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Blank Stares, Faint Smiles

The Bradley Manning Survey

by MISSY BEATTIE

While driving through a March mix, I parallel processed—articles about Bradley Manning, reader comments, the tempo of the windshield wipers clearing slush, if I should turn around and postpone the appointment. Then, the word “snain” appeared—a reminiscence. Some weatherman’s use of “snain” years ago. H, so young with little-boy joy, laughed a melody, repeating the word, amusing himself and us—his parents and older brother. I smiled at the memory. Turn around? No. I was almost at my dentist’s office. Plus, the Lesbaru’s resolute.

I ran from the car to the building. After signing in, I sat, staring at fish that looked like Rothko paintings in the huge aquarium dividing the room into two areas, one for telly watching and the other for reading.

Then I shifted my focus to one of several articles I’d read about Bradley Manning. His trial testimony. That he attempted to interest the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Politico in his evidence of war crimes. They ignored.

Beneath this piece, a reader had entered in the comment section that most Americans wouldn’t know who Bradley Manning is.

I decided to conduct my own little survey.

Approaching two men seated in the reading side of the reception area, I said, “Excuse me, do you know who Bradley Manning is?” Neither did.

“He’s the 25-year-old Army soldier in prison over 1000 days for exposing war crimes. Was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.”

One of the men said, “Oh, yeah.”

I continued: “He disclosed a video of an Apache helicopter in Iraq whose crew killed more than 12 Iraqi civilians and two Reuters war correspondents.”

Blank stare from one. Faint smile from the other.

I waited. Soon a woman entered. “Excuse me. I’m taking a survey. Do you know who Bradley Manning is?” She shook her head no. I informed.

From the television, weather announcers reported the latest about the “fat snowflakes”. I moved to watch the storm tracking. A woman came in and sat nearby. Leaning towards her, I asked the question. She didn’t know. Again, I informed.

I went to the restroom. Came out to see someone removing her coat. Sitting next to her, I said, “Excuse me. Are you familiar with Bradley Manning?” She nodded yes. I waited.

“I don’t think he should be in prison.” She said this, cautiously, almost whispering.

“I’ve asked four others, and you’re the first person who’s known.”

We talked until she was summoned.

Are you wondering why I had time for this study? I was an hour early. Had entered 10:50 on my calendar instead of 11:50. The research subjects were called waaaayyyy before I was, probably relieved (with one exception) to escape my question and ensuing sermon.

Finally, “Beattie.”

Seated in the dental chair, I said to the hygienist, “Do you know who Bradley Manning is?” She didn’t. I informed.

She poked that pick in my mouth and began scraping. Then did the minty scrub with the rubber-tipped instrument. “You’re due X-Rays.”

“No thanks.”

She was shoving some party favors (that actually totaled $130.00) into a goody bag when the dentist appeared.

“I’m conducting a survey. Do you recognize the name Bradley Manning?”

He said, “Is he related to Eli? Or is he a porn star?”

“He exposed war porn.”

Told him about the Collateral Murder video and the Nobel Peace Prize nomination. “He’s 25-years-old,” I said. “And he’d been in a military prison over 1000 days.”

He changed the subject, commenting on my boots.

Another opportunity while I paid: As an employee printed my receipt, I asked the question. She said, “No.” When I told her, she said, “I’m only concerned with Maryland politics. This governor is killing us, sending jobs out of the state.”

I walked through big refreshing snowflakes to power on the Lesbaru, thinking only one among eight people knew. And here’s her story: When she said, “I don’t think he should be in prison,” I noticed an accent. Russian. She told me she immigrated 14 years ago, excited she was leaving a country that propagandized. Convinced she was moving to one that didn’t.

“It’s just as bad here. When I pick up my son at school, I sometimes hear an announcement: ‘This is the greatest country in the world.’”

She made a face and put her hands up to cover her ears.

Soooooo, I have a new plan. I’ll be the disseminator of real news. In reception areas. At the grocery. A restaurant. On a train. Wherever. Resolute, like the Lesbaru. Tenacious as a Jehovah’s Witness.

Missy Beattie preaches from Baltimore and any area she visits. Contact her at missybeat@gmail.com