In George Orwell’s “1984” novel, which deals with the rise of an oppressive national security state, a character exclaims: “Always yell with the crowd, that’s what I say. It’s the only way to be safe.” In America, for the safety and intimacy of mob rule, how easy it is to trade in the abilities to reason critically and ask questions about Bowe Bergdahl.
How simplistic it is to also exchange Berghdal’s “due process” for a guilty verdict, accusing him of deserting. But now that political leaders, media pundits, and citizens have yelled he be marched in front of a firing squad or sentenced to life imprisonment, below are thirteen other things you need to know about him and the POW exchange. (1)
1) Berghdahl was home-schooled and internalized ethics, religion and philosophy. He acquired the ability to empathize with others and altruism. He was disheartened to find troops committing war crimes against Afghans, observing an American armored truck running over an Afghan child. He could not understand why Americans did not care.(2)
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2) Like other soldiers in past wars, he was dismayed by the lack of leadership some commanders displayed and a collapse in unit morale. He became disillusioned witnessing the utter poverty and destruction of Afghanistan by a conceited empire, with its disproportionate use of firepower and expensive weaponry.
3) Bergdahl’s unit ostracized him. He did not drink alcohol, play violent video games, nor consume mass media. He read and studied philosophy and history and tried discussing the ethical nature of the war effort and killing. Ostracism, being excluded from the group, is the worst thing that can happen to a soldier.
4) The hellish realities of war affected Bergdahl’s conscience. He felt sorrow for Afghans. Personal responsibility for military operations do not relieve individual soldiers of accountability, respect for law, or customs of war. They should not be able to commit a war crime and evade responsibility by blaming their commander. Otherwise, a double standard, an unfair victor’s justice, is at play.
5) The White House pressured the New York Times and AP to keep Bergdahl’s name out of the media, that is, until the time was right. President Barack Obama was advised that if the prisoner exchange was handled properly it could be a huge win in an election year. Senior officials did no care about Bergdahl’s release but only their political careers.
6) The Pentagon censored any discussion of Bergdahl, making members of his brigade sign nondisclosure agreements and forbidding them to talk. Did the Pentagon believe it was bad publicity or would harm recruiting efforts? Since some units were refusing to go seek and destroy missions, did commanders use Berghdahl as a motivational pawn?
7) Bergdahl was held by the Taliban, former allies of the US. They were called “freedom fighters” when resisting the Soviets. After the Soviets withdrew, they were in need of food, shelter, medicines and other basic necessities. The U.S. abandoned them and their war-torn country. Yet after 9/11, Taliban tribes offered to help arrest Osama bin Laden.
8) Along with censoring history, American spin doctors have obliterated it. They are bent on personalities and selective events at the expense of people and epochs. It is Bergdahl’s turn. The media also amplifies the “now,” eliminating the past. A false perception and new spatial rearrangement has been formed in the minds of uncritical viewers.
9) Captivity is as old as war itself, prisoner releases have been very common. Almost every president in the last one-hundred years made exchanges with what they deemed to be a terrorist organization or belligerent power. When Bergdahl went missing, a prisoner exchange was immediately brokered, but denied by his commanding officer in charge.(2)
10) From Woodrow Wilson and WWI to George W. Bush and Persian Gulf War III, prisoners of war have been swapped during, including with Nazi Germany. Bergdahl is no exception. Once released, many prisoners went back to perform military service. Even President Reagan secretly traded arms for prisoners.
11) By releasing Bergdahl, the Taliban made a gesture of good will. It shows that negotiations can and do work. Bergdahl can also provide much needed “on the ground” intelligence, something the U.S. has been lacking through remote satellites and sensors or biased defectors, as was the case with the operative “curveball” and Iraq.
12) The prisoner exchange has humanized the Taliban. Bergdahl celebrated religious holidays, like Christmas and Easter, and taught his captors how to play badminton.(3) Not all Taliban tribes have been radicalized. Bergdahl and his father learned Pashto, his father hoping to someday negotiate the release of his son.
13) Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo are considered dangerous and terrorists. Although they have been implicated in bombings and killings, they were never tried. They have been kept indefinitely until now. Once released, why will they pose a threat in returning to defend their homeland and territory? What about the causes and effects or legitimacy of the costly US military occupation in Afghanistan?
Cynical and hysterical politicians are greater threats by claiming every American is at risk for exchanging Bergdahl with the five detainees-made out to be the biggest murderers in world history. So too are misguided and needless wars and a perpetual warfare state that kills hundreds-of-thousands while leaving behind millions of refugees.
Terrorism is when political leaders and a tyrannical state lies to its people and manipulates their perceptions and consciences. It is a military apparatus that knows how to only negotiate war and commit atrocities. It is losing credibility by torturing prisoners, holding them captive at secret black sites, and medically experimenting on them.
The Bush Administration launched a destructive war against Afghanistan, including a lengthy military occupation. There are many types of POWs. Included should be POUWs and PPOUWS: Prisoners Of Unjust Wars or soldiers who still have a conscience, and Political Prisoners Of Unjust Wars or those who refuse to yell and howl with the multitudes.
(1) “13 Other Things You Need to Know About POW Bergdahl” is a similar title to Rolling Stone’s “13 Things you Need to Know About Bowe Berghdahl.” See 13-things-you-need-to-know-about-bowe-berg-dahl-rollingstone.com. Posted by yahoonews.com.
(2) www.foxtalk.us. “13 Things You Need to Know About Bowe Bergdahl-RollingStone.com. Posted by Yahoo News on June 2, 2014.
(3) www.reuters.com Afghans say Taliban prisoners freed by U.S. will rejoin battle. By Jessical Donati and Hamai Shalizi.