Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Trading with the Enemy: Imperialism, Desertion and Duty

I had the paper but I did not read it because I did not want to read about the war. I was going to forget the war. I had made a separate peace.

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Wow, is this American POW story gathering steam or what? It now turns out that the American soldier who was recently exchanged for five Afghan resistance fighters in a deal brokered by the Gulf state of Qatar may have gone AWOL or even deserted prior to being taken captive by the Afghan resistance.

According to the New York Times, Bergdahl left behind a note "saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life." In the ensuing manhunt for Bergdahl, perhaps as many as six U.S. soldiers died in ambushes and firefights linked to the search for him.

New York Times story

Reading this story today prompted some memories of the last time America was involved in a prolonged imperial boondoggle of invasion and occupation: Vietnam. Then as now a few American GIs became disillusioned with the moral bankruptcy of the American cause and chose to express their resistance by deserting to the NLF or NVA forces. (I do not know how many, no doubt no more than a handful.)

The ensuing years have vindicated those GIs who deserted the U.S. military in Vietnam and I have little doubt that the years to come will vindicate Bergdahl's act of resistance as well. For now, though, the military and right-wing busily fan the flames of 'stab in the back' resentment directed at Bergdahl, his father (who grew a beard in support of his son and is now excoriated by Fox News for 'looking like the Taliban') and, most importantly, Obama and his top aides. The Praetorian Guard that our military has become since the waning days of Vietnam with its poverty draft enlistees and ticket-punching business executive officer corps, is all puffed up with outrage that Bergdahl is getting treated as a quasi-hero. He's a deserter, these mercenary soldiers of fortune claim, and should be prosecuted under the UCMJ for desertion in a time of war.

Watching the ruling class tear each other to shreds over L'Affaire Bergdahl in paroxysms of rage brings forth a delicious sort of schadenfreude. After all, Obama made the fateful choice to escalate, to 'surge,' in Afghanistan shortly after his inauguration, at the urging of NeoCons and NeoLibs in his vaunted 'team of rivals.' Bergdahl was captured in late June of 2009 . . . after Obama's inauguration. So it is fitting that the chief architect of the Afghan escalation now face the music when its chickens come home to roost.

However enjoyable the spectacle of seeing Obama and his war mongering cadre brought to account, the Bergdahl matter brings forth a more pressing question. When one finds oneself trapped in and supporting a war crime like the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, what is one's duty? Does one try to work within the system to ameliorate the effects of that crime? Or does one borrow a page from Ernest Hemingway's stoic hero Frederic Henry and resolve to quit the affair entirely or even to go over to the other side? What is our duty to resist imperialism when we ourselves are trapped inside an imperialist venture?

I do not have an answer to that question but it is one that must be asked even if no answers readily come to hand. Perhaps each of us must strive to make 'a separate peace'.