Why Don't More Soldiers Simply Walk Away?: Understanding Bowe Bergdahl
June 13, 2014
Ted Rall / Information ClearingHouse & Fred Reed / Information ClearingHouse
Commentary: "American news media portrays Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his apparent decision to simply walk away from the war in Afghanistan as bizarre and incomprehensible. I wonder why it doesn't happen all the time." "To protect [Afghans] from communism, we killed millions of them, only incidentally making McDonnell-Douglass rich. Today we spread a swath of destruction across the planet, this time protecting people from Terror by murdering them with drones."
Why Don't More Soldiers Simply Walk Away?
Ted Rall / Information ClearingHouse
(June 9, 2014) -- American news media portrays Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his apparent decision to simply walk away from the war in Afghanistan as bizarre and incomprehensible.
I wonder why it doesn't happen all the time.
From The New York Times:
"Sometime after midnight on June 30, 2009, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl left behind a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life. He slipped off the remote military outpost in Paktika Province on the border with Pakistan and took with him a soft backpack, water, knives, a notebook and writing materials, but left behind his body armor and weapons -- startling, given the hostile environment around his outpost."
There's little doubt. Bergdahl was politicized by what he saw.
"The future is too good to waste on lies," a 2012 Rolling Stone article quotes an email from Bergdahl to his father. "And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be American. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting."
Among other traumas, the then 23-year-old Idaho native witnessed an Afghan child run over by a US Army vehicle. His fellow soldiers, he recalled, didn't seem to care.
The Times paints a portrait of a soldier who was alienated, burned out and possibly a victim of PTSD. "He wouldn't drink beer or eat barbecue and hang out with the other 20-year-olds," the paper quotes Cody Full, a member of Sergeant Bergdahls platoon, in an interview arranged by the Republican Party. "He was always in his bunk. He ordered Rosetta Stone for all the languages there [in Afghanistan], learning Dari and Arabic and Pashto."
Bergdahl's walk-away echoes Tim O'Brien's allegorical 1978 novel Going After Cacciato, in which a US soldier serving in Vietnam goes AWOL, determined to walk all the way to Paris. His buddies go after him. It soon becomes clear that Cacciato's comrades are less interested in catching him than in following his example.
All military forces contend with deserters, and the United States is no exception. "Army desertion rates have fluctuated since the Vietnam War -- when they peaked at 5 percent. In the 1970s they hovered between 1% and 3%, which is up to three out of every 100 soldiers. Those rates plunged in the 1980s and early 1990s to between 2 and 3 out of every 1,000 soldiers," according to NBC News. By 2007, the fourth year of the US occupation of Iraq, the rate was up 80%, to nine out of 1,000.
450,000 US troops deserted during Vietnam.
Few deserters pull a Cacciato, opting out in the combat zone. Instead, while on leave, most just fail to report back.
Given the conditions faced by many US soldiers in war zones, it's surprising that more don't lose it and take off.
Contrary to standard practice among armed forces in the West for hundreds of years, American soldiers are assigned to repeated, long combat tours without sufficient time between missions to recuperate. They are often underequipped and, as was apparently the case in Bergdahl's unit, poorly disciplined and rarely given any context for their operations.
Then there's the nature of the wars themselves.
Since 1945, since they weren't authorized by Congress, every single one of America's wars have been illegal. They've all been wars of aggression -- neither the Koreans nor the Vietnamese nor the Iraqis nor the Afghans posed any threat to the United States. And they've all featured aspects of what historians dubbed "total war" after World War II: combat in which civilian casualties are not regrettable accidents, but strategically considered and intentional.
When soldiers become vets, they're cast out into the streets, where many become homeless.
It doesn't take long for the truth to hit home. All but the stupidest active-duty soldiers realize that they're peasant mercenaries for a cruel and uncaring empire.
Why don't more guys (and women) pull a Bergdahl? The main incentive to remain at their posts has to be the unremitting hostility of the locals -- something Bergdahl no doubt experienced during five long years of captivity.
Ted Rall is staff cartoonist and writer for Pando Daily and the author of the upcoming After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan. http://rall.com/
The Bergdahl Thing: One Vet's Take
Fred Reed / Information ClearingHouse
(June 9, 2014) -- It is so easy to gull the pack, the herd. It just takes a bit of theater. A brass band on the Fourth of July, flags whipping in the wind, young soldiers marching down Main Street, rhythmic thump-thump-thump of boots. There comes that glorious sense of common purpose, the adrenal thrill of collective power, thump-thump-thump. Martial ceremony is heady stuff, appealing to things deep and limbic. When Johnny comes marching home again, hoorah, hurrah. We are all together now, made whole, no petty divisions. The fanged herd.
Always the herd. It is in the genes. The herd. Basketball championship night, in a rural high-school: Bright lights, electrified crowd, cheerleaders twirling, skirts riding high. "Johnny, Johnny, he's our man, if he can't do it, nobody can!" Wild applause. Striplings dash onto the court, swirl into smooth fast lay-ups, cocky, confident. Long jump-shots, swish! Yaayyyy! Common purpose, unity.
For the seniors, next year in Afghanistan. Johnny comes rolling home again, hoorah, hoorah, minus his legs. From this we avert our eyes.
