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One Left Behind Comes Home
Bergdahl Must Be Treated Fairly
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A fighting force is tied together by the bonds of comradeship and loyalty among the individual soldiers. Elite military units have translated this sense of brotherhood into “leave no man behind, living or dead” a concept that is as old as the ancient Greeks and Romans. The Greeks assiduously collected the fallen to give them a proper burial and to sacrifice to the gods on their behalf while the Romans even deducted a portion of their soldiers pay to fund the burials and accompanying feasts to celebrate their fallen comrades. Most European armies of the nineteenth century likewise made it a point of honor to leave no one behind, in a war zone either dead or wounded, a principle that the United States Army and Marine Corps have shared.

Be that as it may, the United States has been all too prone to fight unnecessary wars but assiduous in honoring its soldiers by bringing them all home living or dead with the significant exception of Vietnam, where as many as 1,500 American prisoners might well have been left behind for purely political reasons. President Richard Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger wanted to declare the war over and asserted that all captives had been returned. It was a statement that contradicted what Nixon had said only months before and it should be hoped that the former president is currently toasting in Dante’s ninth level of the Inferno, the final resting place of traitors. Hopefully Kissinger will someday join him there.

Given the unconventional nature of the two most recent wars in Asia, no American soldiers were left behind in Iraq and there was only one long term prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban in June 2009 and became a forgotten man as his time in captivity grew ever longer, but he was finally released in a controversial prisoner exchange last weekend. His story has some unusual aspects, a tale that in some respects reflects the ambiguities of fighting wars where there is no clear national interest coupled with the unfortunate transformation of some in the United States who seek to justify America’s never ending wars by blaming the numerous victims of the conflict. Bergdahl, together with the many other soldiers killed or maimed, is as much a victim of Washington’s destructive global war on terror as the numerous civilians killed by drones or the Taliban and the continued carnage in “liberated” Iraq.

Bowe Bergdahl, an Idaho native, is an unusual young man. By all accounts he was adventurous, sailing from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean while still in his teens, seriously religious, had traveled in Europe, and was so interested in Afghanistan and its people that he read every book he could find on the subject and began learning the local languages. He was a private first class in the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 25th Infantry Division, stationed in a remote area in Afghanistan’s Paktika Province, close to the border with Pakistan. The unit was in a dangerous area, taking regular casualties from improvised explosive devices. It was also notorious for its bad morale and poor leadership at all levels, with many officers and sergeants being disciplined and rotating in and out in a vain attempt to fix the problem.

Bergdahl went missing on June 30th, 2009 and was subsequently the subject of a Taliban video in which he spoke that featured him in uniform and described him as a prisoner of war. The circumstances surrounding his ending up in enemy hands are not completely clear. Fellow soldiers from the 501st mostly believe that Bergdahl just walked away from the small outpost. But the U.S. Army has said only that he was unarmed and outside the base perimeter with three Afghan soldiers when the four men were seized by insurgents probably linked to the Haqqani network, which has been responsible for numerous attacks on both Afghan civilian and NATO soldiers. Bergdahl is believed to be imprisoned just over the Pakistani border and is officially categorized as missing/captured. He has even been promoted based on time-in-grade while a prisoner, which is why he is now a sergeant. In the Taliban video released after his capture, clearly scripted by his captors, an obviously distraught Bergdahl says that he was lagging behind his patrol when he was taken, which is clearly not true. Shortly after Bergdahl’s capture a WikiLeaks report indicated that Marine units in adjacent provinces in Afghanistan began to carry their weapons when going to the base latrines, which are often outside the base security perimeter, suggesting that at least some U.S. soldiers believed that that was how and where he was captured unarmed.

Bergdahl has appeared in five Taliban produced videos, all of which appear to be coerced, and a final video showing his release to US troops. He was visibly nervous in all five videos in captivity, did not move from his seat, and did not look to be in good health. He said in the first one “To my fellow Americans who have loved ones over here, who know what it’s like to miss them, you have the power to make our government bring them home,” a typical line fed to prisoners of war in every conflict since Korea. The video had a number of other inconsistencies typical of a speech being read from a prepared script, including a claim that Bergdahl was helping the Taliban make bombs, which the Pentagon regarded as crude propaganda. Bergdahl also reportedly tried to escape twice, including for ten days in September 2010, only to be recaptured. Trying to escape doesn’t suggest that he joined the Taliban voluntarily.

So Bergdahl might have been captured or he might have just walked away from the war which he had come to despise, a tale somewhat similar to Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam War era bestselling novel “Going After Cacciato,” which describes the odyssey of a soldier who put down his rifle and one day walked off. Emails sent to Bergdahl’s family shortly before he disappeared indicate that he was deeply disillusioned with the war itself and with the U.S. policies in the region. This was not then and is not now uncommon among the soldiers in most wars who are doing the actual fighting since they see close up how the military option to bring “freedom” is a chimera. Bergdahl’s road to Damascus moment reportedly began when he observed his fellow soldiers ridiculing the Afghans, who, not speaking English, were unable to understand how they were being insulted by their “liberators.” The disillusionment culminated in Bergdahl’s watching an Afghan child being crushed to death by an army vehicle.

