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June 04, 2014

"With Honor and Distinction"

We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.

- C. S. Lewis

Much has been written over the last few days about the negotiated release of one Bowe Bergdahl, prisoner of war. The President's "release 1 low ranking deserter, get 5 high-value, high-risk jihadists free!" bargain - like so many of this administration's exercises of Smart Power/Diplomacy - seems to favor our self-avowed enemies at the expense of core American interests (or as they are now so breezily described, irrelevant distractions from the larger narrative that America leaves no one - well, except for this guy - behind):

The release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban detainees raises the question: What about Alan Gross, the State Department subcontractor who has languished nearly as long in a Cuban jail?

...having made the Bergdahl deal, the president ought to consider: What is the justification for freeing these Taliban officials in exchange for Bergdahl and summarily rejecting the notion of a much more benign release in order to secure Gross’s release?

If, like several of the President's die-hardest supporters, you can't quite wrap your mind around the ineffable wisdom of the President's three dimensional global checkers strategery... well, that's just more evidence that Obama is smarter than pretty much everyone else on the planet:

On Monday, Matthews voiced his skepticism over Obama’s decision to trade five key members of the Taliban for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl — a solider who may have deserted his post and left his fellow soldiers behind. Matthews lashed out about statements that Bergdahl made before he disappeared in 2009, including evidence that the solider said he was “ashamed to be an American” and talked of simply “walk[ing] off into the mountains of Pakistan.” Additionally, Chris Matthews expressed skepticism about statements that Bergdahl’s father made.

That man reportedly said he was “proud of how much you wanted to help the Afghan people, and what [Bergdahl] was willing to do to go to that length.” “Do you have any idea what he meant there?” Matthews asked The Daily Beast’s Kim Dozier. “Did he mean sort of leaving his post, leaving his rifle and uniform behind, heading off in the direction of Pakistan, being picked up by the Taliban? What did he mean ‘helping the Afghan people’ and that process? I don’t quite get that.” “But he left his post and he said — this is what I don’t understand,” Matthews also said. “Was he AWOL? And if not, why not? Why didn’t they declare him AWOL?” Matthews wasn’t done. He went on: “Didn’t he leave his unit behind? He left his uniform behind, he left his rifle behind and he told people if he didn’t like the mission he was headed to Pakistan. What was he doing?”

Verified and unverified reports of "what Bergdahl was doing" are thick upon the ground, and have been for years now. If only someone in the media had covered them, the White House, Pentagon, and intel community wouldn't be just now learning of them the same way Joe and Jane SixPack do - by reading the newspaper. Oh wait...

It seems the media have been covering this story all along. The Taliban and members of the Afghan intel community say he was actively aiding our enemies:

A Taliban deputy district commander in Paktika, who called himself Haji Nadeem, told the newspaper that Bergdahl taught him how to dismantle a mobile phone and turn it into a remote control for a roadside bomb.

Nadeem claimed he also received basic ambush training from the U.S. soldier.

Other media reports state that he left a desertion letter behind him when he walked away from his post, that he had already sent his belongings home before he disappeared, that he was ashamed to be an American and that a 2010 DoD investigation had turned up "incontrovertible" evidence of desertion (a crime under the UCMJ).

One supposes that a rational evaluation of all these media reports depends greatly upon what the meaning of "incontrovertible", is. Or perhaps we're all just not smart enough to know what success looks like.

What was Bergdahl doing? According to the administration's carefully selected spokespersun, he was serving his country with honor and distinction when he was captured on the battlefield.

Of all the idiotic aspects to this idiotic affair, this is arguably the one that makes me the angriest. Honor is a word that means something to the military community: honoring your word. Honoring your commitments. Honoring the service of hundreds of thousands of military men and women who have not always viewed being sent into harm's way with delight and anticipation, who have not always understood or agreed with the policy positions and decisions of their military and civilian leadership, and above all honoring their enlistment or commissioning oaths.

Which in this day and age are entirely voluntary. No one has been drafted or forced into either Bush's or Obama's military. They joined - and took their oaths - voluntarily. But more importantly, they kept their word - even when they had doubts and personal problems and a million excuses for doing what was personally convenient rather than what they knew to be right:

"I don't want to be a f – -ing driver," he said. "I joined the Marines to fight."

Much later, near Tikrit, he got his chance.

While the company was engaging fedayeen fighters, Staff Sgt. Mike Kolek, the vehicle commander, called on Wash to "pop up" so Wash could engage the enemy with his M-4 carbine. I got another half-smile as he told me about it.

But as much as Wash hated his role as a driver, which he told Mike about four times a day, you could tell he was really trying to master the unwieldy machine.

One day south of the Tigris River, Wash got the vehicle stuck up to its axles when a dike we were crossing gave way on the right side. Mike turned the air blue yelling at Wash, even though everyone, probably including Mike, knew it wasn't really Wash's fault. Everyone except Wash, of course.

I remember seeing the tough guy, the I-don't-take-crap-from-anyone guy, standing off by himself with his head down. I walked up to him. He had tears in his eyes and said softly, "I really f – -ed up. I let the staff sergeant down."

