Bowe Bergdahl’s battlefield

June 12, 2014

Rory Fanning, a former U.S. Army Ranger and author of the forthcoming book Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger's Journey Out of the Military and Across America, examines the right wing's furor about whether Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl is a "deserter."

RISKING DEATH and capture, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl allegedly abandoned his post in 2009 and walked out of one of the 411 U.S. military bases then scattered across Afghanistan.

Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and spent five years as a prisoner of war (POW). He was released in a secret deal cut by the White House on May 31, an agreement in which the U.S. freed five Afghan prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

If Bowe Bergdahl left the battlefield because he objected to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, two things must be said: One, he was hardly the only soldier in uniform to oppose the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, and two, he should be described as a hero instead of the many terms of abuse being hurled at him today.

A welcome-home party, to be held for Bergdahl in his hometown in Idaho, had to be cancelled when Bergdahl's parents began receiving death threats in the wake of his release. People writing on the town's Memorial Day Facebook page declared Bergdahl and his father to be "Taliban lovers" who should both be shot.

Bowe Bergdahl
Bowe Bergdahl

The attacks leveled against Bergdahl and his family are being incited by some of Bergdahl's fellow soldiers and a right-wing media in an attempt to pin the death of six U.S. soldiers--who may or may not have been involved in a search for the former POW--on Bergdahl.

"I can't really say I blame Bergdahl to the fullest extent," former Staff Sgt. Justin Gerleve, Bergdahl's squad leader, said. "But if he wouldn't have deserted us, these soldiers very well could have been in a different place at a different time, rather than the place at the time of their death."

Navy Seal Daniel O'Shea, writing for CNN, said of Bergdahl, "If the accusations are true [that Bergdahl abandoned his post], even if he is not tried under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Bergdahl will live with that shame the rest of his life. Bowe Bergdahl still has a long and difficult journey home."

The link between Bergdahl's disappearance and the six dead solders is tenuous at best. But even if the soldiers did die looking for him, the vitriol directed at him and his family would still be horribly misguided. It is the commanders and politicians who ordered Bergdahl and those six soldiers into the senseless and devastating war-without-end in Afghanistan who deserve all the blame.

If trigger-happy politicians and their enabling generals hadn't embarked on an illegitimate war, all of the many thousands of dead and wounded wouldn't have been where they were at the times of their deaths.

IF BERGDAHL did indeed walk off the battlefield as a matter of conscience, he did what thousands of soldiers no doubt dreamed of doing.

This particular battlefield cost U.S. taxpayers $557 billion between 2001 and 2011, of which only 5.6 percent went to development or governance, according to No Good Men Among the Living by investigative journalist Anand Gopal.

This particular battlefield has destroyed tens of thousand of lives in one of the poorest countries in the world--a battlefield where the Taliban had surrendered just months after the initial invasion in 2001, only to be reanimated by bloodthirsty U.S. politicians who deemed their enemy's surrender insufficient. They wanted to get their war on, so they were going to get their war on.

If Bergdahl left the battlefield to pursue his conscience, al-Qaeda's decision to abandon it years before he arrived must have played a role in his choice. Following the initial invasion in 2001, al-Qaeda had fled to Pakistan. If Bergdahl fled the battlefield, it was the battlefield on which the U.S. was backing the very same warlords responsible for thousands of rapes and murders of Afghans during the '90s, according to Gopal.

What we do know is that Bergdahl, home-schooled by his parents who stressed ethics and a Calvinist sense of discipline, had grave doubts about the war he had become entangled in. A few months before he allegedly left his post, he sent an e-mail to his parents describing his own role in the U.S. mission in Afghanistan:

The future is too good to waste on lies. And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas, and I am ashamed to even be American...In the U.S. Army you are cut down for being honest...but if you are a conceited brown-nosing shit bag, you will be allowed to do whatever you want, and you will be handed your higher rank...The system is wrong.

Bergdahl likely came to realize that he was little more than a pawn in territorial disputes among warlords--warlords who wanted unfettered access to the endless sums of cash that oozed from the American generals and majors looking to buy their allegiances.

Those Afghans who questioned the corruption of U.S.-backed warlords were labeled Taliban, and even being accused of being Taliban was sufficient to subject innocent people to deportation to Guantanamo or death by U.S. forces.

It takes courage and a little bit of outside reading--Gopal's book is essential--to sift through the war propaganda being directed at Bergdahl. It wouldn't make sense to call a doctor who correctly diagnoses a patient with cancer "anti-patient." Or "pro-cancer." Likewise, it doesn't make sense to label a soldier who calls out the cancer of the U.S. military-industrial complex currently eating away at the world a "traitor." Or a "deserter."

All of those who refuse to serve in U.S. wars of conquest deserve support for showing the courage necessary to stand up against the entire military machine. If Bergdahl is one of them, he deserves our support, too.

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