From saving private Ryan to saving sergeant Bergdahl…

June 8, 2014

In commemoration of D-Day there was that movie a few years ago called “Saving Private Ryan”. But the best we could come up with in this day and age, just having marked the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, is “Saving Sergeant Bergdahl”. He being the runaway PFC in the Afghanistan war who was for no apparent reason promoted to sergeant while in captivity.

Details of his desertion or whatever it might be called still seem to be murky. And while some accounts paint him as a soldier who preferred not to fight others say he was quite enthusiastic, although he may have preferred the idea of helping civilians in Peace Corps fashion. There just seems to be differing accounts. There still is no one version of how he escaped his duty station or what his intentions were, although it seems to be established he did leave his post in an unauthorized fashion. He was captured by the Taliban enemy. And now he has reportedly told medical personnel in Germany that he was tortured while in captivity. That has not been confirmed but one would expect that. One wonders what he could have been thinking. If he did not like the conditions in his outpost did he really think he could find better outside walking (running) through the desert where is would surely be captured by an enemy known for lopping people’s heads off?

But I don’t want to come off highly critical of Bergdahl. I know what it is like to be a confused young man. It just does not seem we can paint him as some type of model soldier (as had been attempted). I don’t know maybe he was on some kind of covert special mission (not likely).

And back to the heroes of D-Day. It’s not like in the movies (well the standard patriotic ones), even in our so-called successful and more favored wars, even in those there were deserters or those who shirked their duties. Pity poor private Eddie Slovik in World War II. He deserted his unit in Europe as thousands of others had done (he having decided facing enemy fire was not for him), or got separated and did not bother to go find it. But Gen. Eisenhower made the final decision that an example had to be made. Things were getting out of hand. So he was executed. The poor guy thought he would just be court martialed and get credit for time already served in the stockade and then go home. I read one book that said that Gen. George Washington during our Revolutionary War at least one point had to ride among his troops waving his sword threatening to execute them if they fled the field of battle.

No one can know what he or she might do faced with the prospect of flying bullets and shells and improvised explosives until, well, faced with that. It’s probably situational — I mean if one is in a no-choice (nowhere else to go) situation, then he or she is more likely to look brave. And then of course there are the brave or fearless.

War is hell for those actually under direct fire and no one should have to endure it, and yet no one has figured out a way to prevent it. Simply refusing to take part does not necessarily work. The forces of evil are glad for you to stand down. They want to take over.

But that does not mean we always have to fight in every situation. There has to be some direct interest. It also has to be practical.

I heard a good quote on a radio program earlier today. It was something about various humanitarian organizations wanting to help the distressed people of Syria in the ongoing internal strife there (to include the possibility of inserting troops). How do you help people without doing more harm than good? That was not the direct quote but the essence of it I think.  In that case it is hard to tell who the good and bad guys are. Although Assad is a tyrant and responsible for ordering gas attacks on his own people, the so-called rebel movement is infiltrated with Islamic terrorists while is said that Assad actually supports a more pluralistic society (well someone said that).

We had an advantage in World War II in that there was a clear line of demarcation between good and evil. The German Nazis clearly represented evil. The allies represented freedom.

(And I am not forgetting the other front against the military-led government of Japan.)

The United States came out as the leader of the free world in that war.

But the nature of war has changed and indeed the world has changed.

Something that has not changed, though, is the constant human struggle for land and resources and power over others, really the cause behind all wars.

P.s.

Read that Sergeant Bergdahl’s father has received death threats. Those threats no doubt are coming from the misguided or the just plain mentally deranged. Nothing they (father and son) may have done can be worse than the actions of those who make such threats.


Since when do deserters get promoted to sergeant for their efforts?

June 4, 2014

There are a lot of unknowns about the soldier Bowe Bergdahl story. Was he a deserter? Did he willingly leave his post in Afghanistan? Actually the answers to those questions appear to be yes according to all the stories I have read and heard so far, although there is usually some qualification. But he was a PFC when captured by the Taliban. He was held for five years until being released the other day in a surprise and perplexing move by President Barack Obama trading five high-level Taliban fighters we (the U.S.) held for the release of Bergdahl.

In the meantime he somehow magically became a sergeant.

I realize that Bergdahl may not be sinister. He was likely or is likely a confused young man. And a disillusioned young man when he saw first-hand what was going on in the Afghanistan War. He reportedly wrote emails expressing dismay and revulsion at the way U.S. soldiers treated Afghan people (we are not supposed to be at war with them, but rather the Taliban and Al Qaeda). He also referred to fellow soldiers who went along with the program as “fools”, I think I am correct in saying.

(And whatever Bergdhal witnessed was one man’s perspective in a certain time and place and not the broad view. War is ugly and there is not always a clear right and wrong like in those traditional war movies many of us have watched.)

There seems to be some question as to whether he was captured while performing his duties or whether he wandered away (ran away) from his post and then was grabbed by the enemy. But from the way everyone qualifies everything, it seems they are only being polite or defensive, with the understood meaning being that, well he deserted. I don’t know.

But I find it curious and even insulting that while he was held prisoner he was promoted from PFC to sergeant. It’s bad enough they promoted him, let alone skipped a rank. There is an intermediate rank between private first class and sergeant. I’m not sure whether this promotion in absentia in a situation as this has been done before. But if there is a question as to whether Bergdahl was a deserter or away without leave or not at his post or whatever, what is this promotion all about? How insulting to those who work for it and show actual leadership capability. And how insulting to we taxpayers. Oh, and how insulting to other POWs with no question as to their loyalty.

There almost has to be something more to this story. But even so, it is doubtful anything can make it right. If I understand it correctly, the Obama administration wanted to hand off the Taliban prisoners even before the Bergdahl swap was suggested. I don’t know what that is all about. Have to do more reading. From something I heard the president say, it appears he thinks former Taliban fighters might become part of the “peace process”. So this was a goodwill gesture and a chance to reunite a captured American soldier with his family.

Well regardless of Bergdahl’s actions I am happy for him and his family. I mean if he did wrong, maybe he can be forgiven. And I hate to see any families suffer the anguish.

But if he did wrong he is going to have a hard time living with the fact that some American soldiers reportedly lost their lives and other troops were occupied looking for him, shortly after his capture (escape).

And how the president thought that making such fanfare over this swap would be a good idea, I cannot imagine.

Swapping those who want to kill Americans for someone who deserted? I don’t get it.

p.s.

And if in fact Bergdahl did act honorably (even if the published emails or quotes from them are true) I don’t know why the administration and the military and his family would not proclaim this. Well, actually Susan Rice did — but her job seems to be taking flak.