Blessed are the whistleblowers


Bradley Manning offical photo, in uniform standing in front of an American flagMy grandfather fought in France and Belgium during the First World War. He was 23, and in the artillery, which fact rendered his experiences long-distance and comparatively impersonal. He did what he was told to do, came safely home, and then never talked much about his war.

My father was a veteran of the Second World War, and also only 23 when he took part in an amphibious landing on Borneo, the horrifying details of which my brother learned only a month or two before Dad's death at the age of 89. Having somehow got safely off the beach, Dad became forward scout in the jungle, and would later occasionally recall a few hair-raising moments, sufficient to make siblings and self realise we had had a very good chance of never experiencing the vicissitudes of this vale of tears.

I don't recall these stories in detail, but I do recall my mother telling me what Dad had said to her. If you knew what I had to do under orders, you would leave me. She didn't want to leave him; she never asked. 

My second son has been in the Greek Army for nearly 20 years; he was 19 when he joined up. Duty in the Bosnia of 1997, when he, too, was 23, was bad enough, but he has not seen active service. Thank God. 

I initially tried to talk him out of the army idea. 

'What will you do if you receive orders that go against your conscience?'

'I'll worry about that when the time comes.' 

The reply of a very young man, one who had yet to learn that the whole of life is a learning curve, and that many a googly will be bowled at us before we are done.

'It'll be too late then.'

I had to accept, though, that there was nothing I could do.


I remain interested in matters military, and was bemused by the fact that Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for releasing evidence of US army atrocities into the public domain. The people who committed these crimes have received sentences that are almost ludicrous in their lightness. Manning has said he did not want to harm or betray his country, but followed his conscience in making shocking acts known to the world. His orders, however, involved secrecy, and President Obama, a lawyer himself, has stated that Manning broke the law.

There is a case, however, for breaking laws that are dubious. And for disobeying orders of a similar kind.

Legal minds have given a great deal of attention to the concept of Superior Orders, which became so important at the time of the post-war Nuremberg Trials that a significant ruling became known as the Nuremberg Defence. Nazi war criminals pleaded that they had been only obeying orders, but the ruling disallowed this plea: 'The fact that a person acted pursuant to the order of his Government or of his superior does not relieve him of responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.'

Manning clearly felt that a moral choice was possible. He made that choice, and started suffering for it at least three years ago. And will continue to suffer, unless he receives a presidential pardon.

The Australian forces have what they call a Defence Whistleblower Scheme. The public and members of the defence forces are able to report misconduct, unethical behaviour, fraud, breaches of security, unlawful discrimination, misuse of defence resources, and practices that could jeopardise occupational health and safety. So I suppose that the Australian equivalent of Bradley Manning, whistleblower, would have the whistle blown on him in his turn for breaches of security.

There seems to be no place for nuance here, no acknowledgement that people grow and alter and so change their minds about all sorts of issues. The group rules, and the individual who does not fit or obey, is bound to suffer.

As it happens, 2 October is the International Day of Non-Violence, which coincides with the birthday of Gandhi, and is a National Holiday in India. Gandhi pioneered the concept of political non-violence and the notion of passive resistance. He, too, inevitably suffered and paid the highest price because of his moral choices.

A great many people, like Gandhi, desire a non-violent world, a world in which whistleblowers and thoughtful, idealistic individuals are honoured rather than punished. It may be a sign of hope that here in Greece, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, an organisation dedicated to the practice of violence against immigrants to Greece, is finally being brought to account. Gandhi died violently in 1948. But we have to keep believing in his ideas. And hoping. 

Gillian Bouras headshotGillian Bouras is an Australian writer who has been based in Greece for 30 years. She has had nine books published. Her most recent is No Time For Dances. Her latest, Seeing and Believing, is appearing in instalments on her website.

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, France, Belgium, First World War, Greece, Bradley Manning, Second World War, Gandhi



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Existing comments

Blessed are the whistleblowers = Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Game Theory | 01 October 2013

Truly, 'blessed are the (very courageous) whistle blowers'.
Daphne | 02 October 2013

Mahatma Gandhi led a densely-populated, diverse country to independence, through discipline and a commitment to peace. And in his incomparable poem "Peace" G M Hopkins notes the hard work of peace "And when Peace here does house/He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,/He comes to brood and sit."
Pam | 02 October 2013

An excellent article, Gillian. Many Australians of our generation have memories passed down through the family of World Wars 1 and 2, some even further down the track to the Boer War, Land Wars in NZ, Indian Mutiny and even further back. War is, in essence, not a nice thing, especially modern war, because it involves killing and maiming others and devastating their countries. Of course, any soldier with a smidgeon of conscience would regret things he was ordered to do. My own father served in Iraq in WW 2 as an officer in what I believe was then, and still is, a crack infantry regiment of old British Indian Army, now part of the Army of Independent India. Likewise his father in WW 1. After all our intervention in Iraq what have we achieved? The answer is deafening. Nothing and we have made the current situation in the Middle East more volatile. Bradley Manning may have been a mixed up young man, struggling with some personal issues, but that does not detract from the good he did, far, far more than Julian Assange, who copped the credit. When you mentioned Gandhi, I gave a wry smile, because I believe my late uncle was the Head of the Salt Department in the Rann of Kutch, which produces most of India's salt and where Gandhi's famous Salt Marches started.
Edward F | 02 October 2013

What does Gillian think about Julian Assange?
Brian Peck | 02 October 2013

So true and so timely! Thank you for articulating so clearly opinions which I'm sure many other readers share.
Jena Woodhouse | 02 October 2013

Thank you Gillian for another thoughtful, topical and beautifully written article.
Helen Halpin | 02 October 2013

Thanks for a great article Gillian. We may very well laugh at the irony of the atheistic Mark Twain in saying that 'God created war so that Americans would learn geography' but on a more serious note I do embrace Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace statement 'If everyone fought for their own convictions there would be no war'. Hence I have no difficulty in chanting 'Blessed are the Whistle-blowers' They are often the martyrs for peace. I was disappointed at our own Australian government when they abandoned Julian Assange to his own devices.
John Whitehead | 03 October 2013

As always - spot on! Great article - great courage is needed to go against the stream and speak out.
di | 03 October 2013

A recently published book about this socially inadequate passer of American defence information to Wikileaks called "The Passion of Bradley Manning" refers to Manning as "an icon and martyr", even as a "patron saint of the Occupy Wall Street movement". But it seems nobody loves a Greek ultra-Nationalist. Surely the black-hearted villainous Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, whose suppression by the Greek state Gillian Bouras praises, acts just as much from moral concience as the saintly Bradley Manning? Seems to me this cult of the whistleblower is simply the promulgation, among polite society as well as impolite, of the notion that evil networks control the unenlightened unwashed like me.
DavidSt | 04 October 2013

..hullo,Gillian-I was 3 articles 'behind'-don't know how that happened.As usual,your writing is thought-provoking.I always took heavy books to read,hopefully in peace,on our trips to Greece.My kind sister-in-law always equated 'peace'& reading as a recipe for depression-will e/m you soon.E.D.
evangelia dascarolis | 04 October 2013

Once again very well written. As far as the Golden Dawn 'crackdown' operation is concerned i have grave fears that it is nothing but a charade...
Dimitri B | 11 October 2013


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