Posts tagged ‘Army’

A Deal With The Devil: How We Got Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl

Credit:  Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

One of my favorite movie lines comes at the end of “The American President.”  After being excoriated by his opponent, Senator Bob Rumson, President Andrew Shepherd storms into the Press Briefing Room to deliver an apologetic for his presidency and his personal life with the cameras rolling.  One of the things he says in this press conference that has long stuck with me is, “America isn’t easy.”

I couldn’t agree more.  In twenty-first century America, we face tough challenges.  We have to navigate complex issues.  America isn’t easy.

The latest example of this truism comes to us courtesy the case of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.  He was captured by the Taliban in 2009.  On May 31 of this year, he was released.  If this was all there was to this story, this would be a story of unambiguous triumph and joy.  But the devil, as they say, is in the details.  And the details here are sketchy, conflicting, and disturbing.

First, there is the detail of how Sergeant Bergdahl was captured.  He claims it’s because he fell behind on a patrol and the Taliban swept in and abducted him.  The Taliban claims he was captured drunk and wandering off base.  According to an investigation by the Pentagon, Bergdahl may have deserted his unit – walking away from his post, which led to his capture.  In an email dated June 27, 2009, Bergdahl expressed a rising dissatisfaction with his military service:  “I am ashamed to be an american.  And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools.”[1]  If Sergeant Bergdahl’s claims concerning his capture are true, this is a tragedy.  If the Taliban’s claims are true, Bergdahl was foolish.  But if the Pentagon’s story pans out, this is a story of one man’s faithlessness toward his brothers-in-arms.  How all this began matters.

Then, there is the detail of what Sergeant Bergdahl’s release cost.  Our government brokered a deal with the Taliban that released five Guantanamo Bay detainees in exchange for Bergdahl’s freedom.  Before this deal, no fewer than five soldiers died on missions to rescue Bergdahl – all this for a man who may have despised many of the very people who were trying to rescue him.  What Sergeant Bergdahl’s release cost matters.

So, what is the appropriate response to this sordid affair?  At this point, I think it’s best to say there is no appropriate response – not because there is no appropriate response period, but because we do not have enough facts to formulate the kind of comprehensive response that this story demands and deserves.  Thus, I am not so interested in deconstructing the details of this story itself, but I do want to address some of the ethical questions it raises.  People want to know:  “Was it right to sacrifice five lives and release five criminals for the freedom of a man who could have been a deserter?”  “What price should we be willing to pay for the civic freedom of one person?”  And, of course, “Is it ever right for the U.S. to negotiate with terrorists?”

In one sense, the saga of Sergeant Bergdahl is parabolic for the limits of human ethical decisions.  Here, we have both good and bad comingled.  Freeing a Prisoner of War – that’s good.  Sacrificing the lives of at least five soldiers and releasing five hardened criminals – that’s bad.  We did something bad to get something good.  How do you reconcile that?

Such ethical angst is perhaps best encapsulated by Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies, in an interview with USA Today.  Commenting on our government’s deal with the Taliban, he notes that though the United States’ official stance is that we do not negotiate with terrorists, this is

…repeated as mantra more than fact.  We have long negotiated with terrorists. Virtually every other country in the world has negotiated with terrorists despite pledges never to … We should be tough on terrorists, but not on our fellow countrymen who are their captives, which means having to make a deal with the devil when there is no alternative.[2]

Hoffman is right.  We made a deal with the devil.  And granted, out of this deal, some good has come:  a soldier has been reunited with with his family.  But whether or not any other good comes out of this deal remains to be seen.  Questions concerning Bergdahl’s conduct still need to be asked and families who have lost loved ones in attempts to rescue this soldier still need to be comforted.  This much I do know, however:  deals with the devil are never as good as we think they are.  There are always hidden costs and huge catches.  In fact, as far as I can tell, only one deal with the devil has ever been truly successful.  It’s the one where someone said:  “Let’s make a deal.  You can strike My heel.  But I get to crush your head.

May that divine deal help us navigate the moral complexities and save us from the moral compromises of our fallen deals.

___________________________

[1] Michael Hastings, “America’s Last Prisoner of War,” Rolling Stone (6.7.2012).

[2] Alan Gomez, “Is it ever right to negotiate with terrorists?USA Today (6.2.2014).

June 9, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Remembering the Lost

Memorial Day 1Today, we remember those who sacrificed their lives in service to their country.  Memorial Day is always a day full of mixed emotions.  On the one hand, we celebrate the bravery, valor, and commitment of these soldiers who were willing to suffer all – even death – to serve our nation.  On the other hand, as with any loss of life, we mourn.  And we should.  After all, in the words of the apostle Paul, death is not only an enemy, but the enemy (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:26).  We want death to be defeated.  We do not want it to defeat us.  But even as we mourn the loss of those we love, we can take heart in the promise of the Gospel that death’s defeat of us is only partial and temporary.  It is partial because death destroys only our bodies and not our souls.  And it is only temporary because when Jesus returns, He will raise our bodies to live with Him forever.

