"The Future is Too Good to Waste on Lies": Bowe Bergdahl's Moral Odyssey (William Norman Grigg)
Monday June 9th, 2014
“I can’t make up my mind to put the damn thing on again. I feel so clean and free. It’s like voluntarily taking up filth and slavery again….I think I’ll just walk off naked across the fields.”
John Andrews, a U.S. soldier in World War I who went AWOL, discusses his uniform in Three Soldiers by John Dos Passos
Trying to find their footing amid a gale-force outpouring of largely manufactured outrage, officials in Hailey, Idaho canceled their long-planned homecoming for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. They were understandably intimidated by the prospect of dealing with thousands of protesters who planned to besiege the tiny central Idaho town to demand the blood of a young man they now regard to be a deserter, and a father they consider a terrorist sympathizer.
To understand the kind of welcome the War Party has been preparing for Bowe and his family, it’s useful to consider the treatment given to the family of World War I-era conscientious objector John Witmer.
A Mennonite from Colombiana, Ohio who was denied a deferment by the local draft board, Witmer died from the Spanish Flu while stationed at Camp Sherman, Ohio. Witmer's lifeless body was returned to his hometown on October 10, 1918, where the family – his father Dan, his siblings, and his fiancee, Nola – was greeted by a silent crowd heavy with sullen disapproval for the “slacker” and his family.
Like thousands of others who shared his faith, John had been kidnapped at gunpoint from his family farm through the evil practice of conscription. The local draft board had turned down John's appeal for Conscientious Objector status, dishonestly assuring him that once he had taken the oath of enlistment he would be recognized as a CO and be given a non-combat assignment.
As with everything else of consequence that emerges from the lips, pen, or keyboard of a government functionary, those assurances were lies.
During wartime, explained Bernard Baruch, the head of the Wilson Regime’s War Industry Board, all “men, money and things” within the government’s claimed jurisdiction “suddenly become a compact instrument of destruction…. [T]he entire population must suddenly cease to be a congeries of individuals, each following a self-appointed course, and become a vast unitary mechanism." John Witmer, like many thousands of others, was designated a “slacker” because he persisted in the belief that he was not the property of the State. His refusal to undergo military training forbidden by his religious convictions provoked violent reactions from his fellow conscripts, and led to a punitive re-assignment to a CO camp – a detention facility that was also used as a holding pen for German prisoners of war.
The weather turned colder, and influenza – one of the government's chief wartime imports from Europe – propagated itself throughout Camp Sherman. John pleaded for adequate bedding and dry clothes, to no avail. The isolated, terrified young man contracted the Spanish Flu, from which he soon died.
John's body was returned in a flag-shrouded coffin. While most Americans would regard this as an honor, the Witmer family's convictions didn't allow them to make acts of allegiance to anyone or anything but God. There is a sense in which wrapping John's body in the US flag was one final proprietary gesture by the government that had stolen the young man from the family who loved him, the religious fellowship that had raised him, and the young woman who wanted to be his wife.
The crowd that had congealed at the train station to witness the arrival of John Witmer's body was acutely interested in the reaction of his Mennonite family. Most of the spectators knew that the Mennonites didn't support the war; their principled pacifism had provoked both curiosity and suspicion.
For a brief period, the Witmers enjoyed what could be called probationary sympathy from the crowd. But they quickly learned that few things are likelier to provoke sanctimonious violence from war-maddened Americans than a conspicuous lack of enthusiasm for killing foreigners whom the State has designated the “enemy.”
Slumping beneath a burden no parent should ever bear, Dan Witmer approached the coffin containing his son's body and carefully removed the flag. In doing so, he committed an act regarded as a sacrilege by adherents of the omnivorous idol called the State: Either out of innocent ignorance of, or commendable indifference to, the ritual called “flag etiquette,” Dan folded the banner as he would a blanket.
The crowd, deep in the throes of the psychosis called “war patriotism,” erupted in pious outrage.
“The mood of the onlookers turned from one of sympathy to hostility,” recounts Lily A. Bear in her book Report for Duty.
“Mennonites!” hissed one disgusted onlooker.
“Got what he deserved!” declared another of Dan's dead son.
“Traitor!” bellowed yet another outraged pseudo-patriot.
Someone hurled a stone that hit John's younger brother in the shoulder. A second stone, missing its target, landed at the feet of the mourning father. John's young sister Mary, puzzled and hurt by this display of murderous hatred, began to cry. After making arrangements for his son's funeral, Dan took his family home. This crowd, deprived of the hate objects that had given it cohesion, quickly dissipated.