He hadn't, of course. I told him that, and later Mike told him the same. But Wash wasn't buying it. His pride wouldn't allow that.

Washalanta wasn't a poster Marine. He sure wasn't the type a press-relations officer would want you to write about.

After returning from Iraq the first time, he went "over the hill," or absent without leave, back in Oklahoma. I'm sure he had to pay for that. But the important thing is he didn't go "over the hill" when it was time to go back to Iraq. In my book, that's what real Marines are truly made off.

I can still hear Mike screaming at Washalanta, who was living on half the four or five hours of sleep the rest of us got, to wake up after our dawn routine of mounting up and watching out for attack. Sometimes you could actually hear Wash snore. We'd all giggle like schoolgirls as Mike banged on Wash's compartment and screamed "Washalanta. WASH, dammit – WAKE UP!"

After weeks of little to no sleep, Washalanta could be almost immune to Mike's raving. Usually he awoke with a "Huh?" that launched the rest of us into howls of laughter.

But now, my humorous memory has taken a horrible turn. In my mind's eye, I see a much different scene. I see Wash lying in the dirt on some pocketed Iraqi road bleeding to death. I hear his Marines screaming "Washalanta, WASH, dammit – WAKE UP!"

I sometimes think this administration wouldn't know honor or distinction if they bit them on the ass.

It is not difficult to sympathize with a young man who is confused, alienated, naïve, or foolish. Young men like that are easily found. Some of them - many of them - grow up to be fine people once surging hormones and insufficient maturity have had their day. But one can't help wondering what excuse there is for seasoned men and women - our leaders - not to know the difference between foolishness and outright criminal behavior and honor?

How stupid do they think we are? How clueless and out of touch are these people?

“What’s been interesting, Andrea, what’s caught the White House off guard here, they were expecting Gitmo criticisms of the detainees that were chosen,” Todd said. “They did not expect this criticism of the attempt to go get Bergdahl in the way that it was done.”

“It does seem they thought that the military would rally around them,” Mitchell observed. “That that would give them the protection, if you will, political protection from dealing through the Qataris with the Taliban.”

“On Sunday, I think they thought there would be some euphoria around this,” Todd agreed. “That there would be a rally around the flag. That didn’t happen.”

This, from a man who snootily put down the wearing of flag pins.

This is the story of a man who was captured by the enemy while doing his duty.

This is what honor looks like.

These are men and women who served their country with distinction.

If our leaders are no longer capable of recognizing these qualities in the men and woman they lead, how will our way of life be defended?


Update: The brave, flag-waving patriots at the White House accuse vets who voice inconvenient opinions about the Uniform Code of Military Justice of "SwiftBoating" the "comrade in arms" who was ashamed of them... and of everything they have fought and died for.

So much for patriotic dissent: the lifeblood of a thriving and healthy democracy.

Remember all those fervent lefty calls to "listen to the troops/listen to the generals" during the Evil Bu$Hitler Era? Just when you think these folks can't possibly stoop any lower, they feel compelled to outdo themselves.

Posted by Cassandra at June 4, 2014 07:47 AM

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I'd think a classical scholar would have understood. He must have slept through the movie.


...Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.

No need to sneak away into the night, leaving your comrades wondering; here's your free trip home.

Can any of us imagine 0 delivering this --

A many of our bodies shall no doubt
Find native graves; upon the which, I trust,
Shall witness live in brass of this day's work:
And those that leave their valiant bones in France,
Dying like men, though buried in your dunghills,
They shall be famed; for there the sun shall greet them,
And draw their honours reeking up to heaven;
Leaving their earthly parts to choke your clime,
The smell whereof shall breed a plague in France.

Mark then abounding valour in our English,
That being dead, like to the bullet's grazing,
Break out into a second course of mischief,
Killing in relapse of mortality.

Let me speak proudly: tell the constable
We are but warriors for the working-day;
Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirch'd
With rainy marching in the painful field;
There's not a piece of feather in our host--
Good argument, I hope, we will not fly--
And time hath worn us into slovenry:
But, by the mass, our hearts are in the trim;
And my poor soldiers tell me, yet ere night
They'll be in fresher robes, or they will pluck
The gay new coats o'er the French soldiers' heads
And turn them out of service.

If they do this,-- As, if God please, they shall,
--my ransom then Will soon be levied.
Herald, save thou thy labour;
Come thou no more for ransom, gentle herald:
They shall have none, I swear, but these my joints;
Which if they have as I will leave 'em them,
Shall yield them little, tell the constable.

Well, maybe if that was what was loading into the teleprompter for him to read. He is not the king he imagines himself to be. He's not even the President he was elected to be.


Posted by: htom at June 4, 2014 12:26 PM

Whoops! Preview showed the quotes had no line breaks, so I inserted them. Sorry. :(

Posted by: htom at June 4, 2014 12:28 PM

"If our leaders are no longer capable of recognizing these qualities in the men and woman they lead, how will our way of life be defended?"

