According to Gil Bailie’s groundbreaking book Violence Unveiled, the word myth stems from the Greek wordmu. Those two Greek letters combine to form the powerful concept behind all myths. Mu means “to close” or “to keep secret.” Bailie claims that “Myth closes its eyes to certain events and closes its mouth.” Myths are the lies and the cover-ups that we tell about our own violence. Truth, on the other hand, works against myth to reveal our violence.
Ancient cultures told their myths, of course. Unfortunately, we moderns, who think we’ve progressed so much since our ancestors, tell our own myths. The United States government’s military trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning is a case in point.
Manning’s Leak to WikiLeaks
In 2010, Manning was arrested and accused of the worst military crimes, including espionage and aiding the enemy. He secretly released an extensive archive of classified documents to WikiLeaks. Some believe Manning is a traitor, while others believe he is a heroic whistleblower. As the New York Times reports, “There is no doubt that he did most of what he is accused of doing, and the crucial issue is how those actions should be understood.”
The classified documents that Manning disclosed revealed incidents that the United States government obviously wanted to keep secret. As Chris Hedges points out, those secret documents reveal to Americans what Iraqis, Pakistanis, Somalis, Yemenis, and Afghans already know, without having to read WikiLeaks. Hedges describes the horrors inflicted by the American war machine in a recent article:
They have seen the bodies, including the bodies of their children, left behind by drone strikes and other attacks from the air. They have buried the corpses of those gunned down by coalition forces. With fury, they hear our government tell lies, accounts that are discredited by the reality they endure. Our wanton violence and hypocrisy make us hated and despised, fueling the rage of jihadists and amassing legions of new enemies against the United States … Manning showed us through the documents he released that Iraqis have endured hundreds of rapes and murders, along with systematic torture by the military and police of the puppet government we installed. He let us know that none of these atrocities were investigated.
None of those atrocities were investigated because the United States is engaged in a mythical cover up of its own violence; indeed, its own war crimes. Remember that when we are under the spell of myth, we close our eyes to the victims of our violence by portraying our violence as necessary and good.
The U.S. and the Myth of Good Violence
Myths of good violence claim that peace and security depend upon the judicious violence of good people. Our violence, therefore, is good, while our enemy’s violence is bad. And yet, when someone like Manning challenges the myth by forcing us to see the pain and suffering of our victims, we get very uncomfortable because we discover the truth that violence erases all distinctions between “good” and “evil.” Violence and the violent methods used to combat it make us into enemy twins where the dualistic labels of “good” and “evil” are meaningless.
That’s the uncomfortable truth about violence that Manning revealed, but the U.S. government’s hold on the myth is only getting tighter. One mythical cover up leads to another mythical cover up, as we see in Manning’s trial. The very documents that Manning revealed, the documents that specify torture, crimes, and killings, are not permitted in court precisely because they are classified. Those documents must be kept secret, they must be mythically silenced, so that the United States can cover up its violence and maintain a sense of “goodness” over and against our “evil” enemies.
The last thing the United States government wants to admit is its utter failure in the War on Terror. Contrary to the myth that peace and security can be achieved through war, the truth is that we are less safe and we have more enemies now than we did in 2001. “They” hate us even more now, but it’s not because they hate our freedom. Paradoxically, in fighting for freedom we have become enslaved to the myth that justifies mutual hatred and violence against one another. Our righteous hatred against the Axis of Evil or against the Great Satan has enslaved both sides to a mythical sense of goodness that depends upon an evil enemy. Unless someone reveals the truth, our shared future will be consumed by mutual hatred and violence.
Forced to Hear the Voice of our Victims
Jesus once said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Bradley Manning risked his life to reveal the truth that our violence is as egregious and criminal as our enemies’ violence. In so doing he revealed the voice of our victims.
Will we listen to their cry? Or will we once again mythically silence their voices?
Free Bradley Manning rally, photo by cool revolution / Flickr.com