Thursday, November 27, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

America...what the hell is wrong with us?

The release of an American POW brings out the worst in America that this American has seen in my lifetime.

America...what the hell is wrong with us?

This undated image provided by the U.S. Army shows Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for almost 5 years. Now that he is free, will America´s only prisoner of the Afghan war be viewed as a hero or a deserter? (AP Photo/U.S. Army)
This undated image provided by the U.S. Army shows Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for almost 5 years. Now that he is free, will America's only prisoner of the Afghan war be viewed as a hero or a deserter? (AP Photo/U.S. Army)

A politician who's in a tough re-election fight deleted a Twitter posting earlier today because he thought would offend voters in his home state. I know, I know, these days "politician-deletes-thoughtless-tweet" articles are the dog-bites-man stories of American journalism. So let's see what outrageous and offensive thing Sen. Thad Cochran wanted to hide from the world:

Yikes! Welcoming home an American soldier after five years of captivity? No wonder Cochran is on the brink of getting the boot from the good people of Mississippi. Nor was he alone. Other politicians have been scrambling to hide the fact that they briefly thought an American gaining his freedom after a terrorist kidnapping in Afghanistan was a cause for celebration.

Here's another: Iowa's Joni Ernst, the Hawkeye State's newly minted U.S. Senate nominee. She removed this embarrassing display of humanity after just 25 minutes:

Obama's action to free Bowe Bergdahl was ...
Bad - he made a deal with terrorists
Good - he brought a soldier home
Not sure

Ernst, you may recall, is the candidate who won her primary after bragging about her ability to castrate hogs (she then vowed to "cut pork" in Washington...ouch! No, seriously, ouch.) But apparently Ernst lacks the cojones to stick to her controversial "thoughts and prayers" sentiments for the Bergdahl family, a profile in courage that suggests she'd fit in well in Washington. At least three other GOP politicians also yanked their tweets about what one had called "the wonderful news" of Bergdahl's release. Whoever said that your first reaction to something is usually the right reaction apparently never heard of the Fox Effect.

OK, maybe you're thinking that folks like Cochran and Ernst jumped into this without all the facts. Well, of course they did. Most politicians don't have most of the facts most of the time, and yet they speak up anyway. But what are we to make of all the Republican politicians who we know had been following the Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl case because they'd been pleading publicly for President Obama to DO SOMETHING, including a prisoner swap, if it would win the soldier's freedom?

What do we make of former Vietnam POW Sen. John McCain, who won his own freedom in a 1973 prisoner swap and who said just four months ago "I would support ways of bringing him home, and if exchange was one of them, I think that would be something I think we should seriously consider" -- but who now calls the actual deal that was negotiated "a mistake." Or former U.S. Rep. Allen West (and he's "former" for a reason) who just this December lambasted Obama for not doing anything to free Bergdahl because there were "no camera highlights in it for him" -- but now wants the president impeached. And Sarah Palin and....well, you get the picture.

The hypocrisy manages to be both stunning yet also banal, even predictable. It's not rocket science. Sgt. Bergdahl was never a living, breathing human to these people -- just what the director Alfred Hitchcock would have called a "MacGuffin," an insignificant prop that exists to drive the real storyline, and that storyline is tearing down Obama as an un-American pretender to the White House. In 2013, Obama was a coward who didn't understand our most basic principle of "no man left behind." In 2014, Obama was a treasonous dictator who put the nation at risk to rescue an undeserving deserter who should be court-martialed, maybe executed. The two narratives are ridiculously, laughably contradictory except for one element: They both involve a president named Barack Hussein Obama.

This is a fish that stinks from the head...from the cynical leadership of a morally bankrupt Republican Party and the talk radio con artists who egg them on for fun and profit. But the rot has spread to the wider body politic. Although I was saddened and bemused by the initial political hypocrisy surrounding the Bergdahl affair, I wasn't thoroughly outraged and appalled until I saw this news today:

In Hailey, Idaho, the hometown of freed U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, the joy at his release has turned for some into shock and fear — the fear of picking up the phone. That's because some town officials have been deluged with angry calls from people who think that Bergdahl is an Army deserter or traitor who doesn't deserve a hero's welcome.

Jane Drussel, the president of the Hailey Chamber of Commerce, has been fielding dozens of angry calls."Well, (I feel) disappointment number one, just absolutely total surprise at how bad some of them are," she told NBC News on Tuesday.

Over the weekend, residents in Hailey -- people who actually know the Bergdahls -- were ecstatic over news of the release of the town's native son. Now, the victory celebration is canceled, but the ugliness doesn't stop there:

Drussel said many of the calls are cancelling trips to the town of about 8,000. "Well, number one is, how dare we as a community support someone who in their mind they’re thinking of as a 'deserter,' a traitor. That they had plans to come here on their vacation, they’re no longer coming, they’re cancelling their reservations."

"I just find that shocking," she said. "You know, we’re Americans, and we need to act like Americans, and to me that’s un-American. Let things play out, and if there needs to be action taken, I’m sure it will be taken. But that’s not the city of Hailey’s responsibility."

This is a whole disgusting level below the normal day-to-day hypocrisy of American politics. These responses are the product of a moral sickness -- and most pathetic are the ones who call themselves pro-life or who obsess over what they say is the loss of freedom in this country, yet they'd rather see their fellow human Bowe Bergdahl lose his freedom or even die all because of their blind hatred of the man in the Oval Office. Look, if the Army wants to investigate the facts surrounding Bergdahl's disappearance then they should do that (I doubt it would result in more than a slap on the wrist in the reality-based world, but we seem to be losing our grip on reality...so who knows).

But the bottom line is that if you see a woman standing in the middle of the road and a Mack Truck bearing down on her, you don't stop to grill her on whether she just used heroin or left her child on a stoop somewhere. You pick her up and swoop her out of the street, and deal with the rest later. So should it be with saving Sgt. Bergdahl. For God's sake, where's the humanity? A couple of decades ago, two Inquirer reporters wrote an award-winning series and book called "America: What Went Wrong?" Today it's more appropriate to ask, America...what the hell's wrong with us?

Here's what one fairly knowledgeable chap said about the Bergdahl affair earlier today. “We don’t leave Americans behind. That’s unequivocal.” That wasn't some knee-jerk Obama apologist in Congress, that was former Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Bergdahl's supreme commanding officer when he was captured in 2009, and -- if you recall -- not a big fan of the president. But he does know right from wrong. As noted here the other day, Israel traded more than 1,000 prisoners, including a sizable number of Palestinians detained for alledgedly murderous acts of terrorism, to win back just ONE of its citizens. Say you will about the Israeli government's policies, but the Israeli citizens value human life. I don't know what America values anymore.

Did Bergdahl make a horrible mistake in judgment, or worse, when he left his base? Probably. Did some American troops die in combat because of the search for Bergdahl or related events. Possibly. But we should also talk about the fact that we sent thousands of American soldiers into a war that has lasted a remarkable 13 years, and the longer that a war lasts, the more heartbreaking, soul-crushing things are going to happen. It's even more tragic when our leaders can't even articulate why our troops -- Bergdahl, the ones who went looking for him, the ones who will be there even after the war was supposed to end later this year -- are even in Afghanistan anymore. Today, Pennsylvania lost one of our own -- Capt. Jason B. Jones of Orwigsburg in Schuylkill County, killed by small arms fire in Jalalabad. Please take a moment and honor Captain Jones' sacrifice -- if you can hear yourself think over the sick cries of political blood lust.

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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