This is rhetorical, right? Because one must first want to before something can be seen, recognized and defended. And this murder of crows simply can't. It goes against every grain of ideology that feeds their grist mill.
I'm glad you covered this. Now I can delete the vicious rant I was writing. Thanks!

Posted by: DL Sly at June 4, 2014 12:38 PM

No worries, htom - I'll take them out when I get the chance.

My version of the blog software is very old b/c frankly I haven't the time to upgrade the site. It's pretty frustrating! Sorry about that.

Posted by: Cass at June 4, 2014 02:09 PM

I messed with the line breaks a little without consulting your link. Probably not accurate but I hope it's acceptable.

Posted by: Cass at June 4, 2014 02:15 PM

My sense is that they really don't know what the word "honor" means, having never experienced it directly.

In their ears, the word probably sounds something like "Yay!" or "Ice Cream!"

Posted by: Grim at June 4, 2014 03:46 PM

In their ears, the word probably sounds something like "Yay!" or "Ice Cream!"

What is the sound of one undulating flag pin?

When you can snatch the flag pin from my hand, Grasshopper, it will be time to go.

Posted by: Zen Master at June 4, 2014 03:50 PM

Because one must first want to before something can be seen, recognized and defended. And this murder of crows simply can't. It goes against every grain of ideology that feeds their grist mill.

The whole idea of "honoring" is inherently elitist and promotes inequality.

Why should vets who perform their duty without complaint be treated any differently from those who take up arms against their own comrades or desert their posts. Why all this "othering" of perfectly valid lifestyle choices?

The secret to making this all make sense is to maintain psychological distance from what you say and do.


Posted by: Zen Master at June 4, 2014 03:53 PM

Close enough, Cass, thank you. I should have remembered, I was just so pleased that I'd figured out how to quickly put the break markers in.

Posted by: htom at June 4, 2014 05:14 PM

To too many people, honor is only something you are given as a prize by others ("I am honored by ..."); to me (and I suspect others here), it is a code of behavior for myself that I strive to keep.

Posted by: htom at June 4, 2014 05:50 PM

}}} that he was ashamed to be an American

Well, it's clear why he was chosen, then.

Michelle recognized a kindred spirit.

Posted by: IGotBupkis, "Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses." at June 4, 2014 06:56 PM


Posted by: IGotBupkis, "Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses." at June 4, 2014 06:57 PM

u ppl r meen. Bow burgdoll is a tru american hero.
He riscked his life to dessert his post and fallow his dreem of a newer amp more gooder utopian world jest beyond the next mountan, far from the reech of american emperialism.
Stop hating his goodness amp wisdom.

Posted by: DUGurl at June 4, 2014 10:15 PM

Hi Cass,
And hope your knee is mending well.
You really should publish a book of these.
This, and the linked earlier posts are priceless gifts.
Thank you.

Honor, Courage and Commitment.
Bagel, Kerry & Rice wouldn't recognize them
If they were cast in bronze and fell on their head.

Very Respectfully,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at June 4, 2014 10:55 PM

I think DU Girl wins Comment of the Day :p

Mike, I think this is the only subject that could ever tempt me to write a book. I've never felt that I had anything particularly important to say to the world, but telling these stories might be such a thing.

I once had a dream of writing just such a book and donating all the proceeds to military charities that help wounded vets.

Maybe some day I will quit my day job and do it.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 5, 2014 09:16 AM

Welcome back and I hope the knee is on the way to post op perfection.
Posts like this are one of the reasons why I eagerly check your blog every day. And posts like the Boys of Summer. You write well normally, but when you are "on" you write movingly.
Have a good day, today.

Posted by: Barry at June 5, 2014 11:06 AM

Thanks for the kind words, Barry.

The knee is doing much better - I can bend it 90 degrees with no effort/pain now and am working on not "lurching" when I walk (but I can walk without a cane or crutches for reasonable distances!)

Woo hoo!!!!

I have another one somewhat like this suggested by Joatmoaf - just need to get some things done at work.

Hope you have a good day too :)

Posted by: Cass at June 5, 2014 11:55 AM

"I've never felt that I had anything particularly important to say to the world,..."

Oh puhhhlllleeezzzeeee!
Don't make me come back there. You know how I hate the TSA. Remember I *do*know where you live and can out run you.

Posted by: DL Sly at June 5, 2014 12:09 PM

What was there to rally around? A man broke his oath, deserted his comrades, mission and country. It isn't rocket science, Mr. Matthews. He renounced his citizenship, mailed his stuff back home (that right there tells me he knew exactly what he was doing and that he was not coming back), and sought the Taliban. Why should we, the American people, rally around him? We did not desert him during the time he was in enemy hands. We do expect an accounting and the truth.

Posted by: Cricket at June 5, 2014 08:22 PM

Upon reflection, I'm reminded of a quote from an old friend:
"Society cultivates the behavior that it chooses to honor."

Posted by: CAPT Mike at June 8, 2014 04:27 AM

Cricket nailed it :)

Posted by: Cass at June 9, 2014 07:16 AM