Possibly due to his alienation from what he was experiencing, the captive Bergdahl was immediately condemned as a deserter by some of the ubiquitous experts that the media uses when it runs out of things to say. One of the most vitriolic attacks on Berghdal was initiated by Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters on FOX. Colonel Peters calls Bergdahl a deserter and expressed his desire that “…the Taliban should do us a favor and execute this soldier…[they] can save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills.” The clip is worth watching as even the Fox news moderator appears shocked by Peters’ over-the-top bile. The truly ironic aspect of Peters’ hardass performance is that his bio suggests that he has never himself been in combat or even close to it. He joined the army after Vietnam was over and served as an intelligence officer for most of his career before retiring. His assessments of Iraq and other zones of conflict for the media have frequently been wrong. Peters considers himself by self-definition a true red blooded patriot and he has also, inter alia, called for the assassination of Julian Assange of WikiLeaks fame because Assange has committed “crimes against humanity.”

Michelle Malkin also predictably chimed in supporting the suggestions of desertion. The trial by media was significant as it poisoned the waters and may have diminished the level of effort that the government put in to try to recover Bergdahl. The Bergdahl family has consistently backed an exchange like that which eventually resulted in Bowe’s freedom, something which the Taliban had proposed soon after Bergdahl was captured.

I do not think that Bergdahl should be whitewashed in any way. If he indeed voluntarily left his unit in a combat zone, he could have placed his comrades at risk and has to face the consequences even if the war he was fighting in is itself morally indefensible. But the United States government, having now honored its commitment to bring Bowe home must now allow him his day in court. The Army has not said he deserted presumably because it is not convinced that he did so. And in all probability the only one who actually knows what happened on that June day in 2009 is Bergdahl himself.

It is fashionable in some circles to regard soldiers as baby killers and to blame them for policies made in Congress and by the White House, but that kind of simplification is one dimensional and does not reflect the complexity of real life decision making. Many Americans have become soldiers in the past twelve years because they have been fed a steady diet of misinformation by the media and believe it is the right and patriotic thing to do. Others join the service because they have no opportunities at home in an economy in which the have-nots continue to increase in number as the haves thrive on the profits of war. For the Washington elite ordinary people are little more than an inconvenient afterthought at best or cannon fodder at worst. I would like to think that Bergdahl should neither be demonized as a possible deserter nor praised as a prisoner of conscience. He should instead be seen as a victim and every effort should be made to treat him fairly now that he is home. In one of his emails to his family Bergdahl reportedly wrote of his disenchantment with the war: “The future is too good to waste on lies.” Indeed. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, Bowe Bergdahl 
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  1. Don Nash says:

    Well said Mr. Giraldi. I found it surprising that Susan Rice felt compelled to comment on Bergdahl’s release.
    The man is released and once upon a time, that was reason enough to celebrate.

  2. Rod1963 says:

    He wasn’t a victim, that implies he had no choice in the matter, he did. He simply could have refused orders and do a stint in Ft. Leavenworth or demand conscientious objector status when he came back stateside. He didn’t, he chose to desert on the battlefield. Pissed off his fellow soldiers who now openly view him as a deserter. In short he did the unforgivable and the truly stupid thing.

    He shouldn’t be romanticized, he’s a self-serving a**hole who put his men at risk who searched for him.

    Reading his history he comes off as a human being who didn’t ever put much thought into what he was doing. Before joining the Army he tried joining the French Foreign Legion and was rejected. The kid wasn’t operating with a full deck. Had he truly wanted to help the Afghans he simply could have joined a humanitarian group doing work over there, not becoming a infantryman.

    The infantry are not social workers, they are trained to kill people and break things.

    That is a very incongruous way of helping.

    I think we will eventually find this guy isn’t some principled man but a man-boy who didn’t know what the hell he really wanted to do, threw a tantrum that had national level implications and pissed off half the country.

  3. Hang an E-3 but let America’s real war criminals, Feith, Perle, Wolfowitz, Cheney, etc., walk. Is this a great country or what?

  4. I agree completely. Obama did the right thing and I’m glad Bergdahl is now safe. He doesn’t deserve to have histrionic and narcissistic pseudo-masculine chicken hawks slander and libel him. He is innocent until proven guilty. The media sees this as just another drama to milk and a scandal that they can harass Obama with. The media sees Hillary Clinton’s teddy bear worth scandalizing instead of her strong desire to be a remote serial killer in chief which they think would be a good thing. It is childish news meant to feed childish people nonsense and most importantly alter their values. I bet there have been many soldiers disillusioned from war. A friend told me about the sour opinions she heard from a few soldiers she had contact with serving in Iraq around 10 years ago. They were furious that they were there and wanted to come home. If Bergdahl was a deserter then he should be punished, especially if his actions lead to the deaths of his fellow Americans.

  5. One element to this is the loopy indoctrination of our young military volunteers into the “Force for Good” mythology. Rather than instill a simple pride in martial service, we lather these kids up with a lot of BS about their service to humanity, the supposed ideals of America, equality, etc. This sets these kids up for a lot of psychological dissidence when they get orders not in line with the full Disneyland perspective.

