Bowe Bergdahl is back in the news. Donald Trump, modeling the sober analysis we need in a president, delighting his Fox “news” hosts, just called him a “dirty rotten traitor” (See the Idaho Statesman: tinyurl.com/ntvhmnx). Trump also mentioned the six soldiers who died trying to find him, a claim that remains a subject of controversy (See Newsweek: tinyurl.com/ombear5).
When I served in Vietnam, I took care of many acutely wounded GIs, and helped evacuate those needing higher-level treatment. On a routine basis, though, the most common complaint I heard, other than backaches, was, “Doc, I can’t take it any more.” I hadn’t much in the way of help to offer. When I managed to contact the only psychiatrist in theater, comfortably ensconced in combat-free Saigon, connecting after three days of trying, he said he was so swamped he couldn’t deal with anyone unless they were plainly psychotic. So I did what I could. (When I finally encountered a soldier who’d broken completely, and after a reprise of the effort to speak to him, the shrink said, “He sounds insane. Send him home.” Good gig.)
I don’t — and I bet Mr. Trump doesn’t either — know Sgt. Bergdahl’s state of mind when he chose to desert after his friend was blown up. But I’d like to hear people who berate him include in their discussion those who’ve come home so damaged they can’t hold a job, or become homeless, or addicted, turn to crime or, increasingly, suicide.
We call them heroes on their way over, preferring wholeness on return. Taught to see war as a source of pride, to consider it the one begetter of true “patriotism,” we’d rather not acknowledge the ways, physical and mental, in which it rends those who fight when ordered to (and by “those” we mean “not us.”)
Those war-loving Congressional Republicans, let’s remember, have quashed bill after bill aimed at providing jobs and other resources for veterans. A while back, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, hurled what he must consider a most damning epithet at Barack Obama: “He’s an anti-war president.” Golly.
When Dwight Eisenhower warned against the growing military-industrial complex, he left out a couple of tines of the pitchfork: politicians and their network of propagandists. I find it significant that the day after Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, publicized his treasonous letter to Iran, urging war over peace, he reached out to defense contractors (See The Intercept: tinyurl.com/obyqx6z). Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, has flipped on his desire to cut defense spending. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, (whose main policy man is John “Nuke ‘em” Bolton) and Donald Trump are heading to an anti-peace rally (See NBC News: tinyurl.com/ph5gous), because what self-respecting Republican candidate would want to give nuclear treaties a chance? Promising to send more combat troops into the fray, none bothers to explain how ISIS actually threatens us here at home, or how fighting them there reduces that threat, when recent history teaches the opposite.
Yes, Bowe Bergdahl deserted; but I won’t join those gloating over his fate the way Fox “news” and its followers have since he was charged, revived by The Donald’s recent pimping of outrage.
At one point, I’d guess, Bergdahl was an average guy. He wasn’t drafted like I was; he volunteered. I doubt he did so thinking he’d be unable to take it, that he’d find fighting a war so horrifying he’d risk going outside the wire, ending up a prisoner for five years. What he did was dishonorable; but so is the inclination to ignore the factors that brought him to it.
It behooves us all, those of us not making the decisions but electing those who do, to consider if we’re being taught to love war too much by people who have much to gain from decisions that bring riches to corporations like Dick Cheney’s Halliburton, which made $39 billion in profits after he orchestrated the falsified fervor for invading Iraq (See Reader Supported News: tinyurl.com/csy24bd); to consider whether — if Bowe Bergdahl wasn’t up to the job we sent him to do — we all, Donald Trump included, bear some responsibility.
Or, maybe, to not rejoice at his fate, or turn it into criticism of the president who found a way to bring him home. Especially since before he did, the right wing screamers were saying Obama hates the troops because he hadn’t even tried.
Email Sid Schwab at firstname.lastname@example.org.