The release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners from prison in Guantanamo has turned into quite the controversy. Washington is abuzz with talk of laws violated, dangerous precedents set and questions surrounding the exact circumstances of the sergeant’s actions prior to his capture. What should have been another happy step toward being free from the complex conflict knows as Afghanistan has become another discussion with no solutions, and no end, in sight.
An interested observer in all this might conclude that in this day in age, there are no longer any givens, that the lines between hero and villain have become as muddy as everything else, especially when it comes to Afghanistan, a place that defines every definition, a place so faceted that the minute one thinks they have found truth, a caveat appears. It is discouraging, to say the least.
But for every American who believes that real heroes must exist, just as children believe that Santa must exist because the very idea of him is so good, there is hope. Real heroes have come out of the Afghan experience and real heroes continue to surface here in the US all the time.
I refer to soldiers like Lt. Michael Murphy, the Navy Seal whose heroic deeds were recently celebrated in the film Lone Survivor or New York State Trooper Christopher Skinner here in my native Upstate who was deliberately and inexplicably run down by a crazed out of state driver last week. Yet I find it somewhat strange and slightly annoying, that real heroes like Lt. Murphy or Trooper Skinner run across the pages of our newspapers or fill the sound bites of the television media for their hour upon the stage, and recede, but those like Sgt. Bergdahl will haunt our communications for months to come as everyone tries to get to the bottom of what really caused him to wander away from his post one fine day in Afghanistan in 2009.
Tribute, it seems, is not as titillating as turbulence. It occupies less of our minds than the enthrallment we seem to have with those who have pushed the envelope by acting contrary to the norms we once held as sacrosanct. We seem to be absorbed for longer periods of time with those who do the controversial than we are with those who quietly and simply do the courageous. Both Lt. Murphy and Trooper Skinner were just doing their duty. There was nothing particular in that duty, save for their commitments to carry it out. Nothing more to see here, folks, move on.
Their untimely deaths have robbed us of good men and we have mourned them, but we are really not as interested in their stories in the long term as we are with ones like Sgt. Bergdahl’s, which have the capacity to shock and awe with a surreal quality. That is why, when on my way to the grocery store this morning, I was awed by the sight of the students of the local elementary school lining the sidewalk in front of the school, each little hand waving an American flag as Trooper Skinner’s funeral cortege passed before them.
It was a good thing the speed limit in that spot is only 15 miles per hour, because it was hard to see the road through the tears shed for a real hero and the silent tribute of little hearts.