In last week's column, I criticized the media for not paying much attention to the astounding release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. As you know, after five years with the Taliban, Bergdahl was exchanged for five Guantanamo Bay detainees. While I continue to question the media's criteria (sensationalism!) for prioritizing news, I retract my column's last sentence. “The town of Hailey, Idaho is rightfully joyous,” I wrote. “One of their own, one of America's own, is coming home. Spread the word: Bowe is back!” Sergeant Bergdahl's hometown of Hailey can rejoice at the return of one of their own, if they so desire, but if recent news reports prove true, though a member of the U.S. Military, Bergdahl may not truly be one of America's own.
Our servicemen and women highly value honor, loyalty, and allegiance to the United States. The U.S. Army Oath of Enlistment is clear: “I do solemnly affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed...” Leaving one's unit, one's brothers in arms, and crawling through weeds to find and join the enemy is a heinous act of betrayal. If Sergeant Bergdahl did, in fact, do this, as his fellow soldiers allege, he is neither honorable nor loyal and is quite unfit to wear the U.S. Army uniform.
That being said, let's not forget Bergdahl was merely 23 years of age when taken prisoner; a uniform does not automatically make a man. It's easy for us to sit in our living rooms and pass judgment, but we do not have all the facts, and we have not yet heard Sergeant Bergdahl's side of the story. Despite the popular opinion of talking heads, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's conduct while among the Taliban can't be held against him. Whether he openly fraternized with his captors or declared himself a warrior for Islam is neither proof of desertion nor guilt; Bergdahl may have fallen prey to Stockholm Syndrome or merely did whatever it took to survive. By the same token, Bergdahl's alleged conversion to Islam is not a reason for condemnation; a man's chosen religion is highly personal. Bergdahl's email communications and behavior prior to his capture, however, are disconcerting. “I am ashamed to be an American,” Bergdahl wrote to his father. “And the title of U.S. Soldier is just the lie of fools.” These are bitter, disillusioned words that will now come back to haunt the young man.
The exchange of five Guantanamo Bay detainees for one U.S. Army Sergeant (or deserter) will be debated, analyzed, and sensationalized for weeks to come. As a parent, I am relieved the Bergdahl family will now have their son back. As an American, I'd like some answers. By the time the Sergeant speaks, however, he will have been briefed, debriefed, prepped, and “lawyered-up”. It's not likely the truth will ever be known...at least not by the American people, who are, in fact, the very ones who have been offended and potentially harmed by this Bergdahl/Guantanamo exchange. Only time will tell if Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is really one of America's own.