Opinion

The Great Debate

What’s Bergdahl worth? Everything.

Achilles triumphe _in_Corfu_Achilleion

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is finally back on U.S. soil, having landed on Friday. Five Taliban members enjoy newfound, if curtailed, freedom in Qatar. Time magazine features Bergdahl on the cover, and, speaking for many, ask “Is He Worth it?”

It’s a question that challenges the seminal premise of all war narratives. The “worth” of an individual soldier is not the issue. Bringing back those who fight for you, alive or dead, has been a central understanding of the rules of war for millennia — and is the basis for many of the most powerful scenes in literature.

Consider The Iliad, Homer’s ur-war narrative, which remains one of the most terrifyingly real depictions of the politics of war. Complicated prisoner exchanges open and close this epic tale of the decade-long war between the Greeks and the Trojans.

Brad-Pitt-in-Troy-2004-Movie-Image -- in armorThe Greek hero Achilles’ rage over a controversial prisoner exchange launches the narrative and the Trojan King Priam’s heart-rending appeal for the return of a fallen soldier ends it. Between these bookends the action roils with bloody battle scenes and snarling internal politics among both the Greek and the Trojan leaders.

The first word of The Iliad — “Rage” – describes Achilles’ response to the Greek leader Agamemnon’s complicated decision to release a prisoner of war to the Trojans. When a plague ravages the Greek camp, Achilles urges Agamemnon to appease the god Apollo by returning Chryseis, the daughter of the god’s priest, to Troy.

Bergdahl reveals the impossible choices faced by hostages’ families

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl waits in a pick-up truck before he is freed at the Afghan border

The furor surrounding the exchange of five Taliban prisoners for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl this week has exposed the murky world — and impossible choices — of the families of Americans taken captive by militants.

Demands for vast ransoms or for prisoner releases put these families in the excruciating position of seeming to be able to save a loved one’s life. Meet demands and your beloved lives. Hesitate and carry responsibility for their death to your grave.

Yet few families have access to the sums of money that militants demand. Nor can they free prisoners held by the United States or a local government. Despite the fact that the families feel primary responsibility, they have no real control.

Bergdahl prisoner exchange: Weighing the blood on a terrorist’s hands

amos -- top

President Barack Obama’s decision to release five detainees from Guantanamo in exchange for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has provoked much opposition and criticism. The military, however, has an over-arching obligation to ensure the safe return of all personnel.

The criticism about the “price paid” is misplaced. The only way to ensure Bergdahl’s safe return was to release some detainees. The crucial questions are: Who to release? What terrorist acts were they involved in? What potential danger do they pose moving forward?

It is clear is that the freeing of a soldier exacts a price. The point is: What price?

Leave no soldier behind – no exceptions

dunlop -- top!

The deal for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s return has hardly generated the praise the Obama administration might have hoped. Hard questions abound.

Will negotiating with terrorists encourage them to snatch more Americans? Is freeing five hardened Taliban leaders too steep a price?  Is Congress rightly upset by a president who may have defied the law in releasing Guantanamo detainees?

Most troubling are emerging questions about the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture. Was he a true victim of war or a deserter whose actions jeopardized fellow soldiers called upon to search for him?

  •