Sunday, June 8, 2014

Politicizing patriotism
     Before politicians and pundits become completely overwhelmed by righteous indignation and ignorance regarding the release of Sgt. Bergdahl and the circumstances under which he became a prisoner of the Taliban they may want to consider several facts.  First, he volunteered to serve his country and go into Harm's Way putting his life at risk.  He willingly did what 99% of Americans decline to do....serve their country.  Limited liability patriots should think hard about judging someone willing to do what they decline to do.
     Second, if Sgt. Bergdahl is charged with desertion he will be joining tens of thousands of soldiers who have deserted since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started...yes...tens of thousands.  Department of Defense data show that from 1997 to 2004 an average of 3348 soldiers deserted each year (6.33 per thousand)  and an average of 1440 Marines deserted in that time frame (8.31 per thousand).  In 2001 the Army had 4597 deserters.  In 2007 4698 soldiers deserted.  As shocking as these numbers are, what may be even more shocking is the Army's response....which is basically nothing.  There is no specific effort, organization, or budget to locate and "bring them in".  In November of 2007 CBS News reported that "Despite the continued increase in desertions, however, and Associated Press examination of Pentagon figures earlier this year shows that the military does little to find those who bolt, and rarely prosecutes the ones they get.  Some are allowed to simply return to their units, while most are given less than honorable discharges."  In fact, in the few cases where deserters are referred for court-martial, the accused is allowed to request "discharge in lieu of court-martial" and accepts an "other than honorable conditions administrative discharge".  If the Army decides to charge Sgt. Bergdahl with desertion it will place itself in the uncomfortable position of having to explain why it has chosen to ignore similar conduct among more than 3000 soldiers every year; inconsistency at best, politically motivated hypocrisy at worst.
     Finally, we do not know the circumstances of Sgt. Bergdahl's capture, his state of mind at the time, or his purpose in leaving the outpost to which he was assigned in Afghanistan.  We do know, though, that tens of thousands of service members returning from Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, depression, anxiety, paranoia, and social adjustment problems.  We also know that politicians, pundits, and the public are troubled by these problems and the VA's failures in addressing them.  It could well be that Sgt. Bergdahl suffered from some of these same problems for which we express such compassion among returned veterans while he was still in combat and before he could be placed on a fictitious waiting list at the VA

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