Bob Bergdahl, the father of rescued POW, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, may just be a little too intelligent and a little too understated and not nearly enough of an angry white dude to satisfy the GOP’s blood lust.
Mr. Bergdahl is an interesting character. Unfortunately, it’s his character that’s being slandered by the right, mainly because the GOP hasn’t a clue what to do with a guy who is soft-spoken and not hell-raising, has compassion for his son’s captors, is a deep thinker, appears to have the ability to walk in others’ shoes, and – most importantly – isn’t an ass-kicking, gun-wielding red-faced blowhard. All of this is very novel – strange, scary, therefore bad – for their very narrow mindsets and sliver-thin world views.
Republicans and right-wing pundits and commentators have tuned out and ignored so very much of the back story in their zeal to brand Sgt. Bergdahl as a traitor/deserter/jihadist, and his father as a terrorist sympathizer; what they’ve missed is the core of strength residing within Mr. Bergdahl, and the resilience and tenacity which must also be residing within his son, Sgt. Bergdahl. Right-wingers, though, are people who believe that sensitivity equals weakness, that discussion and diplomacy equals capitulation, that anything short of a loaded gun pointed at a living target is the height of wimpiness. Cruel and desperate for media attention, Sarah Palin mocked Sgt. Bergdahl’s rumored lack of English language skills by saying he should “Call 1-800-RosettaStone” and learn to speak “KickAss against those who would destroy the red, white and blue.” Yeah, what a wimp. Survived five years in a Taliban prison camp. Palin, on the other hand, couldn’t even hack a full term as governor – and branding herself as a hearty Alaskan (traipsing around in expensive hiking boots and playing in the snow in a top of the line snowsuit and baking moose brownies) is a far cry from the fortitude someone would need to endure what Sgt. Bergdahl endured — and yet, here she is, ridiculing a soldier who came back broken, invoking the colors of the U.S. while she mocks the rescue of one of its soldiers.
The right doesn’t know what to do with a man who in 2010 said in a speech at a Republican event, “The man who we believe holds Bowe grew up on the lap of his mother learning the Koran. He is a powerful man. We pray for him. He recently lost a son to a CIA missile drone strike. The fact that he didn’t kill Bowe right then is incredible. So we pray for him.” As the Daily Beast reported, “This was not idle speculation; Bowe Bergdahl was believed to be held by the militants of the Haqqani Network. In the winter of 2010, several members of the Haqqani family were alleged killed in drone strikes.”
So what’s the manly man GOP to do with a guy who feels compassion for the family losses of the man holding his only son captive? Though it would seem to be the definition of the “christian” charity that Republicans claim to hold so dear, and something to be admired, not maligned, the GOP seems inclined to viciously attack this man who learned a language his son might be speaking while in captivity, grew a beard to mark time while his son was being held, and quietly beseeches the release of his son while finding ways to be respectful of his son’s captors. In a YouTube video appeal to his son’s captors, Mr. Bergdahl quietly said,
“Strangely to some, we must also thank those who have cared for our son for almost two years . . . We know our son is a prisoner and also a guest in your home.”
Whether sincerely meant or not, Mr. Bergdahl at least ostensibly demonstrated respect for those who held the power of his son’s life in their hands – and yet, for some reason, this respect, designed to help keep his son safe, has been translated by the right into “terrorist sympathizing.” Mr. Bergdahl’s quiet appeals for his son’s release have been translated by the right into the words of a jihadist. Teaching himself the language of his son’s captors has been translated into an attempt to somehow renounce the U.S. and ally himself with the Taliban. Growing that beard was just, you know, weird.
Bob Bergdahl is a devout Presbyterian, not a Muslim; he self-taught himself Pashto and Urdu to better understand his son’s captors and the “world he could not escape;” he followed jihadis on Twitter to gain information; he researched Afghanistan to acquire information he didn’t have; along with his son, he questioned the war. All of this has made Mr. Bergdahl an incomprehensible entity in this unfolding story. And as we have seen over the past many years, what the right doesn’t understand, what it can’t grasp, what eludes the very limited thinking it engages in, has to be a something malodorous, something foreign, and therefore evil. Mr. Bergdahl, despite his deep religious beliefs, a strong commitment to his son, obvious intelligence and resourcefulness and patience – all positive attributes – is not easily placed in one of the little boxes the right-wingers love to use. After all, if you’re unable to critically think, the only option left is to label.
As Sean Elder at Newsweek wrote of Mr. Bergdahl, “He wept, he suffered, but he persevered, and like any resourceful man, he tried to understand the nature and origin of the problem.”
Mr. Bergdahl appears to be a wise, kind and compassionate man. We should all simply be glad that his boy’s coming home.