The Corner

Culture

Bowe Bergdahl and Our Leaders’ Lost Honor

Desertion is a very old story in the history of armies and armed conflict. Soldiers deserted from the Continental Army, from the Union Army, from the American armies in World War I and World War II — yet those armies fought on, fought well, and prevailed. An army can survive desertion, so to hear that Bowe Bergdahl has been charged with desertion hardly represents an existential crisis for the military or its character. In fact, it is to the Army’s credit that it has charged Bergdahl in the face of prevailing political winds.

Much more serious than Bergdahl’s desertion is our commander-in-chief’s decision to hand the enemy a victory to retrieve a likely deserter, compounded by a decision to celebrate this serious defeat at the White House, and then to clumsily attempt to cover their political tracks by trotting out Susan Rice to deceive the public about Bergdahl’s service record. This is dishonor, from the highest levels of American leadership. And that kind of dishonor is much more grave, much more difficult to absorb and overcome than any given soldier’s decision to desert. 

Our culture — especially our military culture — is remarkably strong. It can (and has) withstood incompetent and corrupt leadership. It can (and has) faced and overcome dishonor at every level of leadership. It can and will withstand and survive the Obama administration’s grotesque incompetence, dishonesty, and political opportunism. However, if the Obama administration is in fact setting an enduring precedent for American leadership, where leaders hand our enemies military victories to score political points at home, where leaders lie to the public to conceal those mistakes and confuse the public about the facts, and then wax indignant when called on those actions, then our culture — including our military culture — will fray and crack at a fundamental level.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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