Bergdahl and the Price of War

vietnam-soldiers-1Over at OTB Doug Matacoinis links to a piece by J.D. Tucille.

American troops have engaged in continuous war in Afghanistan since 2001, so nobody can claim that they don’t know that military service might require actual military service. Then again, military recruiters focus on the young not just because they’re physically fit, but also because they have little perspective on what they’re getting themselves into. More than a few studies have found that recruiters tend to be a bit shaky on the details and potential consequences of enlisting—a choice that, at least potentially, locks enlistees into a situation with high stakes.
Even in the age of the Internet and non-stop news cycles, concepts like combat, injury, and death can be abstract concepts for an 18-year-old.
So if Bowe Bergdahl decided that the bill of goods he was sold didn’t live up to the advertising—especially if he began to have moral qualms about his duties.

Unlike Doug I have served in the military. I never served in SE Asia but I am a Vietnam era vet so I know many who did. It took a mental toll on those in combat but even then you knew it was only going to last a year unless you volunteered for another tour. Many of us in the military at that time thought that the war in Vietnam was was a waste and misguided. When LBJ’s White House tapes were released we discovered that those at the highest level also believed this which meant the continuation war was nothing short of criminal as over 50,000 of Americas young men died in a senseless war.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are also senseless wars. Iraq is rapidly becoming a client state of Iran so we will end up having nothing to show for the blood and treasure we spent there. And it was worse than Vietnam – multiple tours and knowing that even if you survive one tour you will be back and not survive that one. The mental strain is something I can’t imagine. The same can be said for the war in Afghanistan. We will be out of there in a couple of years with nothing to show for all the blood and treasure we have spent. It will revert back to a “country” of tribal warfare with the Taliban probably picking up where they left off. Is it really all that surprising that some troops figure out they are on a fools errand?

Of course it was different when I was in the service since most of us were either drafted or signed up because we were about to be drafted to reduce the possibility of becoming canon fodder in the jungles of Vietnam.  I had it easy – since I was a college graduate I ended up with an office job on the frontier of freedom in downtown Munich Germany.  Most were not so fortunate but they were probably more fortunate than the volunteers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Author: RON BEASLEY

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27 Comments

  1. Posted something about Lori Piestewa in another comment thread. This UK piece goes into who serves.
    http://www.theguardian.com/wor.....garyyounge

    This is the tale of two privates. They were sisters-in-arms – two young women fighting for Uncle Sam. They were roommates at Fort Bliss military base in Texas; tentmates in the Gulf, and close friends at all places in between. Then they (and 13 other members of the US Army’s 507th Maintenance Company) took a wrong turn in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya and were ambushed. One, Jessica Lynch, 19, was injured, hospitalised and then rescued by Special Forces to emerge as the poster girl for American resilience and camaraderie. The other, Lori Piestewa, 23, was killed, with the gruesome distinction of being the first native American in the US army to be killed in combat and the only American servicewoman to die in this war.

    On the face of it, Piestewa, from the Hopi tribe, does not fit the bill for the all-American war hero or heroine. She was a single mother of two who left her four-year-old son, Brandon, and three-year-old daughter, Carla, with her parents who live in a trailer in Tuba City, Arizona while she went to fight in the Middle East. But, in more ways than one, hers is the other American face of this war, fought by a military whose ranks have been swelled by poor, non-white women. A volunteer army comprising recruits who, whatever their patriotic credentials, have few other choices.

  2. I’m not sure I would agree that we accomplished nothing. We freed two countries from brutal dictatorship and horrifyingly barbaric rule. It’s not as free as the West but a LOT of good has come from these interventions. The fall of Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, the crippling of Al Qaeda, the liberation of women in Afghanistan, the Kurds and the lesson that terrorism will bring a response from the US. New dictators will rise, jerks with power will impose their extremism onto their citizenry again but it was truly not all for naught. I agree with getting out. I’m not sure if I agreed with staying, but I do not believe the lives lost there were in vain. They have taken a fight from our doorstep to the terrorists. They have planted the seed of freedom and what life could be like if they throw off the shackles of religious extremism. If they choose not to fight for their freedom, that’s their choice.

  3. As a former supporter, especially Afghanistan, of both wars, I wish I could agree wholeheartedly , but I can’t. However, even Obama admits that we are at war with people like Al Queda and I hope we can do all we can to eradicate the terrorists.

  4. “Even in the age of the Internet and non-stop news cycles, concepts like combat, injury, and death can be abstract concepts for an 18-year-old.
    So if Bowe Bergdahl decided that the bill of goods he was sold didn’t live up to the advertising—especially if he began to have moral qualms about his duties.”
    Well, there isn’t an 18year old on this planet that fully grasps the abstract concepts of combat, injury and death. They are invincible…remember?? However, they probably have at idea..which is more than our previous veterans had at that age.
    Does anyone who signs up and see’s conflict know what to expect? Maybe we shouldn’t enlist young kids until they have been counseled by veteran soldiers who can tell them what’s up.

