Dead or silent- exactly which doesn’t seem to matter much. And for the vast majority of us, that statement’s going to sound absurd, perhaps even offensive. After all, this isn’t the tail end of Vietnam. Returning servicemen aren’t being spat on.
Unless you count Bowe Bergdahl.
In June of 2009, Sergeant Bergdahl was captured by Taliban forces after he disappeared from his base. He spent the past five years as a prisoner, repeatedly tortured and used for Taliban propaganda. After a prisoner exchange was made on May 31st of this year, Sergeant Bergdahl returned home at last…
…to a chorus of “coward!”, “deserter!”, and “traitor!”
We don’t know what happened that night. There’s nothing but speculation at this point, and yet many have immediately starting call for blood (the crime of desertion still carries the death penalty).
And maybe it’s true.
Bergdahl could have attempted to desert, but again, we know next to nothing. Yet we unleash this fury upon him? Why?
Because Bergdahl survived.
Begdahl’s true, unforgivable offense was having come back alive.
See, this nation doesn’t much care for soldiers. Not once they’re out of the service, or when they’re speaking out as individuals. It kinda ruins the effect for us. Don’t believe me? Just look at our society.
Earlier this year, the Department of Veterans Affair’s was revealed to have left thousands of veterans without direly-needed healthcare, and subsequent investigations have unearthed shocking deficiencies in staffing, as well as rampant fraud and mismanagement of funding. The number of veterans who died waiting for healthcare in April is greater than the combined number of US war casualties this year.
While the true extent of the negligence and corruption within the VA has come as a shock to most, the deficiencies in the services and treatment offered to veterans has been long established. Homelessness, unemployment, severe mental issues- we’ve known about all of this for years, and yet haven’t quite found the time to do all that much about it. And of course, it’s not like we’re all that supportive of veterans on an individual basis either- take a look at the case of Mike Prysner.
I covered this a bit before in my Shame Day of Todd Kincannon (who’s just a despicable human being). Mike Prysner, a former army corporal and Iraq veteran, had just returned from his deployment and begun a career as an antiwar and social justice activist. Kincannon, the former executive director of the S. Carolina Republican Party, began harassing Prysner over twitter, all for having had the gall to disagree with him politically. Kincannon proceeded to hurl such statements as “You are an Iraq veteran? Shame you didn’t come home in a body bag.”, “Yes, I hope if that guy is ever in combat again, the enemy splatters his brains JFK-style. He deserves it.”
Now we might argue that this is coming from the diseased mind of a truly horrible person, but as before, the number of people rallying around these disgusting statements is just too many to ignore.
But let’s ask the question here- what if he died?
That picture above is of the wife of 2nd Lt. James Cathey, sleeping by the casket of her husband, killed in Iraq in 2005.
At least that’s what the caption read. And while a cursory Google search reveals that to be the case, neither I nor any of the commenters can say whether or not 2nd Lt. James Cathey was a good man, or an honest one, or a man who the world is poorer for having lost. We just don’t know him- but what are the comments?
“This is just…I don’t have the words. My heart goes out to her and that brave soldier.”
“…Thank you, Marine, for your service. May you have eternal rest. You deserve it.”
“There were 2 ppl in this world who were willing to die for you 1 was Jesus & the other was a Soldier(s). Only about .46% serve. Volunteered.”
Again, we don’t know anything about this guy, and we hail him as courageous. I’m not here to talk about him though, I’m here to talk about us. Why do we do this? Why is it that we collectively tear up over the picture of a casket and howl indignation when soldiers survive? Why is it that we stand in remembrance of fallen servicemen and women and turn a blind eye to those desperately trying to get healthcare?
This is why: we prefer dead soldiers.
When a soldier dies, we all pat ourselves on the backs and talk about how noble they- and by proxy, we– are.
How we’d sacrifice anything for our fathers, sons, mothers, and daughters in the armed service (just so long as it doesn’t cost us prisoners or money or anything like that).
We don’t know a thing about this guy, and we call him a hero. And he very well could have been- we give them the benefit of the doubt. Dead soldiers don’t trouble us- they don’t disturb our self-gratifying view of the world. They never tell us we’re wrong, or that we’re sending human beings to die, not just uniforms. A living soldier? That’s a man or women who can come back home and talk about how the war’s wrong. How we’ve been duped. How pointless and petty it all is. Worse yet, a living soldier is a person. A reminder that we’re sending people out to kill and die thousands of miles away, not a bunch of uniforms. A dead soldier makes us feel sacrificial- a living one makes us feel ashamed.
As we should be.
And now, with Obama pushing for yet another military operation Iraq, we stand ready once again to sacrifice our soldiers on the altar of our vanity.
How many casualties do we need to see before we’re satisfied? How many people need to die before we can appreciate those yet living?
Enough is enough.