Swiftboating Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an opportunity to change the narrative on war


The week just completed marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day (June 6) but the June 4, 2014, USA TODAY someone left in the McDonalds in Wahpeton ND, marks the true nature of “news” this past week. Indeed, the newspaper carried a long article on D-Day on page three; but the front page lead story was: “Bergdahl under new scrutiny”. A safe assumption: anyone who follows “news” knows who “Bergdahl” is, at least as portrayed in the media.

June 1-8 was a busy and sometimes stressful week for me, so I missed many things. But to the best of my knowledge, as of today, Sgt. Bergdahl has not had the opportunity to say a single public word: indeed, he was in captivity in Afghanistan for five years, and was simply an Army man before that, not called on for interviews. Others for whatever reason and with whatever motive can offer their own “truths”, which may or may not be true. Bergdahl has had no such opportunity.

Having been an Army man, serving in an Infantry Company for a year and a half, most of that as Company Clerk, I know far more than most the general lay of the land in this basic level organization of people, usually more or less 100 people. Picture a tiny town where people are gathered together on a common mission, and even need each other, but don’t necessarily like or even know each other. There can be and there are relationship problems. The reality is not “Hogan’s Heroes” or “MASH”. Even in peace-time.

I will not rush to judgement about Bergdahl, his Dad and Mom or anyone else from the fragments of information available.

In my opinion, Bergdahl is being swiftboated much as Presidential candidate John Kerry (now U.S. Secretary of State) was swiftboated in 2004. No one knows (or may ever know) what the “truth” might be, and the rush to judgement is shameful. The soldier is a useful pawn for those who don’t give a damn about him.

I’m reminded of the Jessica Lynch case in the early days of the Iraq War. Lynch, too, was a POW, similarly misused, but early portrayed as almost a female Rambo, singlehandedly taking on the Iraqis. Later it fell to Ms Lynch to personally reveal the truth about her captivity, which was very different than the fictional account that was spun about her exploits. She had been used, without her knowledge. She was just an ordinary GI found in extraordinary circumstances.

There is, as I suggest in the headline of this blog, an opportunity within the circus of speculation about Sgt. Bergdahl, and that is the opportunity to deal with many important questions which have long faced the United States, and which the action of the Prisoner swap has brought to the public eye. Just a few of these questions: (I have tried to phrase all of these questions in the affirmative; I could as easily phrase them in the negative. They should be answered from both perspectives.)

1. We’re hopefully ending America’s longest war, which began in October, 2001, directed at Afghanistan. (It was the bombing of Afghanistan which caused me to become a peace activist, which was, then a very lonely position. 94% of Americans supported that bombing, and a majority felt it would be a long war. Afghan War Oct 2001001)

Every American owns this war, through our action, or inaction.

What are the components of the “balance sheet” of that war? Wins. Losses. We need to talk about that, honestly.

2. The five Guantanamo detainees released in trade for Bergdahl are portrayed as the face of evil. How can we keep them incarcerated without so much as charges against them? How does keeping them imprisoned make them less dangerous?

3. How does keeping Guantanamo open serve our interests?

4. What conceivable good have we done for ourselves by sanctioning torture?

5. Then there’s the great ado about Sgt Bergdahls Dad speaking a sentence or two in Pushto at the White House. What’s wrong with that?

I have my own answers to each of these, for other settings.

Back to Army man Bergdahl: before I began this post, I read an excellent piece in the New Yorker by Charles Pierce, recalling a piece of Ernie Pyle writing from the front in WWII. This was straight talking Ernie Pyle, talking about straight talking GI’s in the midst of battle. (Pyle was one of the first authors I remember reading as a teenager, out there in North Dakota. He was a gripping read.) Pyle writes, here, about arm-chair quarterbacks of War. Take the time….

The conversation we need to have, in my opinion, is whether to revere War or Peace.

No question in my mind as to which will ruin us (War); and which gives us a possibility for a future on this planet (Peace). As a nation we have revered War. Just look at the monuments: are they primarily related to War or to Peace?

Changing a narrative is difficult. It involves personal change, regardless of “side”. Peace is very complicated – consider your basic family unit co-existing together even day-to-day. But is daily War better? What family survives constant War within?

Let’s talk.


My e-mail on June 2 – which I didn’t see till later in the week – included a very interesting “forward” from a friend about “The Fallen 9000” on D-Day.

I tend to check these things out, and looked at the website which turned out to describe a Peace project on a Normandy beach put up on the occasion of Peace Day, September 21 last year. (Peace Day is September 21 each year).

Take a look.