  5. Not to be a defender of Sadaam Husein, but women and education were more western under him than today. SH was a secular leader pandering to Islamic ideology.

  6. Not to be argumentative, cincyindep, but do you really feel that the fall and death of Saddam Hussein was really worth the lives of more than 4,000 Americans and over 100,000 Iraqis? (And was that really the reason we invaded and occupied Iraq?)

    Also, have you been keeping up with the daily, continuing massacres (“barbaric rule”) and sectarian violence in Iraq, and do you think that once we leave Afghanistan, women will continue to be “liberated?” (I personally hope so, but I have my doubts)

    Finally, do you feel that we can — in a few years and with hundreds of thousands of troops and even more bombs and weapons — really “install democracy,” change the culture in countries that have had such culture/religion/governments for hundreds/thousands of years?

    I would say, yes, we should try to change such cultures for the better, but peacefully and democratically.

    Just asking/saying.

  7. Not to be augmentative, DDW., but with a few fighter planes and a blind eye, we have allowed a democratically elected government to be pushed out and a military dictatorship trampling over the people and the press, take it’s place, with hardly a peep.

  8. Not to be argumentative, duck, but whatever place you are talking about — it could be Thailand — why don’t you send in the troops and the tanks and the fighters and put the democratically elected government back in. That’s something your “good friend” :) bomb-bomb-Iran-McCain would do.

    Is that your “argument”?

    And now you have a nice weekend.

  9. Sorry, I thought you would recognize Egypt.

  10. @DORIAN DE WIND: You are absolutely right, Iraq is still an unstable hell hole and a majority of the population was probably better off under SH. When we pull out of Afghanistan in a year and a half as I stated in the post the Taliban will probably take over again and women s rights will once again vanish.

  11. You too, DDW and all.

  12. Not to be augmentative, DDW., but with a few fighter planes and a blind eye, we have allowed a democratically elected government to be pushed out and a military dictatorship trampling over the people and the press, take it’s place, with hardly a peep.

    I think it is important to point out that we’re talking here about the “price of war.” The cost/benefit analysis of putting our soldiers in harm’s way. How many of them are worth “regime change” for a country in which we may have some interests?

    I think it is also important to point out that what happened in Egypt is not exactly a case of the US sitting idly by while a democratically elected government was pushed out by a dictatorship.

    We sat on the sidelines as a dictatorship fell to a popular uprising. We sat on the sidelines as the country elected a new government. We sat on the sidelines as that elected government veered so quickly towards dictatorship that there was another uprising, and then we sat (as we sit now) on the sidelines as Egypt faces an uncertain future.

    The second most important thing about all of the above is that we did not direct any of it. The Egyptian people went from dictatorship to revolution to military rule to democracy and back to military rule (with democracy to be determined later) without a cadre of US “advisers” pushing the country too hard in one direction or another.

    The most important thing about all of the above is that not a single US soldier gave their life for any of it.

    Egypt – like some of the other countries that experienced the brief “Arab Spring” – is a mess. But it is their mess, not ours.

    As Ron pointed out, we invested enormous amounts of blood and treasure (the former being infinitely more valuable than the latter) in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet the proceeds from that investment are no different from the much smaller (or even non-existent) investments we made in Egypt, or Libya, or Tunisia, or even war-torn Syria.

    In Iraq, four thousand flag draped coffins and a trillion dollars got us a country teetering on the edge of chaos.

    In Egypt (and Libya, and Syria, etc.) we got us countries teetering on the edge of chaos.

    I am having a hard time imagining a scenario where planting a bunch more of our people at Arlington would have garnered a different result.

  13. Well said, cjjack

  14. Sorry, my comment stands as is. Egypt is a travesty and rolling out all the deaths in other countries does not verbally paper that over. We enabled this NON-DEMOCRACY and said little or nothing, and we still are silent. Using the example of our troops dying is ingenuous when we are giving money and arms to the generals. What happened to all our bullshit about democracy? Don’t we care that reporters, even Al Jazeera’s, are routinely thrown in jail and Islamic people, even those who supported the downfall of Mubarak, are persecuted and killed. Why, because, the U.S. has a double standard and always has. Obama is as bad as all his predecessors; all talk and posturing.

  15. That’s disingenuous.

  16. dd says” Sorry, my comment stands as is. Egypt is a travesty and rolling out all the deaths in other countries does not verbally paper that over. We enabled this NON-DEMOCRACY and said little or nothing, and we still are silent.”

    I am having some difficulty understanding that pov.
    So if we do nothing…and do not interfere, we are enablers?? Yet if we get involved we are militaristic?

    We are currently doing nothing now to help those poor people in Syria …so I guess by dd’s pov, we are enabling the slaughter? But if we take action to try and stop it somehow, we are being hawks who risk our own people in someone’s else’s fight by cjjack’s pov.

    Interesting. Time to figure out just what America’s role in the world is wouldn’t you all say?

  17. I am unable to make it any clearer, we are turning a blind eye towards the people in Egypt. And we do not need to interfere militarily. Yes, we are helping the military government by our silence, maybe because the people are brown, I don’t know.

