SYNDICATED COLUMN: Going After Bergdahl

Why Don’t More Soldiers Walk Away?

American news media portrays Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his apparent decision to simply walk away from the war in Afghanistan as bizarre and incomprehensible.

I wonder why it doesn’t happen all the time.

From The New York Times:

“Sometime after midnight on June 30, 2009, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl left behind a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life. He slipped off the remote military outpost in Paktika Province on the border with Pakistan and took with him a soft backpack, water, knives, a notebook and writing materials, but left behind his body armor and weapons — startling, given the hostile environment around his outpost.”

There’s little doubt. Bergdahl was politicized by what he saw.

“The future is too good to waste on lies,” a 2012 Rolling Stone article quotes an email from Bergdahl to his father. “And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be American. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting.”

Among other traumas, the then 23-year-old Idaho native witnessed an Afghan child run over by a U.S. Army vehicle. His fellow soldiers, he recalled, didn’t seem to care.

The Times paints a portrait of a soldier who was alienated, burned out and possibly a victim of PTSD. “He wouldn’t drink beer or eat barbecue and hang out with the other 20-year-olds,” the paper quotes Cody Full, a member of Sergeant Bergdahls platoon, in an interview arranged by the Republican Party. “He was always in his bunk. He ordered Rosetta Stone for all the languages there [in Afghanistan], learning Dari and Arabic and Pashto.”

Bergdahl’s walk-away echoes Tim O’Brien’s allegorical 1978 novel “Going After Cacciato,” in which a U.S. soldier serving in Vietnam goes AWOL, determined to walk all the way to Paris. His buddies go after him. It soon becomes clear that Cacciato’s comrades are less interested in catching him than in following his example.

All military forces contend with deserters, and the United States is no exception. “Army desertion rates have fluctuated since the Vietnam War — when they peaked at 5 percent. In the 1970s they hovered between 1% and 3%, which is up to three out of every 100 soldiers. Those rates plunged in the 1980s and early 1990s to between 2 and 3 out of every 1,000 soldiers,” according to NBC News. By 2007, the fourth year of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the rate was up 80%, to nine out of 1,000.

450,000 U.S. troops deserted during Vietnam.

Few deserters pull a Cacciato, opting out in the combat zone. Instead, while on leave, most just fail to report back.

Given the conditions faced by many U.S. soldiers in war zones, it’s surprising that more don’t lose it and take off.

Contrary to standard practice among armed forces in the West for hundreds of years, American soldiers are assigned to repeated, long combat tours without sufficient time between missions to recuperate. They are often underequipped and, as was apparently the case in Bergdahl’s unit, poorly disciplined and rarely given any context for their operations.

Then there’s the nature of the wars themselves.

Since 1945, since they weren’t authorized by Congress, every single one of America’s wars have been illegal. They’ve all been wars of aggression — neither the Koreans nor the Vietnamese nor the Iraqis nor the Afghans posed any threat to the United States. And they’ve all featured aspects of what historians dubbed “total war” after World War II: combat in which civilian casualties are not regrettable accidents, but strategically considered and intentional.

When soldiers become vets, they’re cast out into the streets, where many become homeless.

It doesn’t take long for the truth to hit home. All but the stupidest active-duty soldiers realize that they’re peasant mercenaries for a cruel and uncaring empire.

Why don’t more guys (and women) pull a Bergdahl? The main incentive to remain at their posts has to be the unremitting hostility of the locals — something Bergdahl no doubt experienced during five long years of captivity.

(Ted Rall, Staff Cartoonist and Writer for Pando Daily, is the author of the upcoming “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)




  • OIC. I haven’t been following this as closely as I could have. Based on the noise from the echo chamber, I was under the impression that he had deserted in the face of the enemy. It’s an entirely different thing to walk away.

    I’ve been reading that some of his squadmates died looking for him, or because the air cover was pulled off to look for him. But if he left a note explaining himself then their actions aren’t those of concerned friends; but rather that of enforcers. His officers evidently decided that bringing him back was more important than looking out for those that were still serving voluntarily.

    Makes you wonder about their motives. Were they worried about the health and safety of one of the men under their care? (pause while the laughter dies down) Or were they more worried about possible negative PR if he joined up with the “enemy”?

