On Sergeant Bergdahl (with Insights from Tolstoy)
Originally posted on June 7, 2014, via PhilosophyNews.com
I heard a woman speaking on Nashville Public Radio show "On Point", whose name I cannot remember, ask why we are so focused on the fact that 'he left his post' instead of asking 'why he left his post, what was wrong with his leadership, was their neglect, was there misconduct, why did he leave in the first place?' Curious questions, and before I give my take on what I'm hearing on the ground, let me clarify what it means to hold your post. Standing ground is not just an act of staying up all night until your shift is over. For example, after a long exhausting day at work, you may come home, kick off your shoes, grab a glass of wine and some pasta, shower and turn in for the night. Before you do all that, you walk over to the front door, turn the deadbolt, and lock the door. That simple act is an unconscious safeguard you put in place knowing that deadbolt will safeguard not only your possessions but also your life. Similarly, when we ask "why did he leave his post", the answer is simple, "it doesn't matter: a soldier never leaves a man behind, and by leaving your post, not only did you abandoned your job, but you left behind your squad, your team, your fellow soldier." It now seems Bergdahl desperately wants his fellow soldiers to honor that code and not leave him behind.
One particular soldier, whose name I cannot mention, had an interesting theory on the "Bergdahl clusterfuck" as he called it. He claims, "the boy had lost his mind, he wasn't thinking, he dropped his assault pack, walked off the FOB hoping he would die. What we're seeing is the failed attempt at suicide. Every soldier, I don't care who you are, every soldier will hit a wall. They question what they're doing in the military, should they continue to follow orders, should they follow the mission, is it worth my life? Some soldiers find the answers and some push their feelings down, way down. Some, like Bergdahl, maybe can't live with themselves, who knows?! Bergdahl dropped his pack, dropped it all, and just walked - hoping he would die".
In troubled times like this, I try to extract the philosophical side of the argument: what's the value of a life? Do we just leave a soldier behind, or do we bring him home at the expense of unprecedented trade of POW terrorists? I don't know anything about political strategy and I cannot answer the latter question.
Leo Tolstoy wrote extensively on life claiming, "I felt that what I had been standing on had collapsed and that I had nothing left under my feet. What I had lived on no longer existed, and there was nothing left." If Bergdahl walked off his post under the impetus of something along the lines of what Tolstoy described, the die is cast and Bergdahl is coming home to what the military affectionately calls a "political shit storm." It's fair to say his military brethren will not welcome him home with open arms. Yet the soldiers I know and talk to are in consensus about one thing (which Paul Satonin seems to agree with in his statement at the POW*MIA Elko Awareness Association Meeting), "The bottom line is we don't leave people behind. No matter what the situation is with their captivity, no matter what the government decides to do to bring them back, we don't leave them behind." Tolstoy continued, "It was impossible to stop, impossible to go back, and impossible to close my eyes or avoid seeing that there was nothing ahead but suffering and real death--complete annihilation."
The difficult part is over SGT Bergdahl. What is done is done. It may appear he is coming home to a soap party but his fellow soldiers will at least hear him out before they light the torches. In return, we expect him to be honest, truthful and remember the code of conduct he once defended. With that in mind, let's get back to business!