Why the ongoing war in Afghanistan is the main issue here, not Bergdhal's capture or release.

Bowe BergdahlThe bizarre reactions to Bowe Bergdahl are growing rather annoying. We have seen two reactions, one of which has been generated by pure politics. Honestly, I will admit, I have my issues with the prisoner exchange as well, but, my angle is a little bit different than what we have been hearing in the conservative media.

For those not familiar with the case, Bowe Bergdahl was taken prisoner in 2009 by an Al Qaeda affiliate after leaving his post in Afghanistan. The Obama Administration claimed it was concerned about his health, and decided to accept a deal offered by the Taliban that exchanged Bowe Bergdahl for five high level Taliban prisoners that were being held at Guantanamo. The deal’s reaction has been anything but sane.

At first, everyone left-right-and-center praised the deal and welcomed Bergdahl home warmly. Then, literally within the day, a 180 degree flip. The Republican Party and conservatives obviously decided to turn Bergdhal’s release into a political issue.

Fellow Quiet Mike columnist Wendy Cooper wrote a piece on the insanity of the right’s reaction to the Bergdahl deal, in which she outlined the details of just how stupid this whole fake controversy is. Therefore, I will instead voice what I perceive to be the real issues with the Bowe Bergdahl exchange, and not cling to political attack lines for self-generated gain.

For one, let me just say that I really don’t like the idea of “prisoner” exchanges in war, at least not in a sympathetic sense. I understand the complexity of war, and that these things will take place and sometimes can be necessary. However, I know this will be controversial to many, I generally do not sympathize with idea of rescuing prisoners of war, or at least in the context of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Every war is different from each other, so obviously issues like prisoner exchanges depend upon the nature of the conflict. Wars like Vietnam, for example, were comprised mainly of draftees. Those Americans were forced to go and fight, so therefore perhaps I would garner a level of sympathy for a man who is forced to fight. Though, Afghanistan and Iraq are very different wars.

Bowe BergdahlAs cold and cynical as it sounds, men like Bowe Bergdahl volunteered to serve in the military. I understand that people make very valid arguments about economic conditions in relation to people who join military service. Though, in the end, it is the individual’s choice of whether or not to sign up and wear the uniform.

It is tragic that men have to volunteer themselves to fight and die for a cause that they cannot relate to, for a country that does not trust them. Yet, when these men are taken prisoner in this foreign land, for a war their leaders continue to wage, then honestly it is hard for me to feel completely sorry for them.

The War in Afghanistan, though beginning with initially good intentions, has evolved into another war for American Empire. While I would never desire to see men like Bowe Bergdahl get killed or taken prisoner, I also desire them not to be deployed in these foreign adventures in the first place. I understand war is a bloody mess. Maybe that’s why we shouldn’t start wars in the first place, and think about what we are doing before we do it.

Yes, I too am also concerned about the people that were traded for Bowe Bergdahl. It’s not because I think Bergdahl was a bad deal or anything like that. People are concerned that we are releasing people who have clear intention to continue the fight. To me, it only signals ever further that our military operations in Afghanistan are not ending any time soon. Now I understand the complexity of the matter, and realize a good argument can be made as to why Obama didn’t have a choice here. All I will say is, it is awfully convenient that high level detainess are being released on a deal, while men who have been declared innocent are still rotting in GITMO.

It reminds me of this anecdotal story I was told by a Vietnam Vet. Granted this is entirely his story, and he gave me no specific area where this occurred and a date. The vet described an event where he and his entire company had set up an ambush point near a river for a unit of North Vietnamese soldiers that were set to pass through. After everything was set up and everyone was ready, command HQ radioed in and ordered the ambush be halted. All troops were ordered to remain in place, and essentially watched as the enemy army just passed by right in front of them.

I asked him what he thought it was all about. He believed that it was to keep the war going. He explained that Vietnam (much like Afghanistan) was a war of attrition. The object was to dwindle down enemy manpower, knowing they could not replenish their forces the way we could. As he described the matter, “If there’s no enemy left to fight the war, how do you keep the war going?”

There is a clear difference between five prisoners and an entire regiment of enemy troops, yet the concept to still similar. We can’t continue to fight the wars and keep troops in the respective regions if there is no more enemy to fight. Military contractors have to get paid, and there’s no money to be made in peace.

Granted, this entire affair is being said through my personal lens. There are probably many things about this issue I don’t know, and I can’t pretend to know them. I can’t claim I know the Obama Administration’s true intention in the matter. I have my ideas, but these are by no means the facts of the matter. These are just observations I note, and they tend to look awfully convenient to the overall trends.

The Bowe Bergdahl issue is more than just a political hatchet job. While Republicans and conservatives ramble on about bad deals and such, the American people miss the greater issues at hand. The great problem is there will be more Bowe Bergdahls unless we do something to end these wars once and for all. Bowe Bergdahl is not necessarily a victim, but he also isn’t a deserter and a traitor as has been implied. Ending the war will end these tragedies. Only then should we bring him home.


