Is US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl a traitor or a martyr, a coward who walked away from his unit or a symbol of how a misconceived war used US soldiers as pawns in a losing geo-political game?
This is going to be the issue as the prisoner swap with the Taliban takes incoming fire from Republicans like John McCain and others opposed to "negotiating with terrorists." Yet the real issue goes deeper than that: Bergdahl was profoundly disillusioned by the war, and his capture by the Taliban would never had occurred if he hadn’t walked off base – in plain language, deserted, as this 2012 Rolling Stone piece by Michael Hastings makes clear. In his last email to his parents, sent just before he walked, Bergdahl wrote:
“The future is too good to waste on lies. And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be American. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting.”
Bergdahl goes on at length, indicting a military system that punished competent soldiers and rewarded the "conceited brown-nose shitbag" who’s "allowed to do whatever [he] wants." In spite of his pro-military outlook, which had prompted him to join up in the first place, he realized he had joined "the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies." Bergdahl was no anti-military hippie: he’d long wanted to be a soldier and even tried to join the French Foreign Legion before enlisting in the US Army. A 23-year-old idealist who took soldiering seriously, Bergdahl was shocked to learn that the best officers "are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same."
It wasn’t just a military machine run from afar by incompetents that riled him, it was also the nature of the mission itself:
"In the second-to-last paragraph of the e-mail, Bowe wrote about his broader disgust with America’s approach to the war – an effort, on the ground, that seemed to represent the exact opposite of the kind of concerted campaign to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of average Afghans envisioned by counterinsurgency strategists. ‘I am sorry for everything here,’ Bowe told his parents. ‘These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.’ He then referred to what his parents believe may have been a formative, possibly traumatic event: seeing an Afghan child run over by an MRAP. ‘We don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks… We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them.’"