Last week we honored those who died on the beaches of Normandy seventy years ago in the epic attack on Nazi Germany and its demonic leader Adolph Hitler. Those few surviving participants who attended the memorial in Normandy were often seen crying at the site of the battle and at the gravesites of their fallen brothers in arms. Some ten thousand Americans are buried there. The tears those men shed are a chilling reminder of the terrible scars our soldiers receive when they go into the inhuman inferno of war. Ninety year old men weep uncontrollably at the memory seventy years removed from this one day. Obviously those of us who have never been through that hellish nightmare cannot begin to understand what it does to a person’s soul.
And yet. We have also, in the last week, been subjected to the most ruthless and damning criticism of a deal that the President of the United States made to exchange five individuals who have been held for over a decade in the prisoner camp at Guantanamo Bay for an American soldier who has been held captive in Afghanistan for some five years. The gist of this criticism was caught in a disgusting cartoon being published in several conservative newspapers that portrayed the President as a dim-witted kid making a glaringly bad trade of baseball cards. In other words, the president should have left that soldier to rot in captivity if he could not get a better deal.
Worse yet. Much of this criticism suggests that the captured soldier was not worthy of any exchange, because he may have left his post, a remote and much-attacked outpost in the middle of enemy territory, where he had served for several years. He is, these critics say, not good enough to be bargained for. He is not a hero, so we should leave him out there.
I am told that virtually every soldier who returns from service in this endless conflict has suffered substantial psychological damage and needs lengthy counselling before he or she can return to something like a normal life in America. I am told that record numbers of soldiers are returning from service with profound effects from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is more than likely that this young man, standing watch at that lonely outpost, was subjected to stress that we cannot even imagine. Yet those who have never set foot on a battlefield are vigorously denouncing him. For what? As far as I can tell, for nothing more than poltical gain. Frankly, for such people, there seems to be no other motive for anything they do than sheer political gain.
Damn them all. They are themselves the perfect illustration of a national disease of chronic and all-absorbing self-interest. They would sacrifice the environment, the economy, even the core values of the American ideal to serve only themselves. And, in their condemnation of this one man, of whom we asked so very much, they have finally displayed their complete lack of value and the utter vacuousness of their worldview.
A soldier, who spent five years in captivity, is being returned to his homeland as a part of ending an ill-considered and interminable war. Have we, in the end, not even the sense of decency to let him return from that living hell without tearing up what little dignity he may have left?