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A difficult, but correct, decision on Bergdahl

By
June 10, 2014 |

The commentary evoked by the recent prisoner swap – five terrorists in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl – calls for context.

The trade was an unsavory arrangement, but President Obama – and Bergdahl – was out of options and time. The response from the political right was predictable. Although a great deal about the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture is entirely unknown, some conservatives appear to prefer to have left him in Afghanistan, without the discovery and presentation of evidence or the opportunity for Bergdahl to defend himself in person.

Of course, no soldier should be allowed to leave his post without consequences, but as a nation we don’t appreciate sufficiently the psychological stress and pressure experienced by young soldiers like Bergdahl, who enter the regimented military machine from the security of a quiet life among family and friends in small towns like Hailey, Idaho.

Consider these anecdotes from my four years in the U.S. Navy in the early ’70s: Less than two weeks into boot camp, one young sailor experienced a very public panic attack in a huge, crowded mess hall. He was subdued and hustled away, never to be seen again. A non-swimmer was forced to attempt the swimming test; he drowned.

In radio school, a sailor jumped from the third floor into the courtyard below. We never heard what happened to him. At my first duty station, a remote outpost in Western Australia, a sailor climbed the water tower and refused to come down. The base commander, a full captain, was relieved of his command and sent back to Hawaii, so we heard, for psychological evaluation.

One young sailor, raised in the swamps of Louisiana, couldn’t bear to be away from his wife for a year; he went home on leave and never came back.

Later, a sailor deserted my ship in a foreign port. And one day another sailor emerged from the ship’s engine spaces, arranged his shoes carefully on the deck, and stepped over the rail into the South China Sea. The ship reversed course and rescued him.

All of this happened during the last years of the Vietnam War, but none of it involved real combat.

So the isolation and privations of military life are challenging enough, but Bowe Bergdahl, whose mental and emotional stability is a matter of speculation, found himself in battle, as well, near the end of a 13-year war with uncertain purposes and goals and with a dubious strategy.

Our country remembers, more or less, why the war in Afghanistan was started but has largely lost interest in how it ends. We’ve asked a great deal of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, including Bergdahl, and when they come home we don’t always take the best care of them.

Not every soldier or sailor is a hero, and not every casualty of our wars bears physical scars. How Bergdahl behaved in Afghanistan hasn’t been established, but he volunteered to risk his life for his country, and his right to come home trumps the doubtful value of five incarcerated terrorists.

Here’s another dose of context: Try to imagine any action by President Obama, short of an Arbor Day proclamation, that his dependable conservative critics – deeply dedicated to his failure and embarrassment – would accept with respect and support. It’s difficult to do.

But it’s not hard to imagine the tumultuous attack on Obama that would have ensued if he, as commander in chief, had decided to leave Bergdahl behind in Afghanistan or let him die. Obama faced an extraordinarily difficult choice, but his decision was correct.

Unfortunately, our nation will need more soldiers and sailors in the future, and we cannot expect young women and men like Bergdahl to volunteer to serve without the assurance that, if they survive the wars, their nation will bring them home and take care of them, no matter how well their inner resources serve them – or fail them – in the face of battle.

John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune, teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. Readers may send him email at jcrisp@delmar.edu.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 40 comments

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  • Teach5thJune 10, 2014 - 6:42 am

    John - Why didn't Obama talk to Congress first? He may not have thought that the law was constitutional, so why did he sign it? Why does the story keep changing? Answer those questions, please.

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  • rlw895June 10, 2014 - 6:51 am

    "One crazy man can ask more questions than 1,000 wise men can answer."

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  • Teach5thJune 10, 2014 - 7:08 am

    RLW - if you don't have the answers, mock, mock, and mock some more those asking the questions.

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  • CD BrooksJune 10, 2014 - 7:28 am

    Teach5th, you're always offering up such "fact-laden informative views" so rlw895 might be a little surprised you actually asked a question. Sarcasm intended.

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  • Teach5thJune 10, 2014 - 7:34 am

    CD - obviously you don't have the answers either, so the mocking continues. . .

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  • CD BrooksJune 10, 2014 - 7:42 am

    Teach5th, you mock but don't like being mocked? Hmm. One thing for sure, when I post an answer, it will be the correct one! :)

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  • CD BrooksJune 10, 2014 - 7:44 am

    ♪Everybody have you heard…♫

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  • Teach5thJune 10, 2014 - 7:49 am

    So post the answers already!

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  • CD BrooksJune 10, 2014 - 7:53 am

    Neocons...SHEESH! ;)

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  • at'chaJune 10, 2014 - 7:27 am

    If that were true, we'd see answers from you. Do something new; Stay on topic.

