WASHINGTON (AP) — Two American values collided in Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s calamity. One had to give.
The one about never leaving a man behind prevailed.
The one about never negotiating with terrorists got lost in the swirling dust storm of a U.S. helicopter retrieving the soldier from his Taliban captors in a swap now provoking recriminations in Washington.
Each ethos runs deep in the American conscience, yet has been violated through history, notably in the age of terrorism, where traditional standards of warfare, spying and negotiating are run through a hall of mirrors.
Bergdahl and the five Guantanamo detainees traded for his freedom were captives in an undeclared, unconventional and open-ended war that never fit neatly into the Geneva Conventions, U.S. military doctrine or slogans about how to behave. Whatever universal rights are affirmed by the old standards, they came from an era of recognizable battlefields and POW camps, with victories and defeats signed with flourishes of a pen.
THE SOLDIER’S CREED
History is replete with extraordinary acts to bring home the lost and fallen.
The U.S. Army’s Warrior Ethos and the Soldier’s Creed both swear, “I will never leave a fallen comrade,” and all the services place a premium on returning the missing, captured and dead. Often this comes at great cost, as in the 1993 Black Hawk Down battle in Somalia in which 18 U.S. servicemen were killed in the attack on U.S. helicopters and the subsequent rescue attempt.
President Barack Obama said the ethos is a “sacred” undertaking that applies to all in uniform without regard to rank or circumstance or, in Bergdahl’s case, his questionable loyalty to the Army. “We have a basic principle,” Obama said Thursday. “We do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind.”
As Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John F. Kirby put it: “When you’re in the Navy, and you go overboard, it doesn’t matter if you were pushed, fell or jumped. We’re going to turn the ship around and pick you up.”