"A Prodigal Son"

June 10, 2014 

An area of theological instruction reserved for senior year study at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, my alma mater, dealt with the dicey issue of "Proportionate Evil." Simply stated, one can find oneself trapped in a situation offering only two choices — both carrying negative consequences and requiring unavoidable immediate resolution. A stunning example can be witnessed in Alfonso Cuaron's multiple Oscar winning space thriller, "Gravity."

Mission Commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) must determine whether to sever his linked umbilical connection to Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and die — or guarantee killing both by not doing so — effectively being forced to decide between suicide and a double homicide.

Not nearly as dramatic back here on earth, but nonetheless offering situational comparison, here's Barack Obama agreeing to obtain the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban after five years of enemy captivity in exchange for five enemy combatants caged at Guantánamo for more than twice that time, unleashing in the process an explosion of hypocritical right-wing political wrath. But it was that or leave him abandoned in chains or worse as we begin our withdrawal from combat, Sgt. Bergdahl being the only member of the United States military held captive in Afghanistan.

One out of five young American soldiers repeatedly sent to fight needless wars in the merciless heat and dirt of Iraq and Afghanistan since March of 2003 are now displaying classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Over 5,000 of our troops have been killed. Over 70,000 have been seriously wounded, these warriors returning to often face inexcusable delays in obtaining basic health services from the Veterans' Administration.

Bergdahl's family may display unsettling eccentricity and the sergeant, himself, hardly seems the heroic John Wayne type, but let's reflect on the irrefutable truth that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and Afghanistan's Taliban involvement should have been ancillary and temporary. We can call them terrorists, but we've always been on their turf. Taliban is not Al Qaida. Three trillion dollars of our collective treasure has been lost with nothing gained but strained foreign alliances and a people divided by irresponsible media and limited leadership.

National insanity is individually contagious and reliably self-perpetuating. As more facts emerge, it seems clear that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl answered his country's call to service only to find himself psychologically unstable, chronically conflicted and deeply disturbed, perhaps even pathologically so. It appears probable that Bergdahl left his post near the Pakistani border and disappeared with disillusion — unarmed into the night.

As men and women from our "Greatest Generation" were properly recognized and honored last Friday upon the 70th Anniversary of "D-Day," it should be recalled that more than 21,000 American soldiers were convicted of desertion during World War II. Forty-nine were sentenced to death, but only Private Edward Donald Slovik of Detroit became the first and only American to be tried and executed for desertion since the Civil War. Sgt.Bergdahl may well be eventually determined to be a deserter.

Yet with more than a small measure of emotional reluctance, I cannot help but agree with President Obama's assertion that "Whatever circumstances turn out to be, we still get a soldier back if he's held in captivity. Period. Full stop. We don't condition that."

I also support 31-year-old Gerald Sutton of Michigan, a member of Bergdahl's abandoned combat unit, who contends, "Whatever the tribunal or whatever he faces, whatever judgment they pass will be— if they just decide to give him a black mark and a dishonorable discharge — I think he should face the music."

As harsh rhetoric increases with dedicated fervor from Obama haters and as wild speculation and unfounded innuendo continues screaming from both press and pulpit, I would hope we might find unified concurrence on one simple fact.

A war is mercifully ending as a prodigal son comes home.

It is the American way.

"There won't be any trumpets blowing

Come the judgment day.

On the bloody morning after —

One tin soldier rides away."

"One Tin Soldier/ Theme From Billy Jack" — Dennis Lambert/Brian Potter (1969)

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