The release and return of American POW Bowe Bergdahl started off as simply cause for relief and celebration for his family and friends. Thanks to politics, it keeps taking on additional layers of interpretation for others. The revelation that Bergdahl questioned the continuing mission in Afghanistan prior to his capture has many of the same people who usually revere soldiers as an ideal condemning this particular soldier as a turncoat — even stating that he should have been abandoned to whatever fate the Taliban came up with for him as punishment for his doubts.
Such talk places a darker, callous spin on the concept of sacrifice, commonly spoken of with regard to military service, than most are used to hearing in public: “Shed your capacity for critical thought, or we shall shed YOU.”
When contemplating what people see themselves as fighting for, though the theme of nationalism is included, there tend to be more ground-level concerns within average people. They think of their neighbors, their families, their friends, their way of life, as what they are defending. With additional thought, however, there’s more to consider. In this case, the war has stretched well beyond its claimed trigger, with the occupation of Afghanistan now in its 13th year. The spread of US troops and weapons throughout northern Africa and central Asia, the drone program now operating in several countries other than Afghanistan, even the revelation that that entire country is effectively being wire-tapped come to mind. With the stated target of the mission long dead, civilian deaths mounting and war crimes by the US now common knowledge, to expect anyone, even a soldier, to not think twice about why they are where they are is to demand a robot in place of a human soul.
A recent piece on The Daily Beast points out that Bowe Bergdahl’s father Robert, during a 2010 speech at an Idaho GOP fundraiser, actually brought up the other side of the matter, saying that a drone strike killed the child of one of the people holding his son at the time. One quality we are taught to shut off in the run up to war is empathy. I can’t help but imagine what desperate thoughts may come to the mind of an American in rural Alabama if a weapon from the heavens, sent by the Pakistani government, robbed them of their sons & daughters. Yet the average citizen at either end is not the one giving these orders, nor is it for loved ones that the orders are so given.
Our understandable allegiances have been swallowed by allegiances to flags. Our identities have been forced into a shotgun wedding to the state. Within this poisonous relation, we are required to be no more than confused when violence in our names is responded to with more violence. On a neighborhood scale we would recognize this as gang activity, lament the destruction of lives all around and seek to end the cycle of violence. Why do we praise the mediators seeking peace in the streets, but condemn anyone deciding to leave the gang life of the nation-state and seek peace in the world?