    • @ CrazyH –
      “I’ve been reading that some of his squadmates died looking for him, or because the air cover was pulled off to look for him.”
      I’ve read that those stories are exaggerations – most of the deaths and injuries occurred on routine patrols whereby the troopers were performing their daily duties with additional instructions to be alert to any information concerning a lone U.S. soldier. That is to say, their instructions were specifically: “Go out and find Berghdahl.” That sounds plausible, but time will tell.

      • Add the word “not” – “… their instructions were NOT specifically….”

  • Twenty-two Vets kill themselves on average each day.

    Then when one decides to take a walk everyone gets all excited.

    And Obama has no problem giving Americans death sentences, acting as remote judge and jury.

    I suppose there are some lizard-brains-in-mammal-carcases that would rather that he droned the impromptu hiker.

    Sometimes a bad conscience can kill you. And some lucky SOBs have no conscience to bother them at all.

  • alex_the_tired
    June 6, 2014 7:08 AM

    So what happens if he’s found guilty of desertion? Oh, wait. That’s already been decided, hasn’t it? His hometown — a tiny little spot in Idaho — canceled his homecoming parade. A town with a population of about 6,000 (If he doesn’t blow his own brains out, one of the gun nuts probably will) has already cast the first stone.

    As to why more soldiers don’t simply walk away? Why don’t more soldiers simply come forward with evidence about civilian murders like Chelsea Manning did? Why didn’t more soldiers come forward with evidence about Abu Ghraib? For the same basic reasons so many of us hate our jobs: the bosses are assholes usually, the work is dull, no one cares if you’re happy or have any complaints. The military, just like corporate, wants you to shut up, do your work, and not call in sick. And god help you if you decide to be a troublemaker. The military has ways of dealing with troublemakers. Court-martials are merely one part of it.

    The returned soldier’s life story reads a lot like many of these soldiers. Go on. Cobble together the “average” story of all the soldiers in the news for some sort of problem. They’re rarely Greg Brady. Dysfunctional homes, emotional problems, identity crises, no clear goals, rarely four-year graduates from a university, tend to come from podunk towns. You’d think at this point the military would simply stop taking these people in. Or stop going off to pointless wars started by the handlers of half-witted Yale students.

  • Tyler Durden
    June 6, 2014 7:40 AM

    How did you feel after watching Dances With Wolves? Did you empathise with John Dunbar?

  • Tyler Durden
    June 6, 2014 7:47 AM

    Oh and BTW, Bergdahl probably know more about the “enemy” now than the guys who started this.

  • Add the word “not” – “… their instructions were NOT specifically….”

    • Disregard. I posted this out of sequence. Look for it where it really belongs. 🙂

  • “Then there’s the nature of the wars themselves.”

    A sadly debatable topic (since the truth would seem to be obvious). Read Rise to Globalism which proves that every war since 1917 was absolutely necessary to protect the US from the horrible Germans/Yellows/Reds/Terrorists(=browns) that lurked at our borders ready to impose their sauerkraut/raw-seaweed/queues-for-borscht/Sharia-goat on the US had our insightful and courageous leaders not mobilised the US armed forces to protect us. (Of course, in ’17 and ’41, the Congress passed an Act of War as required by the Constitution, but after ’45, the overwhelming majority of Americans agreed that the threats were so intense that the Commander-in-Chief had to act immediately to keep us all safe, and could not wait for a Congressional vote.)

    Or one can read Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, a book that agrees with The Anti-American Manifesto for all US military actions after 1953 (but, before 1953, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man has America as the Greatest Force for Good in the World, while The Anti-American Manifesto is a litany of America’s crimes since 1607).

    • alex_the_tired
      June 8, 2014 10:18 AM


      Maybe you should put a little corner on the website. A bibliography of economics/politics/history texts that provide a rational balance to the U.S.A.! U.S.A.! bullshit we were all fed in school.

      I don’t need to know to read Das Kapital or Adam Smith; they’ve got saturation. Any basic research will point the curious person to those resources. But how about the lesser-known works that we all ought to be dipping in to?