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Manning in Wonderland: United States of Anxiety v PFC Alice Manning

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Manning in Wonderland: United States of Anxiety v PFC Alice Manning

The Battle

 

The King and Queen of Hearts and their royal entourage were observing the battlefield from a safe distance, atop a mountain on the edge of their grand empire, the United States of Anxiety.

 

PFC Alice Manning was there as well, meticulously filing war records for the royal court.

 

But as far as Alice could see, the “battlefield” they claimed to be observing was actually a park filled with picnicking families, a carnival and a croquet ground where hapless townsfolk were being targeted by the royal war engines from atop the mountain.

 

“I’ve got them in my sites” said the Bat flying over the croquet ground. He was squinting through his spectacles, which had lenses as thick as checkers.  “There are five to six individuals with AK-47s,” said the flying mammal excitedly. “Request permission to engage.”

 

Alice could see that the Bat was looking down at a party of field mice carrying croquet mallets.

 

“Bombs-away!” shouted the King.

 

“Let the Knave give the orders,” rebuked the Queen. “Plausible deniability, remember?”

 

“Right,” agreed the King. “You give the order!” he told the Knave of Hearts.

 

“Bombs-away!” shouted the Knave.

 

“But it’s just a family of mice,” Alice objected.

 

“Just do the filing, PFC Alice Manning,” ordered the Knave. “Leave the fighting to the real soldiers.”

 

“Nice shoot, pilot!” shouted the Knave. “Just look at those dead fools!”

 

The field mice were covered in blood. Some were dead, while others were writhing in agony and shouting for help. A family of toads at a nearby pond heard their cries for help and promptly headed over in a salamander-drawn carriage.

 

“There’s a vehicle with personnel picking up the bodies and weapons,” reported the blind Bat. “Request permission to engage.”

 

The Knave looked to the King, who nodded discretely in response.

 

“Bombs-away!” shouted the Knave.

 

“You’re bombing a family of toads!” shouted Alice. “There are children-”

 

“Silence!” ordered the Knave. “Nice shoot again, pilot! More dead fools. But it looks like one is still alive. Go in for a closer look.”

 

The Bat dove down to the ground where he shook his head in disbelief at what he found. He then came back up to the top of the mountain with a grave look. “The survivor is a little girl. She’s crying for her mother.”

 

“Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle!” replied the Knave.

 

“Unfortunate accident,” said the King with a shake of his head.

 

“Collateral damage,” said the Queen.

 

Alice was about to speak up again, but at that moment the White Rabbit appeared and put his paw over her mouth.

 

“It won’t do any good, you know,” whispered the Rabbit.

 

“Oh, why did I follow you down that hole?” whispered Alice. “I can’t stand all this bloody murder.”

 

“The Queen calls it ‘collateral damage,’” said the Rabbit.

 

“I’ll call it ‘collateral murder’ on this report,” said Alice as she prepared the file on the incident. And then she had an idea. “Hey, Mr. Rabbit. Why don’t you take this file up out of the hole to let the world know about these crimes against humanity?”

 

“I can do that!” said the Rabbit.

 

“I’ve got tons of other files too,” sighed Alice with relief as she felt a great weight lift from her conscience. “Lies, upon lies told by the King’s spies,” she said as she filed report after report into an envelope for the Rabbit. “The King pretends to support human rights, but he works hand-in-glove with torturers and murderers around the world.”

 

“You can count on me!” said the Rabbit. “The world will soon know the truth.” Then he worriedly looked down at his pocket watch. “But I better get moving right away!” And with that, he took Alice’s reports and ran off.

 

Alice continued to file reports on the USA’s murderous actions, but at least she was now somewhat comforted by the idea that the reports she had given the White Rabbit would awaken people to the folly of the royal administration by exposing its crimes for everyone to see. Then there would surely be a trial.

 

The Trial

 

One day, PFC Alice Manning was on leave with the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle, as both she and the Gryphon so enjoyed hearing the Mock Turtle sing. Alice loved being carried away from the horrors of war by the Mock Turtle’s beautiful voice.

