Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s return to U.S. soil on June 13, after nearly five years’ captivity, was a Kafkaesque media event. Unlike Sen. John McCain, a former fighter pilot downed by the Vietnamese liberation forces, who became an official hero, Bergdahl came home under a cloud. He had gone AWOL (“absent without official leave”) in Afghanistan, after befriending local residents near the military outpost where he was stationed in 2009.
Rush Limbaugh and the ultraright talk show crowd — along with the Republican cabal in Congress — have demonized Bergdahl as a “deserter,” a GI who abandoned his fellow soldiers in the heat of battle. “Deserters” have historically received summary death penalties, with or without judicial proceedings. The uproar in Congress and the media feed on this concept.
The soldier’s parents, Robert Bergdahl and Jani Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, released a statement through the Idaho National Guard that “while they were ‘overjoyed’ by their son’s return … [t]hey ask for continued privacy as they concentrate on their son’s reintegration,’ said Col. Tim Marsano of the Idaho National Guard.” (New York Times, June 13)
Hailey, the county seat of Blaine County in mountainous central Idaho, has a population of 7,960, reported the 2010 U.S. Census. The town was named for Idaho state prison warden John Hailey, a lieutenant in the Rogue River “Indian War” of 1855 in southwest Oregon Territory, who migrated from Tennessee. His father-in-law was reportedly a captain in the war of 1812.
While right-wing politics may run deep in Idaho, Bergdahl’s low-key family reception is a product of terrorism, not from abroad, but from the U.S. military-industrial complex and the far-right propaganda machine that feeds and defends it. Both forces are determined to “make an example” of Bergdahl, so all soldiers and their families will be afraid to use their common sense when it comes to combat decisions. According to them, anyone who even questions orders, let alone refuses to fight, should be shot.
Veterans for Peace organized a rally in Washington, D.C., on June 10, welcoming Bergdahl home. VFP National Board Vice President Gerry Condon said, “We love you, Sgt. Bergdahl. We have great respect for you and your wonderful family. We are happy that you will be reunited soon.
“Veterans for Peace has a message for President Obama: Mr. President, I am speaking for thousands of veterans from too many wars. We want you to bring all the troops home from Afghanistan. Bring them home now, and take good care of them when they get here. It is time to release all the prisoners of war from Guantanamo. End the torture, shut down Guantanamo now. The [U.S.] people are tired of war. We are ready to live in peace.”