“I will never leave a fallen comrade” – US Soldier’s Creed
“I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy” – Ranger’s Creed
“I will never leave an Airman behind” – The Airman’s Creed
In the news this week is Robert “Bowe” Bergdahl. Bergdahl was held by the Taliban in Afghanistan for nearly 5 years before he was released as part of a prisoner swap deal. Bergdahl is in the news because on March 25th he was charged with one count of desertion and one count of misbehavior before the enemy.
There are two main controversies in the Bergdahl case.
First, the US spent considerable time, money, and effort in order to “rescue” Bergdahl, who by many accounts, deserted his post in Afghanistan and tried to escape the remainder of his tour. Critics question how much sense it makes to risk US lives in order to go rescue a deserter.
Secondly, the US ultimately agreed to a prisoner swap with the Taliban in order to secure Bergdahl’s release. This is problematic for a few reasons. Legally, it’s unclear that the Obama administration really has the power to do this in the way they did it. Additionally, as a result of this deal, it would appear that the US is perfectly willing to negotiate with terrorists, despite rhetoric to the contrary. Finally, there is a question of whether or not sending back 5 possible terrorists for one deserter is a good enough “deal” for the US to make the exchange worthwhile.
Based on what is known thus far, Bergdahl may have deserted in Afghanistan, but he doesn’t appear to have fled to or comforted the enemy. He appeared in several Taliban videos as a prisoner. He is alleged to have tried escaping Taliban custody on several occasions. He wrote about his displeasure with the US military, but I haven’t come across anything positive he wrote about the Taliban, or about wishing to fight his fellow Americans.
Based on what has been released so far, it seems that Bergdahl became disillusioned with the mission and simply wanted to walk away.
How he ended up as a prisoner of an enemy is still unclear. But it’s clear that’s where he ended up.
The aspiration that soldiers do not leave soldiers behind is not especially recent. It is included in the creed of multiple military organizations. It is useful as a principle to live by and a goal to aspire to, even if circumstances at times frustrate its perfect fulfillment.
It turns out that there is a department of the US government — with an annual budget of over $50 million dollars — dedicated entirely to the task of bringing home the remains of fallen soldiers from past conflicts. I’ve never served, but as an outsider, it seems that our soldiers take their creeds pretty seriously.
Bergdahl may have given up on the Army. And, it is even possible that many in the Army gave up on Bergdahl. After all, I have to imagine that deserters aren’t always seen favorably by their former comrades.
But the reason to bring Bergdahl back isn’t necessarily for Bergdahl – it’s for everyone else. It’s for the ideas of loyalty, duty, service, commitment, and oath that we’ve built our military around.
Standing for the right things means always standing for them, even if sometimes you stand up for a guy that you might want to stay seated for.
I’m a strong proponent of American Exceptionalism. If Bergdahl has done wrong by us, then he should be judged by us. If he should rot in a cell somewhere, it should be our cell, and only because we put him there.
I don’t agree with the people who say he should be shivering in a cave in Afghanistan. We sent him there, it’s on us to bring him back. If it turns out his accommodations as an American war criminal are more comfortable than his accommodations would have been as a Taliban POW, that’s the Taliban’s problem. I don’t mind living in a society that treats our prisoners better than other places treat theirs. That’s part of exceptionalism too.
Keeping your oath is a two way street. If Bergdahl is going to get punished for giving up on his country, his country had better not give up on him.