No one likes the idea of a soldier failing to do his duty. We imbue soldiers with an aura of respectability and integrity that is straight out of a WWII Hollywood propaganda film. We overlook their foibles and failures until they are lain at our doorstep and then we wonder how someone like that could be in the military. The uncomfortable truth often leaves us to simply ignore them once their duty is done, as if they will magically fade back into the soil on which so many bled and died.
I don't know what to make of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, but I do know this: he did something I was unable to do, myself, in joining the Army and fighting in Afghanistan. Whatever personal flaws or failings he showed, he was there, he fought, and wrestled with what he was being asked to do, just as we wrestled with the war as it dragged on and on and on. His was a more personal interest than ours, for he stood in the teeth of the gale, and he saw the ruin it brought. We could only look from afar, knowing it all to be ill-conceived, but seemingly powerless to stop it.
The fact is, most of those now agitating for his head have not now, nor have ever had, the courage of their convictions enough to enlist to defend their home. They flail about, spouting the terms "duty" and "honor" like they are intimately familiar with them, when, in fact, they scarcely throw a glance in their direction at any time. They are willing to pound the pulpit to defend Constitutional rights, but cannot spare the time or their offspring when the hard, warm work of defending them is called for.
And the one chord I don't hear? If his compatriots were worried that he was a little "off," if they thought he might endanger the unit, why didn't they raise the issue with their CO? If they did, why didn't the CO take the concerns seriously enough to order Bergdahl out of the combat zone? If there's someone in your unit you don't fully trust, then why are they there? Maybe he wasn't cut out for combat duty. Maybe he was suffering the slow onset of PTSD. In any event, the road goes both ways, and if he failed his unit by his actions, they failed him by their inaction. But let us not pass judgment until all the facts are known, not just those spouted into a microphone.
Ultimately, that is what this is all about: conjecture and the need of some in our nation to be right. Not right in terms of factual accuracy, but in having their view validated as being the only true one. They see Bergdahl as they want to see him from moment-to-moment; before his release, they agitated just as strongly for that release as they do now to have him hanged. In fact, embarrassingly, many are having to try and cover up the tracks of their advocacy for his release, as if the hypocrisy were so easily erased in an age where, once something hits the Internet, it never goes away. Five years of vehement calls for action on Sgt. Bergdahl's behalf cannot now mysteriously vanish from time or consciousness. The hypocrisy is written and it is done.
The story of Bowe Bergdahl brings us face-to-face with the reality that now surrounds us - a vocal, energized minority in this nation wish nothing more than drag America back against the current of time to an era where things were black-and-white, where ignorant surety trumped change, where many set their heels in the face of change and pulled hard on the reins, hoping desperately to retard our progress as a nation. Their numbers continue to diminish over time, but we allow their voices to drown out those of us of more reasonable nature. We cede the field to them, allow them to impugn and denigrate everyone from our President and First Lady down to the poorest Americans, scooping up so many in between.
We stain a nation by leaving this whirlwind of inchoate rage to tear through the heart of it. We are a better people than these few who spew venom and bluster, whose words and precepts damn them as narrow-minded, foolish, and clownish. America, which prides itself on its place in the world, should not be allowed to devolve into the mire of ignorance because a fraction of us cannot tolerate change. This moment, and how we choose to deal with a single American soldier, may very well mark a page in a history book, where either it is written that we cast off the past and embraced the future fully, or the greatest experiment in democracy in the last three centuries finally came to an ignominious end. It is up to us to write that history for the better.