    Bergdahl comes across as an oddball idealist who as they say, drank all the Cool-aide. He should have been rejected as part of the enlistment process. Barring that, he should have been leveled with before deployment. Afghanistan is a s**thole full of primitives who don’t want to be transformed into Idaho. His job was to follow orders and watch out for his buddies… as the President says, “Full stop.”

  6. Dave37 says:

    He’s innocent until proven guilty? He’s just a messed up kid? Helping the enemy? He’ll probably get a medal from the White House.

  7. eric says:

    The essence of any tribe is fighting together, and deserting or going AWOL is despicable in any and every culture. We shouldn’t extend extraordinary measures to get back soldiers who seem to have deserted, and I think it’s pretty clear he was a typical American idiot slacker; he shouldn’t be assumed innocent to the same standard we apply to criminal cases in the US. I agree this war is stupid, but deserters aren’t helping anyone, just highlighting their narcissism. He should be ignored, and it’s a shame we spent any time or money getting him back.

  8. John says:

    I totally agree Bergdhal should have been brought home to face his accusers and tell his story and receive the appropriate justice from the UCMJ, however as a country based on rules and laws and due to the circumstances surrounding Bergdhal’s past and alleged behavior, the Obama administration should have set the example by following those rules and laws and ensured the Congress was notified with the reasons justifying trading 5 high profile known killers and terrorists for Bergdhal and perceived the effect such action may and did have on our soldiers and citizens. These terrorists have already stated their intentions to return to the Taliban to continue their killing and terrorist activities. That fact alone does not sit well with citizens or soldiers whose families and buddies have lost their lives due to these very terrorists.

    Obviously in retrospect, I would hope that the administration wished they had followed the rules, but it certainly doesn’t appear they will admit that and that will cause this upset to continue until all the facts are known and appropriate actions taken with all parties.

  9. Salty says:

    The President and many members of Congress have committed crimes far in excess of this man whom they have traded for 5 alleged killers. How dare we demand justice for the citizen when the powerful escape just deserts? The presstitutes are sadly no more than tools of the warfare-welfare party and are playing their part. Let’s have the day in court but allow those of us to testify who believe that war crimes were committed by this president and the former, as well as many members of Congress. If guilty, let them hang.

  10. The great irony, of course, is that Bergdahl, whose opinions of the war were correct, is seen as a “traitor” for acting on them, while “those who lied, while millions died” in a replay of atrocities and incomptence, are somehow sitting on the high perch of patriotism.

  11. I suspect there’s a lot more to the Bergdahl saga than what we are being told. When you consider this young man’s strange interest in Afghan culture and language, as well as several self incriminating emails between family members (who all appear to be rather weird individuals) conveniently offered without objection to the MSM, it’s enough to make you wonder if this may not have been all for the purpose of placing an American soldier behind enemy lines. Which due to cultural and language differences would be almost impossible to accomplish in any other way.

    • Replies: @Philip Giraldi
  12. Dante says:

    A minor quibble, Phil. If Nixon is in the 9th circle of hell (and he may well be) he is not toasting, he is freezing. But he does deserve some praise for getting out of Vietnam and getting America over its China syndrome.

  13. @carroll price

    Carroll – I have met with his father and he is not so strange at all. His attire and hair were deliberate concessions made to enable him to travel to Pakistan and deal with the presumed captors without alarming them. He is a man who cares most passionately about his son and actually had the courage to personally put his life on the line in an attempt to free him. I respect him greatly and would like to think that I would have done the same.

  14. I disagree with a lot of you in that I don’t believe that Bergdahl “needs to face justice”. Not until a whole lot more criminals that got us involved in this Afghanistan fiasco face justice first. That includes Bush, Obama, 99% of Congress, all of the militaristic idiots like McCain, all of the neocons, the pimps for the Afghan pipeline and especially anyone involved in hyping that false flag event of 9-11. Just let Bergdahl fade away into trying to cobble together some kind of life. We have bigger fish to fry which I hope we someday do.

  15. The primary concern for all Americans is the safety and security of our military and civilian personnel overseas. Obama, having negotiating with terrorists in the Bergdahl trade, has recklessly endangered their safety and placed a target on each one of their heads. When you factor in Obama’s recent release of 36,000 convicted foreign murders, rapists and other assorted violent criminals from custody, instead of deporting them, one has to wonder if Obama has the slightest interest in the safety of all Americans at home or abroad. For Obama, political gain appears to trump the safety and security of America and it’s citizens. Considering Obama’s track record so far, nothing this man does in the future should shock Americans and the lack of loud demands for his impeachment speaks volumes about the loyalty and character of our representatives in Congress. The November elections cannot come soon enough.

  16. Brian says:

    @Terry Robbins — 36000? WTF are you talking about? And the Taliban are not and never were “terrorists”–that’s al Qaeda, the people they were willing to give up had the Americans been willing.

  17. Friedolin says:

    Rod1963 romanticizes what Henry Kissinger calls, quote:
    “Military men are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.”
    Bergdahl could have committed suicide too like some 20 odd veterans and soldiers do every day.
    He chose not to. 🙁

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