Bergdahl’s Betrayal

Bowe Bergdahl’s action of disserting his post in the middle of the night in a very dangerous and hostile Afghan outpost certainly betrayed the rest of the soldiers in his unit.


By Morgan Norval | June 17, 2014


1st Battalion Army’s 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, Bergdahl Platoon

Unit cohesion is critical to the success of military forces. When all is said and done, it triggers more desire among troops to get the job done than all the speeches of politicians extolling the patriotic virtues of defending the American way. Soldiers bond with their fellow soldiers, especially those they are in daily contact with as they perform their military duties. The critical result of that bonding is the reliance upon one another—a “I’ll cover your back; you cover mine attitude” – while doing their duty. Successful bonded units know their buddies will back them up and support each other in nasty situations which occur during combat operation in wartime. Letting your buddies down in those situations is the ultimate unforgivable sin or offense.

Deserting your fellow soldiers – leaving them in the lurch – breaks those bonds creating a sense of betrayal to those that remained and didn’t desert their post in wartime. It is this sense of betrayal that explains the widespread furor over the Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdhal episode. This widespread public outrage over the Obama administration swapping five hard-core terrorists held in Guantanamo for an American Army deserter caught Obama and his closest advisors by surprise. NBC’s Chuck Todd of the White House press corps reported that the Obama administration expected “euphoria” over the swap for the last American captive held in both Afghanistan and Pakistan by the Taliban and Haqqani Network. What happened was a different kettle of fish. Widespread public outrage replaced the expected “euphoria.”

Many commentators pointed out that the reason for the administration’s miscalculation was the result of being ignorant of military culture. Fox News military analyst Lt. Col. Ralph Peters [U.S. Army, Ret.] said:

“Congratulations, Mr. President! And identical congrats to your sorcerer’s apprentice, National Security Advisor Susan Rice. By trying to sell him as an American hero, you’ve turned a deserter already despised by soldiers in the know into quite possibly the most- hated individual soldier in the history of our military…

“The president, too, appears stunned. He has so little understanding of (or interest in) the values and traditions of our troops that he and his advisors really believed that those in uniform would erupt into public joy at the news of Bergdahl’s release – as DS.C. frat kids did when Osama bin Laden’s death was trumpeted.”

But there is a deeper meaning that goes beyond military culture and that is a widespread revulsion of people to betrayal in general.

The free encyclopedia Wikipedia, defines betrayal as: “. . . the breaking or violation of a presumptive contract, trust, or confidence that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship among individuals, between organizations or between individuals and organizations. Often betrayal is the act of supporting a rival group, or it is a complete break from previously decided upon or presumed norms by one party, from the others. Someone who betrays others is commonly called a traitor or betrayer. Betrayal is also a commonly used literary element and is often associated with or used as a plot twist.”

Bowe Bergdahl’s action of disserting his post in the middle of the night in a very dangerous and hostile Afghan outpost certainly betrayed the rest of the soldiers in his unit. It is not yet known whether Bergdahl will use his betrayal as a future literary element although one could argue that National Security Advisor Susan Rice did. She went on ABC’s Stephanopoulos June 1, 2014 Sunday news show and described Bergdahl as having served “with honor and distinction.” This statement was certainly an example of Wikipedia’s last facet of its definition of betrayal – a literary element as a plot twist. Given Bergdahl’s betrayal, her statement is a very unique plot twists for sure.

Betrayal is a gut-wrenching response in the general public for the simple reason that everyone at one time or another has been betrayed. Girl friends have betrayed and dumped boyfriends and boyfriends have betrayed and dumped girlfriends, causing emotional pain and anger in the aggrieved parties. Business partners have betrayed each other and betrayal is a common thread in divorce, to cite just a very few examples. Betrayal comes in many forms and it has happened to us all and we aren’t keen on it when it occurs.

Because of its negative effects we often don’t like it when we become aware of others betraying others even if that betrayal doesn’t affect us personally. It is this common feeling about  betrayal in general that caused the widespread revulsion over Obama’s swap of five unredeemed terrorist commanders – the worst of the worst – who can’t wait to return to their mission of killing Americans even though they are supposed to cool their heels for a year in Qatar before that happens. President Obama’s decision was perceived as rewarding betrayal of fellow American soldiers as well as rewarding sworn enemies by allowing them eventually to return to the battlefield.

There is no doubt the Obama administration didn’t have a clue about military culture and its crucial element of bonding. Given that males today aren’t faced with military conscription, the general public isn’t as aware of military culture as they were when the draft was in effect. But betrayal has been around ever since Cain killed Able, as has revulsion to it. That revulsion burst forth when Obama swapped an American betrayer for five hard-core terrorists, which ignited intense public debate that isn’t expected to dissipate any time soon.

Once the furor of Obama’s prisoner swap had died down, Bowe Bergdahl was returned to the United States arriving back on Friday, June 13, following a recovery period in Germany after five years in captivity (June 2009 – June 2014).  He will be treated at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.


Morgan Norval is the founder and Executive Director of the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research and a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis./p>