Potential EntitiesBowe Bergdahl
Antietam National Battlefield
I have a big, big problem with many of the people who so quickly judge the actions of Bowe Bergdahl, and I have a big, big problem with many of those who jump in to say how the soldiers around him should or shouldn’t feel and how our armed forces should or shouldn’t behave. It’s this: These ready critics haven’t been in uniform. Haven’t endured the rigors, made the sacrifice, felt the fear. Haven’t run smack into the disparity between what our country means to achieve or says it’s achieving and what’s really being accomplished. Haven’t walked through the shards of their own shattered illusions. This has been an emotional, messy and confusing week, which ends with as many questions as answers. One of mine concerns the Obama administration: Is there anyone there doing serious messaging strategy? Anyone stepping back to consider how a story like this one is likely to unfold and how the administration may get tripped up in it? When Susan Rice (rightly or wrongly) carries around that Benghazi baggage, how do you send her of all emissaries onto TV to talk up the “honor and distinction” of Bergdahl’s military service? This characterization was sure to be disputed; there was countervailing evidence in circulation even as she spoke. How do you fail to realize that this is going to come back to bite you? Incredible. But beyond the administration, in the halls of Congress and the public square, there’s something else that strikes and stops me, and it’s what strikes and stops me whenever we’re engaged in a loud conversation about military action and the military. Most of the people doing the talking are very, very far removed from the people doing the fighting—and sometimes the dying. And it gives them insufficient pause. Back in September, at a different crossroads, the Pew Research Center noted that only “about a fifth of the members of Congress who are debating whether or not to authorize U.S. military action in Syria have any military experience themselves.” That Pew report went on to observe: “Not all that long ago, military service was practically a requirement for serving in Congress. The high point in recent decades was the 95th Congress (1977-78) when, following an influx of Vietnam-era veterans, a combined 77 percent of the House and Senate had served in the armed forces.” And it added that “the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fought by a historically small U.S. military; this has contributed to a distance between the military and civilian society.” As someone whose only experience in or with the military was being embedded briefly with the Army during the first Persian Gulf War, I’m aware of that distance. It gives me pause. And it’s the source of my surprise when, for example, I hear hawks in Congress and hawks on the street talking about a soldier’s proper comportment or urging this military action or that. Not many of these hawks have been in harm’s way. They’re not about to be, either. Nor, in all probability, are their children. In Normandy today, on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, President Obama said that the U.S. commitment to freedom was “written in the blood on these beaches.” It’s a chilling, important reminder: Most of the back-and-forth about the military today—about what the country’s policy on prisoner swaps should be and about whether someone like Bergdahl deserves compassion or censure—is conducted by people without any blood of their own on the line.
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