The Bergdahl family does not deserve the "horrific display of politically inspired hate and vitriol" that they have had to contend with since their son Bowe returned after five years in Taliban captivity, writes former Marine captain Matthew Hoh in Politico.
Describing himself as a friend of Bergdahl's parents, Jani and Bob, Hoh denounced Americans who, rather than "rejoice in the end of the Bergdahls' anguish and grief," have only added to it.
As an officer, writes Hoh, he trained at the Marines' Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape School
, where he was led to believe that if he were captured, the country would never forget him. Marines were promised that they would never be left behind and told they should never give up because they would be brought home with honor.
"Today I'm not sure if I know any veterans who still believe such platitudes," he wrote. Most Americans seem to have forgotten that the United States "still has 33,000 troops in Afghanistan, 12 of whom, including two teenagers, were killed this past month."
Those who make it home are shabbily treated. The unemployment rate among young veterans is 22 percent. Injured veterans may be cheered at baseball games, but they are unable to get timely healthcare and emotional support.
Hoh noted that each day an average of 22 veterans kill themselves, as reported by Stars and Stripes.
"Into this environment, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has returned from five years as a prisoner of war," writes Hoh.
The soldier's behavior in Afghanistan may have been "reckless, dumb, crazy" but he was no deserter. That was clearly not his intention. He sought to escape from the Taliban on multiple occasions. Yet Americans in a "shameful and disgraceful manner" have made a judgment about Bergdahl on the basis of comments made by soldiers he served with in a unit that was known for its leadership and discipline problems, according to Hoh.
The message to future prisoners of war is that the media and public opinion may show little sympathy for you or your parents. Instead, your reputation will be hostage to public opinion polls, he concludes.
Hoh, now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy
, worked as a State Department official in Afghanistan until he resigned in 2009 to protest U.S. policies.
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