  1. While I appreciate your piece as a starting point from which one could launch into a conversation about the meaning/ethics/motivations of the twin wars of Iraq/Afghanistan and, for that matter, virtually every United States military operation since WWII (and, any number of them prior to WWI; cf. Mexican-American War), it is just a starting point. And, even as a starting point, I would appreciate more clarity as to the direction of your thought—I got a little lost, though that would not be new for me.

    I do disagree with your notion that United States military operations in Afghanistan are not winding down. The president has been clear that only a security force will be left in place following the end of the year and I have no good reason to doubt his word—I think no one on the planet will be more relieved per our exit from Afghanistan than the present occupant of the Oval Office. The size of the security force will render it incapable of any meaningful military mission.

    And, while some may find conspiracies abounding in this transaction, I find nothing more than the usual “amenities” observed as wars such as these come to a close.

    I also strongly disagree with drawing distinctions between those who were drafted—per Vietnam—and those who enlist. I was a college student during Vietnam—and my lottery number saved me, so to speak—and had any number of friends who were either drafted out of high school or as soon as they received their college degree. They had a choice as to whether to go or not go—and they every one knew what “going” meant. Yet, they went. And, they fought honorably and with distinction. I cannot imagine any one of them ever thinking that he might be more “deserving” of being part of a prisoner exchange than his buddy who enlisted. I quite simply don’t think that was part of their mentality or part of the equation—and it shouldn’t have been.

    I approach the issue of prisoner exchanges during wartime from perhaps a different place than you.

    Both my father and then the man who would become my stepfather after my dad’s far-too-early death served in WWII and Korea.

    My dad enlisted for WWII and was then called back up for Korea—I celebrated my first birthday and my middle-brother was born during the year he was in Korea (clearly he and my mom had a mighty fine going-away party). He lost the use of his left eye during combat in Korea.

    My stepfather was a career Marine officer who knew the misery of combat in the south Pacific during WWII as well as combat in Korea and then, at the end of his career, in Vietnam. He was a POW in southeast Asia for two long years.

    They have both, of course, gone on to whatever reward—even if it be just rest and peace—awaits us in eternity. But both belong in the long pantheon of American heroes—truly, the Greatest Generation—who did their duty, paid the price that duty demands, saluted a last time and went on to build successful careers apart from the military.

    From that place, I can assure you that I have absolutely no problem with “prisoner exchanges during wartime.” My stepfather was part of a “prisoner exchange during wartime” and, quite frankly, I didn’t give a tinker’s damn who was “given up” in exchange for him and his fellows. What I knew was that he was no longer being kept in a bamboo cage half-sunk in a muddy river somewhere in the wilds of Vietnam, hoping to catch a rat so he could eat and slowly but surely training his mind to accept what he considered as fact that he would never see home again.

    But, as to your starting point for a conversation about American military adventurism:

    Eisenhower’s prescience about the military/industrial complex has been proven over and over. But, electing bought-and-sold politicians who know how to tap into the American public’s grandiose vision that conflates imperialism with “exporting freedom” has cost us our collective memory. Hence, since Eisenhower, we have simply made the same mistakes over-and-over again. And, the price has been treasonably high—both for our country and for the countries to whom we were, uh, “exporting freedom.”

    It is heinous to me that the enmity of Americans is pouring down on this kid from Idaho and, for God’s sake, his parents, when those truly deserving of both our enmity and a long trip through the American justice system are, on this Sunday afternoon, fly-fishing in Wyoming or painting in Texas or playing golf at Pebble Beach or enjoying whatever reward—even if it be just rest and peace—awaits us in eternity.


    • I think we agree on the general issue of Bergdahl. It is indeed very atrocious that he is being demonized in such a way, and in no way do I endorse any harsh treatment of him. To me, as QM columnist Wendy Cooper pointed out well, what the right is doing is just absolutely insane. To that end, I have no issue with the fact that Bergdahl joined the military. I’m not the kind that believes that military men are uneducated, and yes your perspective on the matter will very well be different from mine based on different experiences. I am purely a civilian, and can never pretend to understand the military way of life. Nor do I necessarily cast judgement on it.

      Having said that, my general critique is this. We are putting our soldiers in situations in other countries for wars that have nothing to do with advancing freedom. Bergdahl was captured in someone else’s country, for a war that has long since lost critical meaning. More men will die, and I disagree with your assertion that somehow we are “leaving” Afghanistan. We are not pulling out completely, like the Soviets in the 1980s. We will still maintain a certain number of “non-combat” troops, whatever that means. And keep in mind, the drone program. Afghanistan will remain a war zone for sometime to come. The military-industrial complex stretches far, and no single president or congress will tame the overarching military-corporate oligarchy that dominates our politics. Sure we won’t maintain tens of thousands of troops, but we will still have a military presence and this will not disappear, short of our complete economic collapse (which I am not implying will happen).

