Sunday, June 8, 2014

Deserter Storm

At this point, the only relevant question I can think of asking in the tale of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is this: If he was the son of a member of the U.S. Congress, would anybody be questioning his patriotism? Perhaps in this hyper-partisan atmosphere we have the answer might be yes, but I doubt it.

As more details emerge about Sgt. Bergdahl's captivity, it's becoming clearer to me that a large swath of our citizenry simply has not learned the lessons of the past and is too ready to jump on anything negative in a person's background to deny them basic human rights. Yes, he had a habit of wandering when he shouldn't have and, yes, U.S. soldiers were killed trying to find him. It is a tragedy that those soldiers died and their families have every right to be angry over the circumstances of their deaths. They should never have happened. This kind of thing happens in war. That's why I hate it.

The worst, unfortunately, is yet to come. Sgt. Bergdahl will come home to a town and country that is deeply divided over whether he should have even been freed, much less traded for five suspected terrorists. He will be called terrible names in person and in the media by those who believe that they are the country's moral arbiters. I have one word for them: Vietnam.

Last week I took my classes to the New Jersey Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. It's a trip that's become a yearly ritual at my school, and this year it was even more valuable because it provided some historical relevance in light of Sgt. Bergdahl's story. Vietnam veterans lead all of the tours and are available for discussion, question and answer periods, and explanations of some of the exhibits at the memorial and education center. To a man, and they were all men, they recounted their experiences as soldiers returning to a divided country in the 1960s and 1970s. They told us about being called baby killers, village burners, Nazis, fascists and murderers. They were young men, some who were drafted and some who enlisted, who saw it as their duty to fight for their country, and their country turned their back on them. Today, they are kind, thoughtful men who are proud to be grandfathers and are happy to tell the younger generation about their experiences.

I thought of Bowe Bergdahl. Not the Sergeant; just the young man, and what he faces in the near future. For the Vietnam veterans there was some strength in numbers. Bowe Bergdahl will face the country alone. John McCain met President Nixon as a hero. I hope that President Obama sticks to his position and does the same for Bergdahl. Yes, he made a terrible mistake which became a tragedy for some of his fellow soldiers. But to hang this whole tragedy on him would be a terrible mistake. Let's hope that we haven't forgotten the lessons of 40 years ago.

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