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  • at'chaJune 10, 2014 - 7:29 am

    Even the dem-wits are upset with this wanna be Imperialist. The one dog and pony show needs to be removed from office.

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  • rlw895June 10, 2014 - 9:30 am

    a'c: "Try to imagine any action by President Obama, short of an Arbor Day proclamation, that his dependable conservative critics – deeply dedicated to his failure and embarrassment – would accept with respect and support." You had a chance to remove him from office in 2012. Deal with it in a way that doesn't harm the country.

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  • Teach5thJune 10, 2014 - 11:23 am

    We did, indeed, have an opportunity to replace him, but with the get-out-the-vote of every drunk-stupefied-ignorant-being-looking-for-a-handout on the part of the Dems., we lost. So, I guess we're just supposed to overlook Fast and Furious, Benghazzi, the IRS scandal, the ridiculous Obamacare rollout, ever-deepening VA scandal, and now the 5 for 1 deal because he "won" an election? And to add to all those other successes of his administration, we have thousands of kids crossing the border and Eric Holder wanting to give them all lawyers!!! You say "deal with it in a way that doesn't harm the country?" O and his administration are daily harming the country. Congress will have to "deal with it" indeed!

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  • Teach5thJune 10, 2014 - 11:39 am

    I wrote a post that disappeared. H-m-m-m . . . The gist of it was that RLW seems to think that because O won the election, the others of us who pay attention to the goings-on of his administration should forget about Fast and Furious, the ridiculous rollout of Obamacare, Benghazi, the IRS targeting Tea Party groups, the ongoing VA scandal, and now the 5-4-1 controversy. Add to that the thousands of "illegal" Guatemalan and Honduran minors crossing the border from Mexico and Holder wanting to get them all lawyers! You tell us to "deal with it . . ." Uh-huh.

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  • CD BrooksJune 10, 2014 - 11:56 am

    Teach5th, more FOX-ism tripe. No evidence but plenty of unmitigated lies and ign*rant speculation. Garbage in garbage out. UGH!

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  • rlw895June 10, 2014 - 12:19 pm

    "Deal with it in a way that doesn't harm the country" doesn't mean "forget it."

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  • rlw895June 10, 2014 - 9:09 am

    Let's see. He didn't talk to congress first because (a) he didn't have to, (b) he's commander-in-chief a time of war, (c) this congress can't be trusted with sensitive information, (d) all of the above.

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  • rlw895June 10, 2014 - 9:11 am

    *in a time of war

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  • Teach5thJune 10, 2014 - 10:10 am

    Wrong, RLW! It's the law that he had to discuss it with Congress. Why do you think Diane Feinstein is so angry about his/and his administrations lack of consultation with Congress? Obama signed the law even though he thought it was "unconstitutional". So much for a Constitutional lawyer/professor! And, supposedly this Congress can't be trusted with "sensitive" information. Who recently gave the name of a CIA operative? Certainly not Congress. Try again.

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  • rlw895June 10, 2014 - 10:41 am

    T5: Feinstein is angry because she's a Senator, not the president. That's not statement of her ambition, just of her position.

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  • rlw895June 10, 2014 - 10:43 am

    T5: Keep reading for other answers I find acceptable. I don't expect you to agree.

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  • rlw895June 10, 2014 - 9:16 am

    Why sign an unconstitutional law? Because it was only one provision in a constitutional law that had to be signed. Presidents will often sign such a law with a signing statement that he may not follow the unconstitutional provision. The next question is who gets to decide what's constitutional? The answer is congress and the president have allowed the Supreme Court to do that. BUT that's not in the Constitution, so the legal answer is all three branches have the power to do it. It then becomes a political question.

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  • Teach5thJune 10, 2014 - 11:14 am

    So, RLW - did O write a signing statement stating he wouldn't follow the law because he deemed it unconstitutional?

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  • rlw895June 10, 2014 - 11:29 am

    It probably said he "might not" rather than "wouldn't," but, yes, he did.

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  • Teach5thJune 10, 2014 - 1:41 pm

    RLW - you can look up what O thought about signing statements by reading what a writer from MSNBC wrote about it. O apparently disagreed with Bush using signing statements. He said, "Cit's Congress's job to pass the laws. The president can either veto it or sign it." Once again, O goes against what he stated before becoming president once he becomes the all-powerful O! And CD - at least RLW addresses what's written by trying to clarify his points. You merely respond with fluff and mockery. Pathetic.

