Perhaps no name in recent American History invokes such passionate disdain and hatred from from most Americans than that of Bowe Bergdahl’s.
No matter what your particular political beliefs may be, I believe you can feel the palpable sway of opinion as the Department of Defense recently decided to charge him officially with misconduct before the enemy and desertion.
Fear In War
Unfortunately for Sgt. Bergdahl, his previous attempt at completing the Coast Guard’s basic training ended in failure. Leading him to spend time in a Buddhist monastery, in 2008 he decided again to try his hand at military service, joining the Army and completing basic infantry training.
I can see how that might have worked. After all, I too joined the military at a young age. Although I successfully completed the United States Navy basic training the first time, and subsequent assignment to the Marine Corps as an Hospital Corpsman; I can appreciate the allure of service.. without sacrifice.
Many times, people join the military with the idea that they will just “get college money” and war springs upon them. Such was my case. When I joined in 1988, we were not at war; and war was not on the horizon with anyone except the Russians… and they were having enough problems of their own.
Fear Becomes Real
As Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards rolled tanks into Kuwait, the prospect of war became very real for me. As a medic, my job would be to tend to the wounded Marines, you know… the kind who get shot.
You get shot, in a war zone.
Wait a minute… I just wanted College Money!!
I remember distinctly the day I discovered that I would be going to Saudi Arabia… as part of the Second Marine Division, to face Saddam’s army in the desert.
It was my birthday. I had called my dad, and was nervous, as well as scared. His simple words to me were these…
“A deal’s a deal. You knew this was possible… now you must hold up your end of the deal.”
Strengthened by the words of my father, I knew that the only right thing to do, despite my fears, was to have courage; and meet my mission.
The Damnation of Others
Bowe had a similar choice. However, when he joined, America was embroiled in the Afghanistan War. As an Infantryman in the Army (again, a volunteer position) his job, is to kill people, and break things.
I mean, at the end of the day, isn’t that what you want your Army to do on your behalf? War is a messy business. People die, and the way they do it isn’t neat and tidy as you see on your X-Box.
After seeing the carnage that is the forgotten cost of war, he wrote his father the following email…
As we can see from Bowe’s hand…
“life is way too short to care for the damnation of others…”
Well… That certainly is good to know. As it appears, his father’s advice to “Obey his Conscience” had a very solid influence on young Bowe as he decided to neatly fold his clothes, take his compass, and walk off post into the Afghani night…
The Cost of Cowardice
It is this very self centered, “me-oriented” society that we are creating that perpetuates and masks this cowardice in the guise of self determination.
What words could be said to a person to demonstrate the utter selfishness and foolhardiness of such a plan? Obviously, it is doubtful that his father knew of his son’s plans in advance. However, it is clear that the response to “Obey Your Conscience” had a cost.
There are those who allege that at least 6 other soldiers were killed in subsequent operations to find Sgt. Bergdahl. If that is true, then at minimum, the cost of his cowardice, as well as selfishness was that of 6 other greater men than himself.
No matter your beliefs about the transfer of five Guantanamo Bay prisoners for the freedom of Bowe Bergdahl; at the minimum he is still a soldier. Our responsibilities towards our servicemen come first. We must first recover our own; that way every American Soldier or Sailor knows that they will come home. Then if they have committed a crime; then mete out the punishment.
Redemption Beyond Failure
While Sgt. Bergdahl’s apparent cowardice in the face of the enemy is unconscionable, it is not without precedent. There are other famous deserters including Micah Turner, and Mark Twain. However the primary difference between his was the “intent.”
As he promised, “if this deployment is lame, I’ll just walk to Pakistan.” He tried, but failed to make it. Just like every other goal he had apparently set for himself, if it didn’t meet his criteria of what “meets my needs” then he would just quit.
He failed at the Coast Guard Boot Camp, apparently failed at being a Buddhist Monk (if that’s what his intent was), failed in most every area of life; why? Because of a “me-first” attitude.
These attitudes permeate our society. How many marriages have ended because of our “me first” thoughts? How many times have we put the needs of our fellow American to the side because of what we want first? Our actions have consequences.
It’s not okay to quit. When you make a commitment, you stick to it. A deal, after all… is a deal.
In the course of his malingering, he may have inadvertently caused the deaths of 6 or more of his team-mates to find him. We may never know the true cost of his cowardice.
In the case of Micah Turner, after 4 tours of action in Afghanistan, after hearing of the death of Osama Bid Laden, he openly “went AWOL” and started making speeches. He didn’t hide, or put his unit in danger. He had a problem with why we were there subsequent to the death of the world’s most wanted man.
Socially, now Micah Turner is a anti-war activist, who is trying to persuade others to avoid warfare as a means to effect world policy.
Mark Twain, after leaving the Confederacy, went on to provide literary works that are well known, as well as loved throughout the world.
So the possibility remains that a young Bowe Bergdahl has yet to achieve his full potential.
However, it is highly likely that after a lifetime of being allowed to quit, and not suffer the penalties under the Uniform Code of Military Justice by accepting a plea bargain; once again Bowe Bergdahl will one day walk the streets a free man.
Able to enjoy the freedoms; smelling the fresh air, enjoying the sunshine, while graves of those who answered the call with honor grow cold.
Shame on us if we allow it.
Justice for those who have served honorably and paid the ultimate cost resides on the shoulder of those who desert. This is why in times of war, execution is promised to those who flee from danger in the face of the enemy. It’s a known fact, every serviceman who has ever served knows this to be true.
While I am not smart enough to decide what the ultimate fate of this coward should be… I am smart enough to know that he will forever regret his decision to walk away from his honor, as well as his team. His life is not…. “too short for the care of the damnation of others.” Life is long… especially when you make bad choices.
HIs father can rest in the knowledge that by trying to save his son’s life by giving him advice, he may have caused a series of events that not only ruined his son’s, but all those families who have lost loved ones trying to search for him.
All because of selfishness.