On this Memorial Day, as we remember our fallen, I would point you to some words from one of our nation’s founding fathers, John Hancock:

I hereby call upon ministers and people of every denomination, to…devoutly and sincerely offer to almighty God, the gratitude of our hearts, for all His goodness towards us; more especially in that He has been pleased to continue to us so a great a measure of health, to cause the earth plentifully to yield her increase so that we are supplied with the necessaries and the comforts of life, to prosper our merchandise and fishery, and, above all, not only to continue to us the enjoyment of our civil rights and liberties, but the great and most important blessing, the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And together with our cordial acknowledgments, I do earnestly recommend, that we may join the penitent confession of our sins, and implore the further continuance of the divine protection, and blessings of heaven upon this people; especially that He would be graciously pleased to direct, and prosper the administration of the federal government, and of this, and the other states in the Union, to afford Him further smiles on our agriculture and fisheries, commerce and manufactures, to prosper our university and all seminaries of learning, to bless the virtuously struggling for the rights of men…and to afford his almighty aid to all people, who are established in the world; that all may bow to the scepter of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the whole earth be filled with His glory.[1]

A few things are notable about Hancock’s words here.  First, as Hancock would guide us, it is important that we always remember to give thanks.  We are called by our Lord, even when times are trying and tenuous, to give thanks to Him for His blessings to us, His presence with us, and, most importantly, His gospel for us.  No amount of sin or tragedy can circumvent the good and sturdy promises of almighty God – even the tragedy of losing a loved one in battle.  For this, we can be thankful.

Second, Hancock encourages all of us to acknowledge our sinfulness.  After all, the sinfulness and brokenness of this world is the reason there are wars.  History is littered with tyrants who, rife with evil intent, needed to be defeated in battle so they could not carry out – or, in most instances, continue to carry out – their wicked agendas. When we confess our sins, we do so with the knowledge that the whole earth is broken by sin and needs healing.  We also acknowledge that even if we can curb and contain evil thanks to the valiant efforts of our brave troops, we cannot finally defeat it.  This can only be done by Christ.

Third, Hancock desires that we pray for the safety and protection of our troops.  On a day when we remember lives that have been lost, it is most certainly appropriate to pray that no more will be lost.

Finally, Hancock points us toward the Christian’s hope that, on the Last Day, “all may bow to the scepter of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the whole earth be filled with His glory.”  One day, wars will cease.  One day, tyrants will be no more.  One day, nations will not take up arms against nations.  Because one day, all will bow to Jesus and the whole earth will be filled with His glory.

As we remember those who have died waiting and longing for this day, may we ourselves pray that it would come soon so that we may be reunited with those we have lost and celebrate the final defeat of evil in the presence of our Savior.


[1] John Hancock, “Proclamation – Thanksgiving Day – 1791, Massachusetts.”

May 27, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Let Slavery Ring!

“Men desire above all things to be free and say that freedom is the greatest of blessings, while slavery is the most shameful and wretched of states.”[1]  So said the first century Roman philosopher, Dio Chrysostom.  Although philosophers are known for writing convoluted and delicate treatises, there is no convolution or delicacy here.  Freedom is great.  Slavery is wretched.  The end.  Dio could not be clearer.

The reason Dio does not need to speak of slavery delicately is because, in ancient Rome, slavery truly was a wretched state.  Consider this description of slaves from Apuleius, a Roman author from the second century:

What scrawny little slaves there were!  Their skin was everywhere embroidered with purple welts from their many beatings.  Their backs, scarred from floggings, were shaded, as it were, rather than actually covered by their torn patchwork garments.  Some wore only flimsy loincloths.  All of them, decked out in these rags, carried brands on their foreheads, had their heads half-shaved, and wore chains around their ankles.  Their complexions were an ugly yellow; their eyes were so inflamed by thick dark smoke and the steamy vapor they could barely see.[2]

According to Apuleius, slavery was so intolerable that he could not bear even to look at slaves without gasping.  Seutonius, in his history of the Roman emperors, describes Augustine’s policy of, with few exceptions, allowing only free men to serve in his army:

Except as a fire-brigade at Rome, and when there was fear of riots in times of scarcity, [Augustus] employed freedmen as soldiers only twice: once as a guard for the colonies in the vicinity of Illyricum, and again to the defend the bank of the river Rhine; even these he levied, when they were slaves, from men and women of means, and at once gave them freedom; and he kept them under their original standard, not mingling them with the soldiers of free birth or arming them in the same fashion.[3]

No one wanted to be a slave.  Everyone wanted to be free.  And this is what makes Paul’s words in Philippians 2 so striking.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:5-7).  The Greek word for “servant” here is doulos, meaning not only a servant, but a slave.  Jesus, being in very nature God, became a slave!  And He did so willingly.  No one coerced, cajoled, or compelled Jesus into slavery.

Jesus’ willingness to become a slave is especially gripping when one considers that Philippi was a town filled with veterans and soldiers.  Thus, those who lived there prided themselves on being free men, for, as Seutonius explains, only free men could serve in the Roman army.  So Paul writes to a town full of people who prided themselves on being free about a man who willingly let go of His freedom to become, of all things, a slave.

Jesus’ willingness to let go of His freedom for the state of slavery can serve us a model for us.  After all, Paul regularly identifies himself as a doulos of Christ (e.g., Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1).  Like his Lord, Paul is happy to be a doulos to his Lord.

How about you?  Do you pride yourself so much in your freedom that you forget that you are called to be a slave to Christ?  Slavery, when it is to the things of this world, is indeed wretched.  But slavery to Christ is glorious.  For serving Christ is hopeful and heartening.  In a world that is obsessed with freedom, we rejoice that we are slaves to our Savior!

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!


[1] Dio Chrysostom, Orations 14.1.

[2] Apuleius, Metamorphoses 9.12.

[3] Seutonius, Augustus 25.

November 14, 2011 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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