This repellent spectacle, recall, occurred in a tiny Ohio town nearly one hundred years ago. In this age of saturation media and online social networking, the “homecoming” given the Bergdahl family would likely have been worse by several orders of magnitude.
“I will push for Bowe Bergdahl’s execution during the next Republican administration,” fumed South Carolina Republican agitator Todd Kincannon. “And his dad too. Those who commit treason need to die.” Kincannon’s sentiments are not an aberration.
Bowe’s detractors claim that his desertion cost the lives of U.S. soldiers sent to rescue him – a claim that plays well on talk radio but cannot be substantiated by casualty records. Given the fact that Bowe had expressed his growing misgivings to his superiors, the effort to locate him might have been less a rescue mission that an attempt to locate and re-assimilate a wayward drone who had exhibited troubling symptoms of resurgent individualism.
Like John Witmer, Bowe Bergdahl was raised in a deeply religious home. Unlike Witmer, Bergdahl was not a conscript. Like countless other young men, Bowe was lured into enlisting by a recruiter who cynically appealed to his idealistic and patriotic impulses, and offered lying assurances about the missions he would be required to carry out. Bowe was a committed and disciplined soldier who devoted what private time he had to refining his skills, conditioning his body, and feeding his mind, rather than indulging in recreational vice.
Once he arrived in Afghanistan, Bowe was immediately disillusioned by the corruption and cluelessness displayed by his superiors, the laxity and unprofessionalism of his fellow soldiers, and the criminal indifference to innocent lives that characterized the mission.
“The few good [sergeants] are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same,” Bowe informed his father in an e-mail. He decided to act on that advice immediately, explaining to his parents that “The future is too good to waste on lies.”
Bowe’s parents are Christians of the Calvinist persuasion who home-schooled him, instructed him in Christian ethics, and respected his independence of mind and sense of personal responsibility.
“Bowe was a young man with all the dangers of home-schooling – a brilliant and inquisitive mind, a crisp thinker, and someone who had never really been exposed to evil in the world,” recalls Phil Proctor, who was pastor of the Presbyterian Church attended by the Bergdahl family. “He [wanted] to determine whether the Christian faith was his own, or his parents’ and was doing a lot of exploring of ideas – never drugs or alcohol, but trying to be an outdoors/Renaissance type figure.”
When Bowe announced his enlistment in the US Army, Bob didn’t approve but also didn’t discourage him. When Bowe expressed his terminal disgust with the mission in Afghanistan, Bob offered the admonition: “Obey your conscience.”
By offering that advice, rather than rebuking his son or turning him in to his superiors as a potential “shirker,” Bob Bergdahl committed treason, according to his detractors, who insist that loyalty to the Warfare State trumps all other moral commitments.
Bowe’s parents never relented in their efforts to bring their son home. Now their relief over their son’s liberation, and their expressions of unconditional love toward him, are being depicted as evidence of disloyalty to the Regime and even hatred forAmerica.
“Bob felt (with some justification) that the US government was not going to engage with diplomatic efforts and so decided to try to free his son himself,” recounts Pastor Proctor. “He learned Pashtun and developed a lot of contacts in the Middle East. The Qatar connection is one that either originated with Bob or, at the very least, became very personally connected to Bob. Bob has, for quite some time, been saying that the closure of Guantanamo is integrally connected to the release of his son.”
In addition to placing his duty to his son above loyalty to the State, Bob Bergdahl’s offenses include learning the language of his captors and expressing the heretical view that God disapproves of death of Afghan children. Even Bob’s beard is presented as evidence of his supposed affinity for Islamic jihad, a charge that – if applied even-handedly – could justify a drone strike targeting the cast of Duck Dynasty.
Rather than being a jihadist sleeper cell, as they are being portrayed by War Party dead-enders, the Bergdahls are Christian individualists. Their moral universe is defined by the Two Great Commandments (that we love our Creator and love our neighbors as ourselves ) and biblical teachings regarding the reciprocal moral duties of parents and children. They do not place allegiance to the State above loyalty to their family – which to a statist is an unforgivable heresy.
