; a weapon noted for its civilian death-rate and a sale facilitated by the fact the United States, and Saudi Arabia, refuse to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Savage initiated no boycotts to protest the senseless deaths of thousands upon thousands of Iraqis. He launched no Internet campaign to bring attention to American soldiers returning home in coffins. He wrote nothing about the devastation of a Middle Eastern country, nor a word about the US government admitting to the use of white phosphorus during the assault on Fallujah. Critics of the war were, after all, “squish heads.”

Shortly after Kirchick’s noble stand, Manning revealed that she identified as a woman, a fact that only furthers the need for awareness regarding her story. Manning’s brave decision to reveal that she is a transgender person could be a perfect moment to examine oppression within our own society and place it within the context of our government’s military policies. Russian homophobia should, quite obviously, be condemned, but criticizing the crimes and atrocities of other countries is the easiest thing in the world. Taking a long, hard look in the mirror is a more challenging undertaking than refusing to drink vodka.

Image via Flickr / CC.