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Walking Out on a War

Boy Bowe

by CLANCY SIGAL

So many people are piling on deserter Bowe Bergdahl that what should be a happy hour is turning into using up our energy to play defense.  I’ve little to add to what we know…and what we don’t know.  All I have is several years experience dealing with, and safe housing, American military deserters from Vietnam.

Afghan/Iraq is a different war.  Back in the day of My Lai and Khe Sanh, despite an initial revulsion, I came to see the act of military desertion by young men (almost no women deserters then) as a rite of passage where, sometimes for the first time in their lives, they’re forced to take responsibility for their actions.

I hate using words like “existential” but for many young men the act of desertion was a response to “a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world” as Wikipedia puts it.  Circumstances differ.  You hate your sergeant.  Get a Dear John letter from home.  Or you’re just a plain FUFA, fed up with the fucking army.  But once you step over the line into that fateful 31st day absent without leave something happens to you.  Suddenly you find yourself in a moral and legal limbo.  Who to trust?  Why is that cop looking at me like that.  And what have I done?

Bergdahl is immensely lucky to have a supportive family.  I once had to go to Oklahoma to help a fleeing AWOL who had been turned in to the sheriff by his father and had to jump out of a second storey window breaking his ankle.  For most families it’s a hard thing to face.   So they have a crisis of their own.  Are they patriots or parents?

Politicising yourself – looking for reasons – in the military is usually a slow burning process.  You enlist in a burst of love of country but once in uniform you gradually discover who you are in relation to the mission and the mission’s relation to the world.  That’s what happened to the football star Pat Tillman, an army Ranger who had begun reading Chomsky and antiwar literature before he was accidentally shot by his own men in Afghanistan.  The Pentagon lied about the fatal “friendly fire”, just as it is now leaking mean-minded crap about Bergdahl.

From the little we know it seems Bergdahl, raised as a free spirit by his evil parents, became disillusioned with ground level reality of the Afghan war.  Hey, Bowe, join the crowd.

***
If you want more facts on desertion look at the 4 June issue of Mother Jones by Tasneem Raja.  Or sign up for Military Resistance a GI-focused radical daily newsletter at contact@militaryproject.org.  Or like me be a fan of Duffle Bag, the military version of the Onion, created by young veterans.
Here’s an edited sample of its latest: the Duffle Baggers understand military protocol to its back teeth.

Meteorologists Forecast Bowe Bergdahl Shit Storm

WEATHER WARNING #06-02

REQUEST WIDEST DISSEMINATION TO ALL UNITS

SHIT STORM WARNING

HIGH SPEED SHIT STORMS ARE OCCURRING OR ARE FORECASTED TO OCCUR WITHIN 10NM OF TWITTER, FACEBOOK, AND ALL ASSOCIATED SOCIAL MEDIA. FORECASTED WINDS ARE FROM 230°V290° AT 12-18 WITH GUSTS TO 23-27KT ISOLD 30KT. THE POTENTIAL FOR VISIBILITY REDUCED TO LESS THAN 5SM BUT GREATER THAN 3SM EXISTS DURING PERIODS OF BLOWING SHIT. TAKE PRECAUTIONS THAT WILL PERMIT ESTABLISHMENT OF AN APPROPRIATE STATE OF READINESS.

A LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM OF JOURNALISTS REPORTING BOWE BERGDAHL AS AN AMERICAN HERO IS EXPECTED TO CRASH INTO A POWERFUL STORM OF SOLDIERS WHO SERVED WITH HIM AND CALL HIM A DESERTER AND TALIBAN COLLABORATOR.

FECAL MATTER IS EXPECTED TO ECLIPSE ALL OTHER NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUES, THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION DEBACLE, THE ONGOING WAR ON TERROR, F-35 ACQUISITION, OUTED CIA CHIEFS, IRS SCANDALS, ABANDONED DIPLOMATIC MISSIONS, PENDING ECONOMIC COLLAPSE, AND ANY MENTION OF FALLEN SOLDIERS OR DEAD VETERANS.

TAKE COVER. THIS IS A WARNING. TAKE COVER NOW.

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives