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Sgt. Bergdahl

June 11, 2014

The release of Sgt. Bergdahl after 5 years of detention by the Taliban in exchange for the release of five high ranking members of the Taliban from Guantanamo created a major nationwide controversy.

Critics of the exchange argued that more kidnappings would follow because we, the United States had given into the enemy and that we therefore had set a price on the heads of future American captives.

The argument has some merit.

Many also questioned the exchange because of the fact that Sgt. Bergdahl had deserted before being captured by the Taliban. (One should note that desertion does not mean joining the enemy, which he did not.) Does the fact that he deserted somehow negate our obligation to do our best to rescue him? Do we know what really happened in his mind and soul? Judith Lewis Herman, M.D. in her book Trauma and Recovery, writes: “In WWII, it was recognized that any man could break down under fire and that psychiatric casualties could be predicted in direct proportion to the severity of combat exposure. There is no such thing as “getting used to combat.” And she adds:  ”Thus, psychiatric casualties are inevitable as gunshot and shrapnel wounds in warfare.”

Those that support the exchange believe that saving the life of one U.S. soldier is more important than the potential risk of future kidnappings. Furthermore, it is essential for the morale of soldiers to know that the army will do whatever it takes to rescue them should they be kidnapped.  David Brooks in his June 5th New York Time’s editorial writes: “the loss of national fraternity that would result if we start abandoning Americans in the field would be a great and more lasting harm” than the five Guantanamo prisoners could ever cause.

The very difficult moral question is whether we should negotiate with or pay ransom to kidnappers? We probably all agree that in principle that we should not pay ransom, in order not to encourage future kidnappings. However when we come to a specific individual who has a name, a face and a family, principles and policies carry little weight in the balance between a life to be saved and the risk  of future kidnappings.

I think that we all, as individuals or as a community have a moral obligation to rescue or deliver our fellow/men/women. The means used for the rescue will depend on the circumstances and the available options, such as using force, paying a ransom or proceeding to a prisoner exchange.

Maimonides, the great Medieval Jewish thinker once said that there was no religious duty greater than the redeeming of captives and he quotes, to support his statement, Leviticus 19:18 which says:

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

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Comments (3)

June 17th, 2014 at 9:48 pm Posted by Anita Clyne

This subject is near and dear to my heart. I say this because my husband have served our country for the last 28 years. We live by words such as: honor, courage, and commitment. These are not just empty words. These words are not uttered by everyone. Not everyone is made of the moral fiber to have the right to utter these words. With that being said, I do believe this solider “lost” it and went off on his own journey. I do believe our government failed our men and women with a task of back-to-back tours and extended duty of over a six month sprint at a time. Young soldiers were entranced by a dollar sign and not the internal/external, lasting factors that come with war.

Do I believe our government should have traded him for the members of the Taliban? Absolutely not. He chose his fate. That was simply a slap in the face to the nearly 4,800 men and women of our country who lost their lives in vain.

I consider myself a Christian women. I read the choice of the Old Testament verse of Leviticus 19:18 in which you reference Maimonides. I would like to convict you to visit a Wounded Warrior center and say this to the families of our men and women that didn’t run away danger.

I personally convict you to spend some time in a VA hospital where some of our men and women are learning how to talk again, or walk again. Ask their sons and daughters how they feel about letting the enemy just walk away from their actions.

My heart is broken for the families and the true military members who remained courageous and risked their lives for what our government deemed necessary. And, my heart is broken for misguided and misinformed citizens of this government that my people like my husband that defend your right to spew your comments on a public blog such as this.


June 18th, 2014 at 2:53 pm Posted by Emmanuel Tchividjian

Thank you for your comments.
You make some very good points.

I totally agree with you that the way we, as a nation, treat our veterans is both a scandal and a national shame. I have seen it first hand. The concept of “leaving no soldiers behind” should apply not only to the battlefield but at home as well.

A point I did not make in the blog post, but should have was that advocating for the release of Sgt. Bergdahl from his captors did not mean that I believe he should NOT be court martialed for his desertion.Let justice run its course.


June 20th, 2014 at 11:22 pm Posted by Kylie Wurgler

Dear Emmanuel Tchividjian,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this blog. You brought up some great ethical questions and I would like to share some information with you that I have been learning in my Communication and Ethics class that very much applies to this specific situation. First of all, I believe it to be very important, as you mentioned, to let every American know that the military will do everything and anything necessary to rescue them should they be captured by opposing forces. In that priority lies the perspective of Joseph Fletcher who developed the Christian Situation Ethics perspective which states that “love for fellow humans in the form of genuine affection for them and concern for their welfare” (Ethics in Human Communication 73) is of the upmost importance in any situation.

With that perspective in mind, my response to your question of “should we negotiate with or pay ransomed to kidnappers” would be yes if that was the last resort and the only way to preserve a captive’s welfare. Let me again emphasize that this should be a last resort. Otherwise, I find it ethically wrong to “let them off the hook” so to speak as Anita mentioned in her reply. If a kidnapper is paid off once, what is to stop that individual from capturing others in the future and requesting a larder and larger fee for the return of captives? It would be a game of positive reinforcement with someone’s life dangling in the mists.

Going along with Fletcher’s perspective is also the principal of “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12) If I were ever captured in a war, I would hope that my loved ones, friends, and fellow countrymen would do everything in their power to get me back because I would strive to do the same for them.

Thank you again for your thought provoking question. I really enjoyed reading your post and Anita Clyne, thank you and your husband for your sacrifice for our freedom.


Kylie Wurgler


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