I’ve been following the Bergdhal story for a bit and am amazed at the responses from people, both military and civilian. Here’s my quick take on it.
The soldier was taken into enemy custody. Did he abandon his post? Did he get kidnapped? At this point, we just don’t know. What we do know is an American citizen and soldier is alive and free. The United States exchanged five of our captive prisoners for this one American soldier.
The outcries of “the US doesn’t negotiate with terrorists!” and “why did they get five when we got one?” churn my stomach. An eighth grade girl asked me about the situation and whether I thought it was fair they got five for our one and whether the US did the right thing. It was clear she figured since I’m a veteran I must have the answers. My response to her was “I don’t know. We as a society don’t know. Right now, everyone is speculating on whether he deserted or was captured. Everyone is speculating on the details of the trade. I can’t answer your question because I don’t have the answer, and I will reserve my judgement till we have details. If he were your older brother, though, would that change your mind about the trade?”
On the “the US doesn’t negotiate with terrorists” line…give it a rest. It’s a trendy-sounding tagline for ‘Murica. The people typically saying it don’t any understanding of combat tactics, foreign policy, or international and political philosophy. The bottom line is we’ve always negotiated with terrorists in difference capacities. Look through history and you’ll be surprised to see we don’t just get what we want because we’re the USA. There is so much that goes into the beast that is war, most never realize what it takes to accomplish things, nor do they want to.
My response to the fairness of the numbers was this: War is not black and white, but gray and murky. As much as politicians use the military as chess pieces, those are humans filling the boots on the ground. When the human psyche is involved in something as mechanical and structured as the military and combat, you have to expect things out of the ordinary to happen. Why or how he was captured at this point in the discussion is irrelevant to me; instead, we need to look at how we treat our own when they’ve made a mistake (in the event he is a deserter.) When one of our own citizens and soldiers is in captivity and released, who cares how many it took to get him or her? Imagine if Berghdal were your brother, your son, or your father. Would you not be willing to give 10,000 enemy soldiers in exchange for him? For the people concerned about the five enemy prisoners we released being back on the battlefield, I’d be a little more concerned with all the US-designed military vehicles and equipment in the hands of the ISIS (an off-shoot of Al Queda) after the US-trained Iraqi military force let Mosul fall. That’s not going to make it any easier in future conflicts when we’re fighting forces who have the same armor and weaponry we do.
If it comes to light Bergdhal intentionally left his post to seek out the Taliban and work with them, I will then place my judgement on him as a soldier who deserted his brothers in a theater of war. Till that point, the finger-pointing and blaming needs to stop. Unless you were there and witnessed it or have experienced a similar situation that didn’t involve Call of Duty or spoon-fed talking points from your favorite “news” station, you don’t have much credibility when speaking into the situation. Instead you come off sounding like a heartless, cold, and hateful jerk who hates the Taliban more than you love your own countrymen and women.
Think about it.