 

Today, he was singing a mystical song in which the United States of Anxiety was a land shared by all the people:

 

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling

And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling

A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,

This land was made for you and me.

 

“And now the chorus!” cried the Gryphon, and the Mock Turtle had just begun to sing it, when a cry of “The trial’s beginning” was heard in the distance.

 

“Come on” cried the Gryphon, and taking Alice by the hand, it hurried off without waiting for the end of the song.

 

“What trial is it?” Alice panted as she ran. She wondered if the report she’d given to the White Rabbit had finally had the desired effect, waking people to the crimes of the royal administration. Could it be the King who was being put on trial?

 

But the Gryphon only answered, “come on” and ran the faster, while more and more faintly carried on the breeze that followed them, came the strangely melancholy words,

 

From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters

This land was made for you and me.

 

The Queen of Hearts wore a contemptuous frown on her brow as she glared down at Alice from her throne, high above the assembled members of the court.

 

“Herald, read the accusation!” said the King.

 

The King was addressing the Grey Fox who had replaced the White Rabbit as herald of the court (the latter having taken refuge in the embassy of a far off nation for fear of being prosecuted on some secret charge). The Grey Fox blew three blasts on the trumpet, then unrolled the parchment-scroll and read as follows:

 

The King’s spies, they told some lies,

        As they do from time to time.

PFC Manning, she exposed those lies,

        Which is an awful crime.

 

“Consider your verdict.” Said the King to the Queen, who was to act as judge and jury of the hearing.

 

“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first, verdict afterwards.”

 

“Stuff and nonsense,” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!”

 

“Hold your tongue,” said the Queen, turning purple.

 

“I won’t!” said Alice.

 

“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.

 

“Not yet, not yet,” interrupted the Fox hastily. “There’s a great deal to come before that!”

 

“Quite right,” agreed the King. “Have the prisoner escorted to the dungeons and held there in solitary confinement where she’ll have no contact with the outside world and be kept in the worst conditions for three years. After three years of torture-”

 

“Not torture!” interrupted the Queen. “That would be inhumane. It’s three years of confinement.”

 

“Quite right,” agreed the King. “After three years of confinement, the trial will begin. As the Queen said, there must be some sort of punishment before the verdict. So three years of confinement, right off the bat. But we’ll save some of the punishment for after the verdict as well. After all, if we cut off the prisoner’s head now, what punishment can we inflict later?”

 

“Very wise,” said the Fox with a bow. “Very wise indeed.”

 

So Alice spent the next three years in the dungeons, wearing only rags, fed on bread and water, sitting in the dark, talking to herself and going batty.

 

“Why did you have to give the King’s secrets to the Rabbit?” Alice asked herself indignantly. “If you had just filed the reports like you were supposed to, we’d be breathing fresh air in the sunlight.”

 

“The fresh air would be stifling and the sunlight would be cold,” replied Alice in a calmer voice. “Our conscience wouldn’t let us enjoy it. Doing nothing would make us complicit in murder. On the whole, I much prefer this prison to the one outside.”

 

While Alice was in the dungeons, unable to talk with anybody but herself, all manner of wicked rumours were spread about her and the White Rabbit: how they were jealous of the King and Queen, how they were unstable and sought to cause dissention in the ranks of the populace, how they were traitors to the USA, etc.

 

Finally, after three years, Alice was given a fresh set of clothes and brought back to the court for her trial. She was escorted to the court by a pair of hard-skinned lobsters with nasty pincers. Bystanders shouted, “Off with her head, off with her head.”

 

After much fuss and to-do, the trial finally resumed.

 

“PFC Alice Manning,” said the Queen, who had spent the three years of Alice’s confinement studying the law in preparation for this moment, “you are charged with violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice including Aiding the Enemy. You have also been charged under the Espionage Act. How do you plead?”

 

Please Your Highness,” said Alice, who had spent three years worrying about this moment. She knew the Queen had quite a temper and was likely to blow up at any minute demanding Alice’s decapitation. “I did give some files to the White Rabbit but only so that people could know of crimes committed in secret by the military forces of the United States of Anxiety. I only wanted to-”

 

“Stop right there!” shouted the Queen. “This court does not give a fig about what you wanted to do. We only need to know what you did. You went against orders by giving secret files to the White Rabbit – that’s espionage. And you knew he would make those secrets known to everyone, including the enemy – that’s aiding the enemy.”

 

“But the information I gave to the Rabbit only exposed the crimes and lies of the USA government,” pleaded Alice. “What harm could that do? Shouldn’t people know the truth?”

 

“Now, wait a minute,” objected the King. “Those were secret files. We can’t talk about them. That’s the law.”

 

“Objection sustained,” replied the Queen, grinning smugly. “Disclosing such secrets would violate national security. We’ll have the discussion about the harm caused by your espionage and traitorous acts in closed session. That means it will be just you, me and the King. We’ll have to keep all those secrets just between us, eh?” And with that, she gave the King a sly wink.

 

“But people will never understand why I gave the Rabbit those files!” cried Alice. “How can I defend my actions if we cannot talk about what truly happened?”

 

“Quite,” said the King.

 

“Quite,” said the Queen.

 

So Alice was obliged to make her arguments behind closed doors about how exposing the King’s lies could not have caused any harm. The King and Queen had security experts testify secretly that the King’s secrets were best kept secret, for the good of everyone (most of all the King and Queen). Don’t ask me what those arguments were because if I knew (which I don’t), I couldn’t tell you without facing the same consequences as poor little Alice. What I do know is that the Queen was very much convinced by those who argued that harm was indeed caused. That is why, when the King asked for the verdict, she said that Alice was guilty.

 

Well, more exactly, looking very wise and judicious reading the verdict through her reading spectacles, she said, “Guilty of fourteen counts of various offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and guilty of six counts of espionage. These offenses carry a maximum sentence of 90 years in prison.”

 

The court remained silent as the Queen turned the page. Savouring the suspense, she refrained from reading the last verdict, offering instead the following comment: “As you know PFC Alice Manning, the most serious offense with which you have been charged is aiding the enemy. The maximum sentence on that charge is...”

 

“Death,” said Alice soberly, bracing herself for the Queen’s Off with her head.

 

“Yes, that’s right Alice,” said the Queen with a sly grin. “Death.”

 

“Off with her head!” said the Fox. “Off with her head!” said the Knave. “Off with her head! Off with her head!” chanted the crowd, over and over again.

 

“Silence!” shouted the King. “The verdict?”

 

“On the charge of aiding the enemy, the verdict is... Not guilty!”

 

A gasp wafted through the courtroom as astonished onlookers shook their heads. Murmurs of “90 years is not enough” and “the Queen’s mercy knows no bounds,” could be heard from the crowd.

 

“What’s more,” oozed the Queen, “to show the mercy and humanity of the United States of Anxiety, PFC Alice Manning, you are sentenced to a mere 35 years of confinement, much less than you deserve for your heinous acts.”

 

More gasps of astonishment were heard from the crowd.

 

The Queen continued, “Let the mercy shown today be a message to all other nations who would harbour criminals like the White Rabbit, claiming to be protecting them from so-called arbitrary justice in the USA. We are a nation of laws, truth and justice.”

 

What began as silent murmurs of disbelieve when the Queen first spoke of mercy were steadily growing towards a roar of discontent.

 

“Silence!” shouted the King.

 

“Now take the criminal away!” shouted the Queen, growing an angry purple. “And off with her h-” she stopped short and feigned a cough. “And of with her, um, uh... Yes. Off with her! Off with her now! Take her away to prison where she belongs!”

 

 

David Bernans is a Québec-based writer and translator. He is the author of Collateral Murder. Follow him on twitter @dbernans.

 

 


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bernans (David Bernans)
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