Let me be transparent from the start: I am writing from a pro-peace, anti-war perspective. As talking heads and pundits have clamored that “the other side” is using Bowe Bergdahl for political gain, I suppose I should be aware that I too have political biases, and that those biases inform the way I’ve come to look at the Bowe Bergdahl “situation.”
I believe it is possible to be anti-war and pro-soldier. Calling for plowshares to take the place of industrialized weaponry is an example of what such a position entails. So perhaps what I really mean is that I am pro-human; quite holistically, I aim to be pro-life. And as such, I want to focus on Bowe Bergdahl the human, and his concern for human life. (For the military court, it appears, will account for Bergdahl the soldier.)
As has been well documented, before Bergdahl stepped off his base where he was posted in Afghanistan, he expressed serious concerns about his role as soldier. Emails sent to his parents back home in Idaho stated that he felt like the mission he was on—indeed, the war itself—was full of lies he’d been told, that the “the title of U.S. soldier is just the lie of fools, ” and that as such, he felt “ashamed to be an American.” Serious statements, to be sure.
But lest we think these statements were made in a vacuum—that Bergdahl himself was some sort of lone-wolf traitor, as some have claimed—a Rolling Stone report that was published nearly two years ago to-the-day identified other members of his unit who openly struggled with their mission. In a candid conversation, one soldier came to realize, as though it were an epiphany, that the Afghan people “just want to be left alone.” A fellow soldier backed him up, explaining how they’d been “[expletive] with by the Russians for 17 years, and now we’re here, ” then proceeded to reflect on how the people of Afghanistan would much rather do things like tend to their farms than have to worry about contending with the Taliban and U.S. forces.
Huh. They’d rather think about plowshares than worry about AK-47s.
Prior to this, it is also worth pointing out that according to Bergdahl’s parents, “Bowe had been enticed to join the Army…with the promise that he would be going overseas to help Afghan villagers rebuild their lives and learn to defend themselves.” The Rolling Stone reporter, Michael Hastings, also noted that Bergdahl had “surrounded himself with piles of books, including Three Cups of Tea, about a humanitarian crusade to educate girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan” before deployment.
What we should see in all of this is an individual who was full of ideals and good intentions, and an individual who thus experienced severe disillusionment when he came to realize that the domineering attitudes that accompany the instruments of war are not, by any means, human/itarian. In the aforementioned email exchange, Bergdahl put it this way: “These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid.”
Am I asking you to sympathize with and for this man who has spoken against his country so rashly?—with a man who, as some have leveled, deserted his fellow troops and turned his back on those he was serving with?
Yes. And here’s why.
I would argue that the voices of the critics (those calling Bergdahl a traitor) are in essence part of what’s been a “narrative of silence.” This narrative has been loudly recognizable and vocal when it comes to high-flying ideals such as “Support our Troops.” The silence begins when our troops have problems. PTSD. Brain trauma. Suicide. Disillusionment.
The message behind “Support our Troops” thus becomes, “We support you until you become broken. In fact, we might even think a lot more of you’d if died in combat. But coming home broken? Now you’re a burden.” Look at the number of homeless veterans; the numbers who have had to wait more than a year for medical/psychological treatment; the numbers who have had to wait for any of their promised benefits and systems of support upon returning home. Look at the horrific numbers of veterans who have committed suicide. And look at the tens of thousands since the outset of the post-9/11 wars who have, like Bergdahl, gone AWOL or have “deserted” their post due to their disillusionment and extreme psychological strife, only to be blamed for feeling for so.
We like our troops and our heroes to be strong; invincible, even. The minute they break, however…the narrative of silence begins, and we turn our backs.
What does it mean, then, to support our troops? What might supporting our troops actually look like, in a healthy pro-peace, pro-life stance?
For starters, supporting our troops should ultimately mean supporting our fellow humans. And as such, we must recognize how easy it is for humans to be broken, and furthermore recognize how damaging it is to turn our backs on them when they truly need our help. We need to voice our concerns over the treatment of our broken and fallen soldiers who can’t help but feel they’ve been lied to and used. We must insist that for all the money our Senators allocate for war, and instruments of war, they account for the human lives they are affecting.
We might go a step further and attempt to proactively refute war before our country leads us into more. (Retroactively, the current wars are what they are, and we should continue to call for their end.)
We should also, of course, pray. And when these broken humans come directly into our lives—whether they are family members, neighbors, or those asking for change on the street corner—we should meet them in their brokenness, weep with them, and serve them. Yes. It is, I believe, our duty to serve them.