Guest post by Kevin Green
Posted on 7/1/2014

The story about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is one with many sides. Combing through news articles, Wikipedia page citations, and public forum comments first left me wondering what was true, what was false, or what was at least remotely accurate. I then realized that I’m not a reporter, so I can refrain from fussing through the more tangled details altogether and cut to the story’s relevance to the culture of honor.

The reactions on display across various media outlets range from outrage to support with regard to Bergdahl’s rescue, and from disdain to empathy when it comes to his alleged decision to leave his post. The first question is whether or not his rescue was worth the cost of six soldiers’ lives, now under scrutiny, or the release of five Guantanamo prisoners who were defined by the U.S. government as not “technically” being terrorists. Of course, the answer to this question requires first answering the “why” question as to his capture in the first place. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say he either willfully left his post and was subsequently captured, or was kidnapped while doing whatever it was that he was supposed to be doing. Either way, he was in captivity for almost six years, and the American government was looking for him. The U.S. and his captors came close to negotiating on more than one occasion, but apparently 21 Guantanamo prisoners plus one Pakistani doctor were 17 prisoners too many to make the exchange worth it.

This means that, despite comments to the contrary by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, rescuing our men and women in uniform does come with some conditions. Regardless, Mr. Carney’s statement epitomizes the sentiment among those defending his rescue: “You don’t leave men and women behind ... when you go

However, for the sake of argument let’s say that there is a point at which the recovery of captive military personnel becomes too costly. What is the point at which the costs outweigh the benefits for non-military personnel? My conclusion from one person’s assertion that “'leave no one behind’ only applies to military personnel” is that some people would be willing to give much less for a civilian than for a uniformed soldier. Why might that be?

Evolutionary psychologists may argue that human beings have an engrained sense of social exchange, social contract, or norm of reciprocity. The easiest summary of these synonymous terms is “tit for tat”; people reciprocate favors, as well as offenses. Therefore, military personnel who enlist to fight for our country are considered more worthy of being rescued than are civilians who get kidnapped while on vacation, working for an NGO, or doing contract work in a foreign country, because they weren’t risking their lives for America the way soldiers do. The same social contract applies to cultures of honor, but more vehemently. Seeing that most Republican states appear to be in the South, it’s no wonder that notably outspoken Republicans are speaking out against Bergdahl’s rescue as not being worth it, The reactions on display across various media outlets range from especially since he’s being condemned as a deserter by some. It is very interesting to see the reactions toward a soldier who voluntarily agreed to fight for his country but then (allegedly) abandoned his post, as he is lambasted by civilian bloggers and his fellow soldiers alike. Cody Full, one of his comrades, said, “We swore an oath, and we upheld ours. He did not,” demonstrating that Full felt betrayed by Bergdahl.

If we compare the early settlers of the South (who were largely responsible for the installation of the honor mentality in the U.S.) with contemporary military units, we see two important similarities: mortal danger and reliance on one another. The actual events leading up to Sgt. Bergdahl’s disappearance have not yet come to light, so his comrades, as well as all of America, are left wondering if he did choose to abandon his post and his fellow soldiers. Such disloyalty would not be lightly.

Not all are hoping he gets the guillotine though. Some empathize with a soldier’s inability to remove him or herself from a combat situation in which he or she objects. If it turns out that Bergdahl willfully deserted, hell hath no fury like those who were betrayed. However, some consideration should be given to why he was kept on base after his emails to his parents saying how he’s “ashamed to be an American,” especially after his history of walking off base, and even mailing his belongings back home. Something was amiss, and judgment should be withheld until the full details are heard.