Chelsea Manning was born on December 17, 1987 in Crescent, Oklahoma in the south central United States. Her parents named her Bradley Edward, and she was known by those given names until the time of her trial and imprisonment in 2013.
Chelsea’s father, Brian, was born in 1955, in Chicago, in the north central United States. In 1972, at the age of seventeen, he left home and two years later he enlisted in the navy. He was trained as an intelligence analyst and stationed at an American air force base near Haverfordwest, in the UK. There, he met Sue Fox who had grown up in the town. Sue and Brian got married and, in December, 1976, their daughter Casey was born.
Brian left the navy in 1979 and returned to the US with Sue and Casey. The family went to live in California and Brian enrolled in computer science at a community college. When he had finished the program he got a well-paying job in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, doing computer work for Hertz, an international car rental company.
Sue and Casey bought a two-story house on the outskirts of Crescent, a small city about forty-five kilometers north of Oklahoma City. Chelsea had her own bedroom. The house sat on more than two hectares of land, and the Mannings had a “hobby farm” with two horses, a cow, and some pigs and chickens.(2, 5)
Brian commuted to work in Oklahoma city everyday. His job required him to travel regularly and sometimes he was away from home for more than a month. Sue didn’t drive and the nearest neighbour was almost half a kilometer away. For several years, she worked hard, taking care of the animals and a large garden. But as time passed, perhaps because she felt lonely and isolated, she began drinking. By the time she became pregnant with Chelsea, in 1987, she was an alcoholic. When she learned she was pregnant, she cut down on her drinking but she didn’t stop. And as soon as Chelsea was born, she began drinking heavily again. Years later, testifying at Chelsea’s trial, Casey spoke of how, at the age of eleven, she had had to look after the baby. She mentioned how, when Chelsea, cried at night she had to bring her milk, because Sue did not wake up.(3)
Despite her father’s long absences and her mother’s alcoholism, Chelsea seems to have been happy as a child. That, at least, was what Casey said at the trial — and she mentioned, to illustrate her point, how fond Chelsea had been of playing with her toy trucks. But even when she was very young, Chelsea developed interests that went far beyond normal children’s pastimes.
Brian and Chelsea do not seem to have had a close, affectionate relationship. But she did inherit from her father a wide range of intellectual and technical abilities — along with the desire to develop them. And Brian does seem to have been a good teacher — and generous with his time when he was at home. By the time Chelsea was three, she could read, and by the time she was four she was able to do multiplication and long division. By the time she reached eight, she had learnt to write computer programs in the C++ computer language. And, at ten, she designed her first website.(1, 2)
Chelsea’s parents apparently did not appreciate her academic achievements. They did not even attend parent-teacher conferences. But her precocity was certainly recognized by the Crescent school system. For three years in a row, she won first prize at the Crescent “science fair.” Later, she became the first student from Crescent to win a state-wide science competition. (When she accepted her trophy in Oklahoma City, neither of her parents was in the audience.) (2)
Scientific intelligence and energy are commonly characteristics of people with independent minds — people who want to think for themselves instead of just accepting the opinions of others. Two of Chelsea’s former teachers who were interviewed after her arrest confirmed that she was just that sort of person. One said:
You would say something and he would have an opinion which was a little unusual for a middle school kid. This young man actually kind of thought on his own.(2)
And another teacher said:
Well Bradley, little munchkin that he is, would stand up for what he believes.(2)
Chelsea’s curiosity and intellectual independence were not limited to technical and scientific matters. She also developed a precocious interest in politics and ideology. According to her closest friend in Crescent, Jordan, Chelsea was well informed on American foreign policy. She strongly supported, for example, the idea that the US should be working to stop the spread of communism even if, in order to do this, they had to support dictators. She was also, at this time, definitely pro-business and pro-capitalist. Jordan told reporters who interviewed him how he and Chelsea amused themselves for months creating and managing imaginary companies making huge amounts of money in the Middle-East.
But Chelsea was never “neo-conservative.” In other words, she was not anti-gay, or anti-abortion or in favor or religious influence on education even though such views are often held by the same people who support the expansion of US power overseas.