Bob Ray Sanders

June 7, 2014

A soldier’s story still in search of an ending

There should not be a rush to judgment regarding Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

With all the news, conjecture and debate over the release of a U.S. soldier held captive by the Taliban for five years, it is amazing how quickly many Americans are willing to accept a particular “truth.”

I would suggest we wait and see how this plays out — a lesson that was brilliantly taught in a theater and movie production about another “soldier’s story.”

If you’ve never seen the 1984 film, A Soldier’s Story, which was directed by the great Norman Jewison, I highly recommend it, especially as you ponder the capture and release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, which has this country embroiled in yet another vicious political fight.

Based on Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer-winning drama, A Soldier’s Play, the story opens with a sergeant on his knees shouting, “They still hate you” just before he’s shot to death.

Because it is set in Louisiana in 1944, in and around an Army base where black troops are being trained, the first speculation is that the Ku Klux Klan had murdered the African American sergeant, or perhaps some other racists in a town that didn’t want the “Negro” soldiers there.

With an Army lawyer appointed to investigate, the story takes several turns, including throwing suspicion on some white officers on the base who had contempt for the sergeant.

By the end of the play/movie, the audience learns the truth, and it’s quite different from what many had thought at the beginning.

Let me suggest that the real-life solider story of Bergdahl that is being played out in the media, in Congress and across the country has just reached the Act II, Scene 1 stage. There is still much more to be told; much more to learn.

There are those who speculate that Bergdahl, who had left his post in Afghanistan without permission, was a deserter and that he even may have been trying to hook up with the Taliban.

Boosted by some of his former comrades, there are accusations that Bergdahl’s disappearance is directly responsible for the deaths of at least six other soldiers during the search for him.

That claim is unsubstantiated, as demonstrated in a carefully researched story in The New York Times.

And Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said that he knows of no “specific circumstance or details of U.S. soldiers dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Bergdahl.”

And yet that narrative persists as reporters and talk-show hosts interview others from Bergdahl’s unit and the parents of soldiers who allegedly were killed while on patrol looking for him.

I suppose it’s fine to argue whether the Obama administration should have authorized a trade of five Taliban leaders being held at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for the American soldier’s release. Or whether it was wrong for the president to take any action without first consulting Congress, regardless of the urgency or security risks.

Perhaps it is natural to speculate about what should happen to Bergdahl after he returns home, what danger the released Taliban might pose to this country and whether or not we should even care about a soldier who may have questioned our nation’s role in the Afghanistan war.

As with most things these days in America, people are choosing their sides based on their political idealogy: Democrats on one side, Republicans on the other.

If there’s an opportunity to blame Obama for anything, you can bet Republicans will do that.

If there’s an opportunity to accuse the GOP leadership of demagoguery, you can be assured the Democrats will make that charge.

It’s just a shame that either side would use this American soldier’s ordeal to try to score political points, particularly since we don’t know the full story yet.

Let me suggest that everybody ease off — at least until we’ve seen Act III of this “soldier’s story.”

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