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September 21 2015

Bowe Bergdahl Has a Mitigating Factor: He Grew Up in Idaho

Charlotte Hays

Morning Quiz: See if you can spot what, from an old-fashioned journalistic point of view, is wrong with these opening paragraphs from the Washington Post front-pager on Bowe Bergdahl:

Army Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl was fed up. He was five weeks into a deployment in southeastern Afghanistan and frustrated with his mission and his leaders. He and his fellow soldiers weren’t going after the Taliban as aggressively as he wanted, and his sense of disillusion added to the disgust for the Army that he had begun developing while still in basic training.

Looking to make a stand, Bergdahl hatched a plan: He would run away from his platoon’s tiny outpost in Paktika province late on June 29, 2009. He would stay away from the Army a day, maybe two, and then reappear about 19 miles away at a larger installation and demand to air his grievances with a general. He knew that the region was crawling with insurgents, but he had “outsize impressions of his own capabilities,” according to an investigating officer, and was determined to create enough chaos to get the attention of senior commanders.

Those were among the details that emerged in a preliminary hearing here late last week.

These are not details that "emerged" in a preliminary hearing--instead, since we do not know if they are true, they are "details" according to someone who spoke at the preliminary hearing to determine if Bowe Bergdahl should be tried in a court martial. They are at best "alleged" or "apparent" details.

Twenty years ago, a reporter for a major metropolitan daily, even a liberal one who wanted Bowe Berdgahl to be given a parade down Fifth Avenue, would have known this journalistic convention.

And I love this "detail:" Bergdahl was mad that the Taliban wasn't being pursued "as aggressively as he wanted." Translation: he wasn't a deserter, who, as some sources have alleged, sought out the Taliban; he was a super warrior who wanted to fight them harder that the U.S. military was doing.

Bergdahl is charged with desertion and misbehaving before the enemy. It is a celebrated case because President Obama took to the Rose Garden, flanked by Bergdahl's parents, to announce that Bergdahl had been exchanged for five Taliban prisoners from Gitmo. During the Rose Garden ceremony, Bergdahl's biker father, who had told the Taliban that God would "avenge" the death of every Afghan child, memorably spoke some words in Pashtun. National Security adviser Susan Rice later said that Bergdahl had served with "honor and distinction." The former is what is in doubt.

The Post goes on:

Emotional testimony has underscored the relentless brutality that Bergdahl had to endure, as well as the chaos caused by his disappearance and the lingering resentment of some of his comrades.

If Bergdahl's "resentful" former colleagues are to be believed, his disappearance caused more than "chaos." Several "comrades" are alleged to have died trying to find Bergdahl.

There are legitimate questions as to whether Bergdahl, who had "washed out" of training for the Coast Guard, was fit for the military. Putting young men and women in harm's way is a terrible thing and some of them fail. Some become heroes, some become deserters, and some die for their country.

Thus the moral issues in this case are harrowing, and we can feel sorry for Bergdahl and pity the mess he is in, and indeed has made, and still want to ascertain the truth and hope the court marital decides accordingly.

But really, is growing up in the heartland of America an excuse for what Bergdahl did, whatever it is found to be? Bergdahl's defenders certainly seem to think so:

The general found that Bergdahl’s childhood living at “the edge of the grid” in Idaho in relative isolation hurt his ability to relate to other people. As a result, he was an extremely harsh judge of character and “unrealistically idealistic,” Dahl said.

“I think he absolutely believed that the things he perceived were absolutely true,” he added.

Wow! Those Idahoans!

Bergdahl likely picked up a lot of judgmental and unrealistic ideas from his parents, and from emails it looks like his father may have even backed him in his decision to leave the base.

But blaming Idaho? That's a new low. Is it too old-fashioned that one would like to hear words such as "honor" and "duty" used in the hearing?



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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