If you like what we are doing here on WARN, and are able to throw in a few pieces of copper or silver in the begging bowl, such an act of generosity would be very much appreciated.
Nearly 50,000 American and 100,000 British soldiers bolted during the war, mostly in North Africa and Europe. (Desertion was rare in the Pacific because there weren’t many places to go.) Glass focuses at length on the complicated sagas of three of them—one from Scotland, two from the U.S.—and in the process sweeps aside easy assumptions about the motivations and character of soldiers who followed this path. “Few deserters were cowards,” Glass writes, adding that the people who “showed the greatest sympathy to deserters were other frontline soldiers. They had, at one time or another, felt the temptation.”Bowe Bergdahl is a member of the United States Army. He was posted to Afghanistan. Bergdahl either deserted or was captured by the Taliban. He has spent 5 years as their prisoner. Barack Obama's administration negotiated his release. Bowe Bergdahl will not be the last man left in Afghanistan after the United States finally withdraws after its long cruel imperial misadventure in that country.
Republicans have developed a name brand as "the party that is strong on national defense". In its present iteration, with two failed wars--what were a 6 trillion dollar misadventure that almost (?) led to a 2nd Great Depression--the Republican's national security bonafides are akin to Taco Bell advertising itself as "real" or "authentic" Mexican food.
Thus, the Right and its bloviators can claim that the release of Bowe Bergdahl is one more sign that Barack Obama is "weak" on national defense. Of course, Obama's foreign policy successes are many. And empirical reality suggests that Obama has actually expanded the American empire and its military's reach as opposed to weakening and undermining it.
The Republican Party's opposition to the release of Bowe Bergdahl is a function of a desperate politics wherein they are pursuing a logic of professional contrariness, a decision-rule that deems anything done by Obama to be by definition "bad" and a "failure" which "threatens" American "freedom" and "security". Politics no longer stops at the ocean; such a rule of governance was fully jettisoned by the election of the United States' first black President.
While little discussed by the pundit classes, symbolic racism is also part of the Republican Party's hostility and opposition to the Obama administration's negotiated release of Bowe Bergdahl. Because a black president is by definition illegitimate for white conservatives, all of his actions are incompatible with American "strength", "honor" and "exceptionalism": the White Right's anti-black fixations are that profound and deep.
Moreover, because there is a tendency to locate racism and racist practices as outliers in American politics and life, something to be called out on occasion and beaten up like a political pinata in an act of social catharsis, news commentators and "experts" are reluctant to locate anti-black sentiment and white supremacy as solidly within the American political tradition even into the present.
Facts and context are the natural enemies of Right-wing propaganda, rumor mongering, and lies.
The G.I. Joe action hero tough guy image of the American soldier is comforting. To suggest that American soldiers are real people, with feelings, emotions, fears, and failings--and who are not always right or honorable in their conduct or deeds (see the war crimes committed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, etc.)--is an affront to American exceptionalism and glory. Republicans tend to be authoritarian and binary in their thinking. Consequently, they are especially susceptible to flag waving nationalism and are both more fearful of, and easily upset by, the fact that American soldiers are not supermen or superwoman.
Bowe Bergdahl is part of a long tradition where American soldiers have deserted or abandoned their posts during wartime. Charles Glass has written about this phenomenon in his book "Deserters: A Hidden History of World War 2":
During an interview on NPR, Glass shared how:
"It was very rare for those veterans to turn in a fellow from their unit who deserted. They often saw them deserting the front lines but didn't say a word. The ones who turned them in were the rear echelon troops. So when they went back to Paris or Lyon or somewhere where there was no battle, and a cook or clerk at a desk ... would [see] someone was a deserter ... he would turn them in. But the front-line soldiers very rarely turned in their fellow front-line soldiers ... because they felt, 'There but by the grace of God go I.' "He also discussed the role that poor leadership and low morale played in a given soldier's decision to desert:
"Some units had much higher rates [of desertion] than others. The 36th in the battles in France had the highest rate of any division in the American Army. It can't be accidental that there were junior officers ... who were not interested in their men, and not talking to their men, and not looking after their men. [Pvt.] Steve Weiss felt like his captain always led from behind, was never at the front lines, you could never find him, they couldn't confide in him, they couldn't ask him for anything, and they felt like they got a raw deal from him."Desertion is one of the many dirty little secrets that the media and elites choose to leave outside of the official narrative. It is related to others. For example, the lie of "the Greatest Generation" (a fiction of American triumphalism born at the end of the Cold War), that every soldier was in combat during World War 2 (in most militaries very few people actually see direct action), or how soldiers always fire their weapons at the enemy (the United States had a very high rate of non-shooters in World War 2) complicate a simple story of the brave American fighting man.
Fictions about the American war fighter are projections and idealizations of how the American people would like to see themselves. Therefore, it is easy to believe in lies and distortions because they support a sense of ego and national pride.
My father fought in North Africa during World War 2. When I was a child, I asked him about the war. He did not like to talk about it. However, on one occasion, he told me how there were soldiers who would disappear for a bit and then come back. I asked him if they would shoot them because they were cowards--the logic of a 11 year old boy and his glorious dreams of being a soldier are grand and simple are they not? My father looked at me with a considerate but disgusted tilt of his head. "No", he explained. "Sometimes folks just needed to take a powder from time to time".
The Republican Party's complaints about Bowe Bergdahl, obsession with faux scandals such as "Benghazi", and desires to fight every country from Iran to Russia (while they simultaneously idolize Putin as their new God King) are an adolescent phallocentric fantasy of guns, bombs, and "national security" on embarrassing display before the world. Republican elites are able to behave so irresponsibly because it is not their children or kin who will be at the tip of the spear.
It is easy for Right-wing bloviators and opinion leaders to throw bricks at Bowe Bergdah. War is someone else's problem for the Tea Party GOP. But conservatives can use the language of national security as a tool to undermine Barack Obama because racism (he is black) and partisanship (he is a Democrat) trump good governance and responsible public policy.