A Different World

The public walked away from the war long before Bowe Bergdahl

“God and soldiers we adore/In time of danger, not before. The danger past and ill things righted/God’s forgotten, the soldier slighted.” Francis Quarles

I don’t know if Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl abandoned his post in Afghanistan, even though members of his unit say he did and are angry about it.

I don’t know the particulars of the sensitive talks between the White House and the Taliban, and if the way the Obama administration informed Congress will pass legal muster or just become another in a long line of disputes between the executive and legislative branches about war powers.

I know this: the American public began abandoning the U.S. soldiers we sent to Afghanistan long before Bergdahl became the final American P.O.W. of those conflicts.

Before the Afghan war began, the public, by an 80 percent to 18 percent margin, was in favor of launching a ground war.

By 2008, those in favor had fallen to 52 percent, according to a CNN/ORC International poll. By last year, support had dwindled to 17 percent while opposition had grown to 82 percent – meaning Americans had turned against this war more than it ever had Iraq or even Vietnam.

When we are angry and want revenge in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack, when it seems like restorative glory is at hand, we push our young men and women into war. But when it gets tough and drags on - when we discover the limits of our Super Power powers - we quickly turn our backs on them and barely think about what they face in that hell until something wakes us from our slumber. After awhile though, headlines about soldiers being torn apart by IEDs or dying in ambushes or falling from helicopters felled by rocket-propelled grenades don’t move us.

When a war we cheered for begins to go bad, we get to divert our eyes and blame politicians in Washington. The soldiers have to find the will to keep fighting, no matter how many bodies fall lifeless at their feet.

But it’s even worse. There was no public outcry when we diverted our attention and resources to Iraq – another war that enjoyed big initial support. We didn’t bat an eye when commanders in Afghanistan said for years that they were desperate for more help, that they had not been equipped to complete the mission they were assigned. The louder they screamed for help, the more the public’s attention turned elsewhere.

I don’t know if Bergdahl abandoned his unit, or under what circumstances if he did. But I know we abandoned him and his fellow soldiers.

I know most of the public stood idly by as the rate of suicide among those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan reached record highs. I've cried with those who had a loved one killed in battle and loved ones killed by their own hands far from the front line after serving the final of multiple tours in hell.

I've told their stories; only veterans and those who knew someone in a war zone seemed to give a damn.

The outcry over the daily carnage soldiers had to navigate never reached the fever pitch the controversy over bringing an American home has in just a few days. No wonder, because only 1 percent of us saw combat in the two major wars of the past decade.

The 1 percent got to dodge bullets and missiles; the 99 percent get to determine if they are worthy of still being called American after a potentially bad decision.

We don't even have the decency to wait for all the facts to come in before declaring the guilt of a young man who put himself in harm's way on our behalf. Bergdahl is a member of the 1 percent. No matter the reason he left the base, he put on a uniform, picked up a gun and put his life on the line to preserve American ideals - something 99 percent of us didn't do.

If - if - he deserted, like tens of thousands of soldiers before him in wars going all the way back to the American Revolution, his actions should be investigated and scrutinized by those who know that hell best, not the majority of us who seem to care more about making a political point than in supporting troops in good times and bad, as we have so cavalierly and repeatedly said we would but never have.

No matter the outcome of that inquiry, I will not join the masses of those who have quickly judged Bergdahl harshly.

I haven't earned the right, too.