When Bowe Bergdahl was reported missing in Afghanistan on the morning of June 30, 2009, a crack formed in the U.S. narrative about the longest war in our nation’s history. Bergdahl’s release this week, as part of a prisoner-of-war swap with the Taliban, has provoked the partisan pundits to hurl invective at the American POW, his family, and at President Barack Obama. Far removed from the din of these professional Beltway hecklers, though, in Hailey, Idaho, Bob Bergdahl, the young prisoner’s father, has been struggling for his son’s release. The ordeal of the son, and the disciplined, contemplative activism of the father, projects the U.S. war in Afghanistan through a different lens.
We know little yet of what exactly led to Bowe Bergdahl’s disappearance that night in Paktika province. Sean Smith, a filmmaker with The Guardian, met him the month before his disappearance. “Bowe was a softly spoken, intelligent and thoughtful guy,” Smith wrote. Smith produced two remarkable videos, one with footage shot in Afghanistan, another in Idaho, showing Bob Bergdahl’s personal efforts to not only free his son, but to understand the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Bowe himself is not interviewed in Smith’s films, but two fellow soldiers, in their tightly-knit group of five or six, were:
SOLDIER ONE: “These people just want to be left alone.”
SOLDIER TWO: “They got dicked with from the Russians for 17 years and then now we’re here.”
SOLDIER ONE: “Same thing in Iraq when I was there. These people just want to be left alone. Have their crops, weddings, stuff like that, that’s it, man."
Days later, Bergdahl disappeared. Smith told me, “They weren’t criticizing the chain of command, but they were questioning the war and the concept of it ... a number of American soldiers expressed queries and questions.”