What if Bergdahl were your son?

Jun 9, 2014 By Chris Peck

You'd probably want no stone left unturned to free him

Did the President break the law by making the trade?

No, I won't be going to Hailey, Idaho, for Bowe Bergdahl's homecoming.

He's not having a homecoming.

Hailey canceled the welcome home parade for the soldier who was held in captivity for five years by Taliban-sympathizers in Afghanistan.


After all, this is an American sergeant who spent five years detained behind enemy lines. He was freed in a prisoner swap approved by top general and the President who agreed to exchange five Taliban fighters held at Guantanamo for Bergdahl.

That seems like the script for a parade and small-town welcome home picnic.

Turns out Bowe is neither a Hollywood cutout of a hero, nor stereotypical prisoner of war.

Some of his fellow soldiers called him a deserter. The said Bowe Bergdahl grew disgusted with the war and one day just put down his weapon and walked away from his platoon.

And into the arms of the enemy --who promptly captured him and help him for five years.

Instead of being hailed as a war hero, Bergdahl has stirred up passions about patriotism.

Is Bergdahl responsible for the deaths of soldiers who were killed when the military launched a massive search and rescue effort after he disappeared?

Did the President do wrong by trading enemy combatants for him?

For me, the debate has been of particular interest because I spent some years in Hailey, Idaho.

I went their shortly after college for my first non-family newspaper job as the editor of the weekly newspaper there, the Wood River Journal.

My recollections of that time have made me more sympathetic to Bowe Bergdahl.

I can't help but think that growing up in the arts and resort town of Hailey surely shaped Bergdahl's world view.

He took ballet as a teenager at the Sun Valley Ballet School.

He studied Buddhism.

He lived on a home with hippie parents who had 5,000 books --but no telephone.

He joined the Army, his parents said later, because he wanted to help people he thought were being oppressed.

Over time, Bowe Bergdahl began to worry that his nation was a party to the oppression.

"I'm sorry for everything here,'' he wrote his parents shortly before he walked away from his post. "We don't even care when we hear talk about running over their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks.''

And one day he was gone.

So now what?

For me, it comes down to two questions.

First, ask yourself what would you want if this were your son?

I know what I would want. I would want the military to leave no stone unturned.

I would want the President to agree to a prisoner swap. And I would want my son home alive.

Second, ask yourself what you would want the U.S. military to do?

Again, it's clear to me.

Leave no one behind. Make sure every soldier, from Medal of Honor winners to Bowe Bergdahl, understands that the U.S. military never leaves you behind with the enemy.

No matter what.

Is Bowe Bergdahl a soldier? A deserter? A confused young man?

Probably of all of that.

He wasn't G.I. Joe. But he was an American behind enemy lines.

He taught his captors how to play badminton. Badminton!

In another time, you might argue that trading badminton for improvised explosive devices was actually a stroke of genius for a soldier.


Editor's note: Former Riverton resident Chris Peck retired recently as the editor of the Memphis (Tenn.) Commercial Appeal. He lives in Memphis.

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