  18. Duck, you labor under the assumption that we can fix, and are somehow responsible, for all the world’s ills. We can not, and we are not. Egypt keeps you up at night? Really? How about the other 80 nations that are complete messes around the world? Cjack is right. Its a mess, but its their mess. We are no more responsible for Egypt’s woes than Belize is. Why isn’t Belize doing more? What is wrong with those people? I get really tired of people that seem to vastly overstate our ability to control every facet of everything that goes on in the world. Its a big place. People are crazy. I’m not saying we should do nothing anywhere, but there are limits.

  19. @dduck:

    I am unable to make it any clearer, we are turning a blind eye towards the people in Egypt. And we do not need to interfere militarily. Yes, we are helping the military government by our silence, maybe because the people are brown, I don’t know.

    I’m really not sure what we could have done in Egypt. It appeared that a majority of citizens in Egypt were not happy with the government controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. In places like the Middle East democracy as we know it it is not always a panacea – some time a strong hand is needed, something we should have learned in Iraq.

  20. Jeez, we could have made at least a “strong” statement condemning their actions. Instead we make pretty speeches about democracy for a lot of white folks like in the Ukraine as we should do. Simple, don’t give money and arms to a military dictatorship that overthrew democratically elected government . And their is no comparison (like the false equivalency often bandied about here) with Syria and other places. Please name a few like Egypt. And it’s not what we could have done alone, it’s what we should be doing now.
    Do any of you liberals mind stuff like the following where the game is rigged?
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06.....rhood.html
    “the court ordered the immediate dissolution of Egypt’s first freely elected Parliament in six decades — dominated by Islamists — allowing the military to assume legislative power.”

  21. DD,

    Simple, don’t give money and arms to a military dictatorship that overthrew democratically elected government .

    You are being a bit disingenuous yourself about this point. We have been providing support for Egypt (most of it going to the military) since 1979 in exchange for their peace agreement with Israel. That support continued for the duration of the decidedly undemocratically elected Mubarak regime. Some of it was withheld under the brief Morsi regime, and in response to the coup delivery of tanks, helicopters, and missiles was suspended and conditions were added to any further aid.

    The White House has moved to resume some shipments and the conditional aid, which was blocked by Sen. Leahy – who heads the panel that appropriates foreign aid. (p.s. he’s a liberal)

    So it is disingenuous to suggest that we rolled up a nice fat aid package to reward Egypt’s military for their coup. In fact we did rebuke them for their actions, and that money and military hardware is currently on hold.

    Now, as to the crocodile tears being shed for the Morsi regime…dry your eyes, Ducky. I was one of those people who thought at first “hey, maybe the Muslim Brotherhood will keep their promise to just be a regular ‘ole political party and this Morsi fellow will be the moderate he seems to be.”

    Well that turned out to be a false hope. Worthy of a coup? Perhaps not, but the situation seems to be a toss-up between a military dictatorship (something not terribly new for Egypt) or a repressive elected Islamist regime. Now about this:

    What happened to all our bullshit about democracy?

    With regards to Egypt, I’d argue that for the first time in quite awhile, we didn’t bullshit about democracy. It may have escaped your notice, but the United States has a bit of a mixed track record in this regard. We’ve happily overthrown democratically elected regimes in the past (Iran and much of Latin America come to mind) and are currently coming down off two arguably failed attempts to impose democracy at the point of a gun.

    We did not “turn a blind eye” towards what was happening in Egypt. We for once restrained our urge to rush in guns-a-blazing and “fix” the country struggling with the aftermath of decades of dictatorship. Maybe it seems like we’re doing nothing because we’ve chosen not to go storming in there with “shock and awe” for a change.

  22. Oh, please, aside from the history lesson, which is not needed, no one said guns a blazing, that’s just rhetoric. I am also very aware that we support military and autocratic regimes, that is my point. The military aid (since 1979, as you point out, and of which I have noticed) is IMHO, to keep Egypt mollified regarding it’s relationship with Israel and is probably a pragmatic approach, but all I’m saying is it is on the backs of the average Egyptian and at the expense of a sort of free press (the ones that are not in jail), with LITTLE notice, or even rhetoric, from the U.S., our democracy loving government. Those that want to justify the military dictatorship, feel free, just don’t pontificate about how we are so democratic and peace loving. Yes, it is bullshit, it has not “escaped my notice” and keep your ducky snide to yourself, my eyes are dry.
    Meantime, I think we have both bounced our opinions against each other’ stone walls, so I quit.

  23. Endless war… just what a famous general and president warned us about many decades ago. And he wasn’t the first either. If John McCain and all his chickenhawk buddies had their druthers, the flow of American blood and treasure leaving our country would be constant… afterall, there is always some messed up place and people somewhere in the world and it seems easy for the decision-makers to make a case when it isn’t going to be their ass on the line.

  24. Point?

  25. You don’t see the point or don’t like it?

  26. So enlighten me.

  27. Will this be a paying job or pro bono?

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