Speaking on FoxNews, Dr. Keith Ablow – displaying the ideologically inspired certitude of a Brezhev-era Soviet psychiatrist – discerned “narcissistic” tendencies in the entire Bergdahl family. Bowe’s desire for adventure and self-directed nature indicate that “he can’t really serve the nation … because he’s serving himself.” Bowe’s individualism was a form of “addiction,” insisted Commissar Ablow, eliciting coos of thoughtful assent from the Fox News personalities interviewing him, one of whom was prompted to underscore the importance of “obey[ing] your commander, rather than your conscience,” which is a decidedly a pre-Nuremberg order of moral priorities .
Bowe’s incorrigible commitment to his conscience is to be expected, Commissar Ablow continued, given that Bowe was raised in a family displaying a tendency “to distance one’s self from institutions, to diminish the rule of law and to elevate the individual above all else.” The problem with the Bergdahls, Ablow suggested, was that they “don’t feel part of our country.” The exchange of five Gitmo detainees for “somebody who didn’t feel very American” resulted in “a tremendously psychologically dispiriting moment for our people,” summarized the putative doctor, who strikes me as the kind of person who would consider the public execution of the entire Bergdahl family to be a moment of communal healing.
For people in the grip of war patriotism, the proper role for Bob and Jani Bergdahl was described in Livy’s account of the Horatti, or sons of Horace. During one of the countless conflicts in Rome's early expansion, Horace's triplet sons volunteered to engage three brothers from a rival tribe on the battlefield. The victors would win, on behalf of their city-state, possession of a strategically crucial – and now long-forgotten -- village.
Rome’s opponents were killed in a battle that also claimed two of Horace’s sons. In the subsequent victory celebration Horace lost one of his daughters as well: She was killed by the surviving brother as punishment for her romantic dalliance with an enemy of Rome. Horace bore the losses stoically, as befitting a father who sought above all things the greater glory of the government that claimed him.
Under that model of “patriotism” – which inspired the totalitarian French Jacobins, as well as their ideological offspring in Italy and Germany – Bob Bergdahl’s duty was to chastise his errant son, and exhort him to be true and faithful in carrying out the State’s murderous errand. If Bowe were to be killed by Afghans defending their country, his parents were expected to regard their son as an exalted hero, and their irreplaceable loss as a holy privilege.
Bowe was hardly the first American soldier whose understandable disillusionment led him to quit while deployed overseas.
“I cannot support a mission that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars,” wrote
Colonel Ted Westhusing, a West Point Graduate, Special Forces veteran, and devout Catholic husband and father, in a despairing e-mail to his family. “I am sullied. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored. Death before being dishonored any more.”
A few hours later Col. Westhusing shot himself in the head, ending his life less than a month before his tour of duty was scheduled to end. In the fashion of “Doctor” Ablow, an Army psychologist who reviewed Westhusing's e-mails following his suicide determined that the Colonel was “unusually rigid in his thinking” and unreasonably committed to his moral code.
Army Specialist Alyssa Peterson was also devoutly religious, a former Mormon missionary from Flagstaff, Arizona. Like Bowe and Bob Bergdahl, Peterson had what one friend described as an “amazing” ability to learn languages, an aptitude that helped her learn Arabic at the Army's Defense Language Institute. Spec. Peterson volunteered for duty in Iraq, where she was sent to help interrogate prisoners and translate captured documents at an air base in Tal-Afar.
And, like Ted Westhusing, Alyssa Peterson was driven to suicidal depression as a result of the role the regime forced her to play in Iraq.
“Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners,” summarized Reporter Kevin Elston, who was using the official euphemism for “torture.” “She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokesmen for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed.”
Immediately after lodging her objections, Alyssa was reassigned and sent to suicide prevention training; her suicide note took ironic notice of the fact that the “prevention” training actually instructed her in the best way to kill herself.
“What right had a man to exist who was too cowardly to stand up for what he thought and felt … for everything that made him an individual apart from his fellows, and not a slave to stand cap in hand waiting for someone of stronger will to act?” asked John Andrews, a WWI-era deserter, in John Dos Passos’ novel Three Soldiers. It’s quite likely that Ted Westhusing and Alyssa Peterson asked that question of themselves. Bowe Bergdahl’s emails to his father make it clear that he was pondering that question at the time of his desertion.
Implicated in grotesque crimes against decency, Col. Westhusing and Spec. Peterson “deserted” through suicide. They were buried with honors, and their bereaved families received sympathy, rather than scorn. Rather than ending his life, or allowing it to be wasted in the service of lies, Bowe Bergdahl sought to reclaim it on his own terms – and this is why War Party fundamentalists are seeking to not only to imprison him, but to destroy his entire family.