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  • rlw895June 10, 2014 - 1:56 pm

    Yes, members of congress don't like signing statements and presidents do. A signing statement can be an impeachment defense.

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  • CD BrooksJune 10, 2014 - 4:30 pm

    Teach5th, you have no idea what you're talking about. I have laid so many facts on this forum only to get what you just did. I'm tired of wasting my time on people that keep denying the truth and asking it to be repeated as if they didn't get it. You don't get it, never will. What a disgusting waste of time you are. And YOU call ME pathetic? Wow...

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  • CD BrooksJune 10, 2014 - 9:19 am

    Listen up people. Don't be surprised if news comes out that FOX and the GOP concocted the deserter story because that is the kind of crap Rove is guilty of. He is a snake and nothing is out of bounds for him.

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  • Dave ShreeveJune 10, 2014 - 9:59 am

    The circumstances of his disappearance were first noted back in 2009 by Michele Malkin (yes I know you will now mock or question her credibilty). In 2010 the Army decided Bergdahl left on his own and stopped actively searching for him. Now that he is back, I'm sure the Pentagon will now decide that he never left on his own to try to cover for Obama. It is so predictable.

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  • rlw895June 10, 2014 - 10:46 am

    No, CD, that WOULD surprise me. There seems to be little doubt that Bergdahl abandoned his post.

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  • CD BrooksJune 10, 2014 - 11:10 am

    rlw895, there is no evidence he ran and no evidence anybody died looking for him and no alleged note. Chances are he was once again, testing faulty security and messed up. Don't ever put anything past Rove and FOX.

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  • rlw895June 10, 2014 - 11:35 am

    I agree there's no evidence that anybody died looking for him. Our people died in Afghanistan every day. Anyone can claim a linkage, and it might be hard to disprove. But that's different from having evidence someone died as a direct result of a search. At least I haven't heard of any specific cases yet. This is a lot like the swift boat stuff used against Kerry; get a bunch of servicemen to speculate and make a big deal about it. Rove could be behind that.

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  • rlw895June 10, 2014 - 9:27 am

    T5: Why does the story keep changing? I have no idea what you're talking about, or whether it matters to anyone except Obama's irrational opponents.

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  • Teach5thJune 10, 2014 - 10:25 am

    First, Obama and spokespeople said they had the opportunity to get him out and they took it. Uh-huh. But when the victory lap celebration featuring his bearded-Allah-thanking-Afghani-language-speaking father didn't solicit the fawning and thankfulness on the part do the American people, they said that his life was in danger and they had to get him out NOW! uh-huh. And, to add to all this - these geniuses are so smart that they can actually say that the release of the dangerous 5 won't cause more American deaths -- whether it's soldiers or more jets into American buildings. uh-huh. Furthermore - how dare anyone, especially that Obama loving news source the NY Times suggest that those men who served with him and have called Bergdahl a deserter, are anything but worthy of our thanks and admiration. After watching the video of O working out, he couldn't either figuratively or really hold a candle to any of them!

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  • rlw895June 10, 2014 - 10:48 am

    I don't see any changed story there, just more story.

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  • P.J.June 10, 2014 - 10:09 am

    Please believe me I am a pretty neutral person, but also not an Obama fan. Still, let me just say that had he chosen to leave one single soldier behind the criticism would be a lot worse then it is now. I am sorry it had to be at the expense of a trade. I feel that if we have the capabilities to take out Osama BinLaden, we have the capabilities to rescue one skinny, young, scared soldier! The saddest part of all this is that his fellow soldiers died looking far him

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  • rlw895June 10, 2014 - 10:52 am

    PJ: I agree, only it took us years, luck, a highly trained force, and a gutsy decision to take out OBL, and we still can't do the same for al Zawahiri, who deserves it as much if not more. Further, a rescue is a lot more difficult than a mission where you don't care whether your subject survives or not.

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  • JagJune 10, 2014 - 3:15 pm

    I`m good with the 5 for 1 switch but we should of let them get in their chopper and just when they thought they were safe blow it out of the sky just like you said RW it is war.. problem

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  • rlw895June 10, 2014 - 3:30 pm

    J: Well, I wouldn't be quite that overt. But those guys have had years to think about what they want to do if they ever get out. Go back to the open arms of Mullah Omar? Kerry has said we can't guarantee they won't go back to their old ways, but then they risk getting killed, and they know we can do it. It will be VERY interesting to track what happens to them. If the Qataris can give them honest jobs, that would help! In any event, they get another chance. This may be a story for years.

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  • JagJune 10, 2014 - 6:32 pm

    WE GOT ONE BY BY ERIC

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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