The herd. In a thousand Legion halls across the nation veterans gather on Memorial Day to make patriotic speeches. There are are clichés about the ultimate sacrifice, defending our freedoms, God, duty, and country, our American way of life. Legionnaires are friendly, decent people, well-meaning -- now, anyway.
If there were an earthquake, they would pull the wounded from the rubble until they dropped from fatigue. They are not complex. They listen to the patriotic speeches with a sense of being a band of brothers. And if you told them they were suckers, conned by experts, used, they would erupt in fury, because somewhere inside many have suspected it.
The herd. The pack. Whip'em up. It's for God, for democracy, onward Christian soldiers. We are a light to the world, a shining city on a hill, what all the earth would like to be if only they shared our values. We, knights in armor in a savage land, we fight fascism, Nazis, terror, Islam, it doesn't matter what as we can always find something to fight, some sanctifying evil.
We are very like our enemies. We do not notice this. Carefully we do not notice. Guernica, the Warsaw ghetto, Fallujah, Nanjing, Dresden -- they are all the same. Soldiers are all the same, wars the same.
All are fought on the most irreproachable moral grounds. We fight for peace, for freedom, for Allah, for the Fatherland, the Motherland, for the Homeland, for white Christian motherhood. We do not fight for Lockheed-Martin, or for oil. Oh no. Even the suckers might revolt at dying for low-sulfur crude, or Caspian pipelines.
People are squeamish these days, so we hide the horror of what we do. The public might gag and say, "No. No more." Besides, we do not want to discourage recruiting. In our Fallujahs we do not show the rotting corpses, or footage of the disemboweled as they try to crawl, god knows to where, while they bleed to death.
And we do not show Johnny with his new colostomy bag, or blind, or with three stumps and one partial arm, or paraplegic or, never, ever, the quads, paralyzed below the neck, lying on slabs, turned over from time to time to avoid bed sores. The public does not see -- though I have seen -- the seventeen-year-old sweetheart of the young Marine from Memphis, when she first sees her betrothed irremediably blind with half his face a hideous mass of mangled flesh -- and her obvious thought, oh Jesus, Johnny, oh Johnny, how can I do this? Onward Christian soldiers.
In my day we girded our loins against the Soviet Union, the Evil Empire, that spied on its citizens, tortured people it didn't like, and committed atrocities in Afghanistan, where it had no business being. We loved the Afghans. We wanted to save them from the godless communist invaders.
To protect people from communism, we killed millions of them, only incidentally making McDonnell-Douglass rich. Today we spread a swath of destruction across the planet, this time protecting people from Terror by murdering them with drones.
But let us not think of these things. At all costs we must maintain patriotic unanimity, the idea that Our Boys are selflessly Serving America. Actually they do it because they have no choice. Offer them a chance to come home without penalty and see what happens.
To make them fight we have heavy punishments for desertion, for treason, and for mutiny. Escape comes quickly to the minds of men compelled to die in wars that mean nothing to them in remote countries that mean less. Escape must be prevented. Thus the cries of "Traitor!" and "Commie!" and "Coward!" The pack instinct runs strong, but self-preservation runs stronger. It must be suppressed ruthlessly.
Flags whipping in the wind, thump-thump-thump, brass band, Stars and Stripes Forever, maybe a few F-16s howling overhead to set hearts a'pounding, unity. Politicians will speak of gratitude to Our Boys.
Except of course that there is no unity, and few are grateful. Most of the country isn't interested in the wars. A majority don't know where Afghanistan is. The wealthy, the Ivy students en route to careers in I-banking, and for that matter most college kids have never seen a military base and don't want to. The small-town, lower-middle class South and West -- the suckers grow thickly there. Yale has never heard of Farmville. And doesn't want to, and won't.
There is another reason why veterans rage at any deviation from the tales of nobility and sacrifice. Two choices exist for a man who has been mutilated in the hobbyist wars of Washington's neocon pansies. He can believe desperately that he became a lifelong cripple in a worthy cause. God. Duty. Country. He can believe that he is appreciated. He can hope, or pray, that it was somehow worth it.
Or he can realize that he has been suckered, snookered, conned. This can be hard to bear, very hard. It will get worse when a few years have rolled by and the new generation begins to ask, "Wasn't there some kind of war in Afghanistan or somewhere? Maybe it was Africa."
Men engaged in killing for petroleum can develop a suspicion that what they do is just wrong. Soldiers are trained, conditioned by experts, to do things that the civilized finds abhorrent. If a veteran begins to doubt the justness of the war, then he becomes no more than a hired murderer. This is not pleasant. Thus no one must be permitted to say it. A contagion might result.
God forbid that soldiers begin to think. Independence of mind is dangerous to militaries. Training is chiefly a means of preventing it. Infrequently a soldier has the courage to see that what he is doing is both stupid and immoral, and walk away from it. Bowe Bergdahl did. I say, speaking as a former Marine in Viet Nam, and as a life member of both the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled Veterans of America: You have my admiration, Sergeant Bergdahl.
Fred Reed is a self-described keyboard mercenary with a disorganized past, has worked on staff for Army Times, The Washingtonian, Soldier of Fortune, Federal Computer Week, and The Washington Times. http://www.fredoneverything.net
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