For nearly three years, the parents of captured Hailey-area soldier Bowe Bergdahl declined to speak to news organizations, during which time U.S. military leaders reported to the world that they were doing everything they could to free him from the Taliban.
In an apparent break with established protocol, Bob Bergdahl, the father of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, recently criticized U.S.-led counterinsurgency efforts in the region, including the practice of coalition night raids to attack insurgents.
Last week, Rolling Stone magazine published an article based on interviews with Bob Bergdahl and email conversations between the father and son before his capture while serving in Afghanistan. The messages indicate that Bowe Bergdahl was disillusioned with his role as a soldier and with the U.S. military's actions in Afghanistan. The story suggests from the emails and Bowe Bergdahl's actions that he walked off his base with the intention of staying away permanently.
According to The Associated Press, the military has never detailed circumstances of Bergdahl's disappearance or capture since he was taken on June 30, 2009, in the Paktika Province of eastern Afghanistan, and he is not classified as a deserter.
Bowe Bergdahl—who was raised in the Wood River Valley—was assigned in October 2008 to the 25th Infantry Division in Fort Richardson, Alaska.
The Rolling Stone article quotes a former fellow soldier, Jason Fry, as saying Bergdahl read books at Barnes and Noble bookstore while on leave during his early training, instead of going on leave to strip clubs with other soldiers. Fry said Bergdahl surrounded himself with books, including "Three Cups of Tea," about a humanitarian crusade to educate girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as instructions on Zen meditation and an introductory ethics handbook with writings from Aristotle, Augustine, Kant and Hume.
Emails to his father in June 2009 indicate that Bowe Bergdahl's ethical training (he was raised a Calvinist and home-schooled in Blaine County) conflicted strongly with what he experienced on the ground in Afghanistan.
"I am sorry for everything here. These people [Afghans] need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live," wrote Bergdahl to his father shortly before he was captured.
"We [American soldiers] don't even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks," Bowe Bergdahl wrote. "We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them."
According to Rolling Stone, Bob Bergdahl responded to his son with a final message on June 27 at 10:43 p.m. with a subject line titled "OBEY YOUR CONSCIENCE!"
"Dear Bowe," it said. "In matters of life and death, and especially at war, it is never safe to ignore one's conscience. Ethics demands obedience to our conscience. It is best to also have a systematic oral defense of what our conscience demands. Stand with like-minded men when possible."
The article stated that according to soldiers in Bowe Bergdahl's unit, he asked his team leader early on the morning of June 30, 2009, if it would cause a problem if he left the base carrying his rifle and night-vision goggles. He was told it would, and the article does not include those items in a list of things it says he took with him.
"If this deployment is lame," the magazine reports he had earlier said to Fry, "I'm just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan."
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org