Honor and duty

Michael Raffety


“Honor and distinction.” That’s how National Security Advisor Susan Rice described Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who by all accounts of his platoon mates abandoned his post.

You think she would have learned better after being laughed at for saying the four Americans who died in the Benghazi Consulate were killed by rioters incensed by a video that no one has seen.

We can say for sure that Sgt. Bergdahl served. We can also say that he spent five years as a captive of the Haqqani clan, a largely criminal enterprise. I have to give him the benefit of the doubt for what happened to him psychologically during his captivity and two efforts to escape.

But “honor and distinction?” No. He served. Period. How he served is open to debate. How he served is open to inquiry by military legal experts.

All I know is when I joined the U.S. Navy I was sworn in at the Oakland Induction Center. I raised my hand and swore an oath to defend this country, the Constitution, obey orders of the president and officers as well as the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I took it seriously and never forgot it.

I never participated in a war, but I never forgot my oath. I never liked getting up at anytime between midnight and 4 a.m. to stand a watch, but that was part of the deal. Even when I joined he Antarctic squadron, I had to get up in the middle of the night to stand a watch over our C-130 Hercules or C-121 Super Constellation when we were home-based in Rhode Island. These were big planes, parked in hangars near the waters of Narragansett Bay. But security always remained a concern with the Navy, so we all did our duty.

When I went through the Oakland Induction Center I also saw Mario Savio and Jack Weintraub, key players in the 1964 Berkeley Free Speech Movement, talking to the shrinks, trying for a crazy card. It was obvious they were trying to get out of the draft on psychological grounds. As a member of the student council of American River College, I had supported the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, which led the Young Republicans to campaign against me at the polls. Despite the efforts of the future dentists of America, I won and got the student council to support the Free Speech Movement. I also joined a picket line in front of the State Capitol to support FSM.

It all made a great story to tell when my girlfriend and future wife won election to the Los Rios Board of Trustees. At a cocktail party the central administration was slightly agog over my slightly off-key past as an 18-year-old. They were also all atwitter about me dating the newest trustee.

But I digress. Savio and Weintraub were taking the losers’ way out. They were worse than Sgt. Bergdahl. At least he volunteered and served long enough to attain the rank of sergeant. So, maybe he went off to use the latrine and got captured. Or maybe he was just plain wacky. His dad seemed like a minor nut case who should never have been admitted to the White House and brought out for an Obama victory lap around the rose garden. It was clear somebody didn’t think this through very well. That somebody was likely the person who called Bergdahl someone who served with “honor and distinction” and thought giving up five big-time Taliban commanders was no big deal. Not only were the optics of the Bergdahl family wrong, but giving up five senior Taliban operatives for a sketchy guy who seemed to have abandoned his guard post didn’t come off very well. And not telephoning a few key congressional and senatorial bigwigs was a real faux pas.

It feels like our government is being run by people like Mario Savio and Fred Weintraub. They just have the wrong idea about honor and duty, courage and sacrifice.


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