If Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was a deserter, then he’s a hero. Furthermore, he might have been the only sane American in Afghanistan. That war is not only unnecessary, it is wrong. Bergdahl’s recognition of this fact (if that’s what occurred) proves his sanity. Then again, perhaps he just got tired of killing and the threat of being killed. Or maybe the military’s excessively macho culture got to him. If he did just walk away from his post, it’s clear something cataclysmic happened in his psyche. It is not his fault other soldiers may have been killed searching for him. It is the fault of the government and its supporters that sent the soldiers into war in the first place.
Naturally, the right wing could not help themselves when rumors began to appear on the internet of Bergdahl’s possible desertion. After all, not only does the requisite hatred of Obama and the possibility he did something other rightwingers might like come into play, there is also the need to maintain the martial myth US culture insists on. Deserters must be punished. After all, if soldiers feel like they can walk away from a war for whatever reason at all, then how can a military be maintained? How can an Empire fight its wars except by overpaying mercenaries whose allegiance to anything but money and loot is questionable? Ever since Vietnam there is a lingering fear in every military officer and those civilians that support the institution of enlisted men and women who ignore orders, don’t fight and generally tell their higher-ups to fuck off.
Back in 1974, NBC television showed a film made from the book The Execution of Private Slovik by William Bradford Huie. The film and book were based on the true story of a hapless draftee who was executed on New Year’s Eve 1944 for desertion. The man who ordered the execution was General Dwight Eisenhower. When Huie tried to get the book published, Eisenhower attempted to quash publication. In 1960 Frank Sinatra tried to get a film version of the book made. He hired the blacklisted Albert Maltz to be the screenwriter. After being accused of being a communist sympathizer and asked to delay the film by John F. Kennedy, Sinatra backed down. Finally, the film was made with Martin Sheen playing the role of Eddie Slovik. In a side note, Kurt Vonnegut mentions Slovik in his antiwar novel Slaughterhouse Five.
According to Huie, Slovik realized rather quickly that he was not made to fight. He asked his commanding officer for a reassignment and was refused because the military needed fodder with rifles in their hand. After being refused, Slovik walked away from his unit, heading to a camp in the rear. It was there that he handed an Army cook a note which read, in part, “I, Pvt. Eddie D. Slovik, 36896415, confess to the desertion of the United States Army. At the time of my desertion we were in Albuff [Elbeuf] in France…. They were shelling the town and we were told to dig in for the night. The following morning they were shelling us again. I was so scared, nerves and trembling, that at the time the other replacements moved out, I couldn’t move. I stayed there in my fox hole till it was quiet and I was able to move. I then walked into town. Not seeing any of our troops, so I stayed over night at a French hospital. …. They turned me loose. I told my commanding officer my story. I said that if I had to go out there again I’d run away. He said there was nothing he could do for me so I ran away again AND I’LL RUN AWAY AGAIN IF I HAVE TO GO OUT THERE.”
If that doesn’t sound like the words of a sane man, then our definition of sanity is all wrong. The same can be said for Bergdahl if he did desert. It is the culture of war and the military that is just plain insane. The current glorification of all things military is not the act of a sane nation. One need only look at the thousands of suicides by soldiers and Marines after serving in a combat zone to understand this. Or, alternatively, one can look up statistics of spousal abuse and murder in towns and military bases where combat veterans live after fighting. All too often, the people of the United States are presented with the option of war as if it is a reasonable and sane choice. All too often we choose that option, allowing ourselves to get whooped up into a fever of revenge and imagined justice. Mass murderers in uniforms and suits convince us to send our sons, lovers and daughters to shed blood for the profit and glory of a few individuals possessed by the demons of bloodlust and greed.
Those who see through the insanity are dismissed, imprisoned, and ignored. If they wear the uniform of the nation and walk away, they face even greater penalties. Just ask Eddie Slovik. Eisenhower said he ordered the execution of Slovik to discourage other desertions. Don’t let Bowe Bergdahl suffer the same fate. He doesn’t deserve prison time. The men and women who sent him there do.
Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.