Emoji Major No. 3: A Brief History Of Bradley/Chelsea Manning

This week, emoji master Zoe Mendelson rallies the troops to tell the tale of Mr./Ms. Manning, WikiLeaks to womanhood.


Physically wee 19-year-old computer hacking genius joins the army, becomes disillusioned by the reality he finds in his work as an analyst, facilitates the biggest leak of government documents in U.S. history, causes international scandal, suffers what the UN deems torture, writes a compelling 35-page guilty plea, builds a global army of supporters, narrowly escapes a death sentence, and then announces to the world he wishes to become a woman.


Bradley-now-Chelsea Manning’s announcement last week marks the most recent turn in an already thrilling, no-one-would-buy-it-as-fiction narrative, which, plus or minus, looks something like this:

Naturally, the outsize tale called out for tiny talent in the form of emoji, adding absurdity to absurdity. Though the fact that no military or even military-suggestive emoji exist–will someone please leak some?–meant Manning’s story had to play out among the ranks of only small civilian characters. (Plus, perhaps pointing to a conspiracy theory, perhaps just due to limited casting options, note Bradley is played by the same emoji as Jesse in Emoji Major No. 1: Breaking Bad, Chelsea by the Skyler lady.)

My favorite part of this one was depicting the brutally honest diplomatic cables that Manning released, like a smug U.S. calling China a garbage can:

The Manning-based timeline below corresponds with the slide show above. Quotes from him when the male pronoun was correct come from either his guilty plea or his online chats with Adrian Lamo, the “gray hat” (no emoji for that either) hacker who eventually turned him in.

October 2009: Manning is sent to Iraq, where, as an analyst, he has access to classified documents about the war.


“bradass87: hypothetical question: if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time … say, 8-9 months … and you saw incredible things, awful things … things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC … what would you do?”

“The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that … this type of information should become public.”

November 2009: With an urge to distribute information, Manning makes contact with WikiLeaks, which had just published 570,000 pager messages from 9/11.


“I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan were targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare.”

April 5, 2010: WikiLeaks posts “Collateral Murder,” a video sent by Manning of Iraqi civilians being killed by a U.S. helicopter gunship. The video goes viral.

“The most alarming aspect of the video to me … was the seemingly delightful bloodlust the Aerial Weapons Team seemed to have … For me, this seemed similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.”

May 2010: Manning chats online to hacker Adrian Lamo, admitting that he’s the source of the leaks. Lamo hands his transcripts over to the U.S. Department of Defense and

“(12:46:17 PM) Adrian: how long have you helped WIkiLeaks?


(12:49:09 PM) bradass87: since they released the 9/11 ‘pager messages’

(1:39:03 PM) bradass87: i cant believe what im confessing to you :'(“

May 29, 2010: Manning is arrested in Kuwait and later charged with leaking classified information.


July 2010: WikiLeaks publishes the Afghan and Iraq War Logs and thousands of diplomatic cables, which become an immediate media phenomenon, global scandal, and embarrassment to the U.S. government.

“I believe that [the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs] are two of the most significant documents of our time.”

“I [believed] the cables might be embarrassing. They represented very honest opinions and statements behind the backs of other nations.”

March 11, 2012: Manning’s charges are updated to include ”aiding the enemy,” which warrants the death penalty.

March 12, 2012: The UN says Manning was “subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading torture.”


February 2, 2013: Manning pleads guilty to leaking military information.

“I felt this sense of relief by [WikiLeaks] having [the information]. I felt I had accomplished something that allowed me to have a clear conscience based on what I had seen and what I had read.”

July 30, 2013: Manning is cleared of ”aiding the enemy” but found guilty of espionage. He is sentenced to 35 years in prison.

August 22, 2013: Manning announces she wishes to be Chelsea Manning.

“I am Chelsea Manning. I am female … Given the way I’ve felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.”

About the author

Zoe Mendelson is a mushroom salesperson in Brooklyn, NY. She writes a weekly map column for UntappedCities