by Diana West
One day, I predict, the fate of Bowe Bergdahl will prove to be the least important aspect of the Bowe Bergdahl story. For now, though, even more than President Obama, Bergdahl is the locus of rage as Americans erupt in pent-up frustration over the disaster that is Afghanistan. It is probably the poisonous reek of government lies breaking open that has ignited this passion — so many lies and so much subterfuge that a clear story has yet to take shape. But this collective outrage over Afghanistan — a first in the history of our long war there — shouldn’t all be spent on Bergdahl, or even on Obama. But I will save that story for another day.
In the meantime, it’s worth noting that the nation’s wrath is as understandable as it is real. Bergdahl wasn’t captured as the government vaguely led us to believe, even going so far as to prevent some of Bergdahl’s platoon-mates from talking about what happened by having them sign nondisclosure agreements. We now know that as many as 14 American soldiers were killed trying to rescue Bergdahl. Their bereaved families must grieve anew over breaking news about exactly why their sons died. Their pain becomes more fuel for our outrage.
The president has invoked lofty ideals to explain his decision to release five high-risk Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bergdahl. “The United States,” Obama said, “has always had a pretty sacred rule and that is: We don’t leave our men or women in uniform behind and that dates back to the earliest days. Regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop. We don’t condition that.” Retired U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a top Afghanistan commander, later echoed the president’s remarks: “We don’t leave Americans behind. That’s unequivocal.”
But this, too, is a lie. Most Americans may not realize it, but the United States has routinely left huge numbers of our POW/MIAs behind. Shortly before the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner story broke, our country lost a great patriot, Joseph D. Douglass, Jr., someone I am proud to say was a friend and mentor of mine. A widely renowned expert in U.S.-Soviet relations, Douglass passed away on May 23 at age 78. It was his searing 2002 book “Betrayed” that focused my attention on the most ghastly betrayal of all: the betrayal by the U.S. government of literally thousands of American POWs and MIAs who were left behind in Communist prisons after every war America fought in the 20th century, from World War I (against the new Bolshevik regime) to Vietnam.
This backstory of silence and denial offers a sharp contrast to the Bowe Bergdahl spectacle. It also renders declarations about the U.S. government leaving no man behind demonstrably false.
That should be enough to keep the outrage boiling.
(Diana West’s new book is “American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character” from St. Martin’s Press. She blogs at dianawest.net, and she can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @diana_west_.)