      Eisenhower was good to say what he did, no other president has been as brave to call out one of our greatest problems. The problem is that this complex is so entrenched that I can’t foresee any president overcoming its power.

      We are supposed to always “support the troops”, which to me is essentially a back door to supporting our military adventurism. If guys like Bergdahl are put in danger by our government continuously in foreign wars that cost more than gain, then I can’t really be too sympathetic if a soldier gets captured. I understand it is not his decision ultimately, and perhaps in that sense I am being cynical and rather cold. I am just tired of listening to the okie doke about the troops over and over again. I’ve seen how the wars have affected former soldiers.

      A friend of mine in Jacksonville Florida had PTSD, which caused him to violently freak out anytime a random pop, whistle, or bang went off. The trauma war inflicts upon these men is gut wrenching, and it kills me to know that these men suffer like that for a war that has not benefited their country at all. It truly makes me sick. Yet, at the same time, these men are volunteers. They have a right not to join, knowing where they might end up. If they consciously choose to join up, knowing they might be sent to a foreign war while part of essentially an occupying force, then I have to question the rationale of the men joining. Several factors apply, I know. Yet, in my view, there is a difference between someone who willingly signs up to fight and someone who is being forced to sign up.

      Vietnam, as I’m sure you know, was a very different animal than Iraq or Afghanistan. Even Korea and WW II. These wars had mainly draft armies, which means there were pools and pools of men who did not want to fight, yet were legally compelled to. You either joined, went to jail or fled the country. Forcing men to fight an unjust war is much more morally damaging than an all-volunteer army fighting an unjust war. From my view, forcing someone to fight is not morally equivalent to having volunteers go and fight. I would feel more sorry for the men who were taken prisoner, who were forced to fight, than men who volunteered. That is just my perspective. As I said, my perspective is not the fact of the matter. There are many things about these situations that I don’t know, and will not pretend to know. All I can do is offer a perspective on what I pay attention to.

      Honestly, I don’t feel we are in a major disagreement on this. More or less this just comes down to perspective based on life experience. I am a civilian, with no intention on serving. Your experience is different Rusty, so therefore you will have a different take. I am not bothered by this, and understand that in no way do I think military service is bad. I just wish service would be conducted to actually protecting our country, rather than spread the fires of empire building.

      We are both smart enough to know the right-wing is full of it on this issue. I would just like American society to have an honest talk about our militaristic adventurism and how deeply it is harming the nation.

      • I couldn’t agree more about the right-wing being “full of it” on this issue and, quite honestly, most others. Part of the problem—and the root of its venal hypocrisy on so many matters—is that the real issue for the American Right is the fact that Barack Obama is president (and what makes it worse for them is that he won that second term). The issue is secondary to their inexplicable hatred of this man—a self-defeating hatred whose flames have been fanned by the Big Money/Big Energy sycophants of the Republican leadership.

        I wish I could live long enough to read history’s take on the American Right-Wing during the presidency of Barack Obama. I won’t, but I still wish I could. I wonder the degree to which history will find that the vestiges of American racism were given new life by the Republican spin-machine in its effort to delegitimize the president’s two terms and somehow re-take national power. I don’t have the critical distance necessary to judge that with any certainty. But history will.

        I don’t think the American public can, at the moment, have an honest discussion about anything. And America’s military adventurism is not available to thoughtful reflection on the part of most, given its appeal to the reflexive, visceral dimensions of so many. But, like you, I wish we could.

        One would have thought that an almost apocalyptic event such as 9/11 would have united us as a country and a people. Looking back, I realize the way in which Cheney/Bush used it as a tool for division and power through the glorification of the very things that most deeply harm us.

        Were I not a basically gracious person, I would wish that eternity afforded them and their cohorts not rest and peace but bad cases of PDTS—Post-Death Trauma Syndrome. Alas…

        • Just heard that the inflammatory insanity from the Right is causing Bergdahl’s parents to receive death threats.

  2. Whether a service member is a volunteer or draftee makes no difference you do not leave them in captivity and longer than necessary. The Taliban are cut from the same cloth as those who held and slit the throat of Richard Pearl. No human being needs to be subjected to that. I also find it unfortunate that people place less value on the life of our service people than the life of another. When a journalist becomes a casualty it makes headlines, while the loss of a service member is lucky to be mentioned in a footnote. Visit Arlington or Normandy. Walk along side the Vietnam Memorial and you will find no indications on the wall or any of the headstones in the cemeteries who was a draftee or a volunteer.

  3. The Obama administration isn’t stupid…there definitely is something else going on here. My curiosity is what does Bowe know? Furthermore, what was going on in his platoon and the leadership?

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