I wonder how many people think that the soldiers who died looking for Bowe Bergdahl were on a Saving Private Ryan style mission together. That’s apparently not what happened.
They weren’t out looking for Bergdahl. They were on the lookout for him while they were out on other missions. This isn’t a trivial distinction. It means that it is in fact almost impossible to say that they died on account of Bergdahl or for his sake because they were in harm’s way for reasons that would have placed them there even if Bergdahl hadn’t gone missing. They died in combat in a combat zone and, although it sounds callous, their deaths may have been routine. So it’s debatable how much they should figure in deciding whether Bergdahl was worth saving.
But while they’re thinking of Saving Private Ryan they should be thinking about this.
Saving Matt Damon was not worth losing Tom Hanks.
Now, Private Ryan seems to be a good enough kid. Definitely not someone who deserves to die. But he’s ordinary. Captain Miller, though, is extraordinary or at least exemplary. In the grand scheme of things, the world can do without a few Private Ryans here and there, but it needs more Captain Millers. Sending Miller to die for Ryan is a great unfairness, and Miller himself feels that unfairness, on behalf of his family and his men more than on his own. But he does still feel it. It infuriates him. He resents it. He would resist it except that he accepts the principle.
We don’t judge each other’s worth that way.
We don’t say, “Before I bother to care what happens to you, prove to me you deserve to be cared about and cared for.”
We operate from the belief that we are all worth it. In and of ourselves and not relative to other human beings.
We are all worth it because we are all human beings.
We care about and care for everybody, including the least deserving, because it’s our responsibility to care for the whole human race. You are worth it because you are one of us, no matter how much you’ve done to make us think otherwise. In caring for you, we are caring for everybody. On the individual level that means that in saving Private Ryan, Captain Miller is saving himself.
Say Sergeant Bergdahl was a deserter, and we have to say it because we don’t really know that he was, that’s an accusation made by members of his outfit who may not have been worth saving themselves had they been taken prisoner. Given all we know that’s gone on over there, they might have committed atrocities, they might have been cowards and shirkers, they might have been rapists. The same goes for the men who died looking for Bergdahl. We don’t know. We’re not asking. It’s beside the point, at the moment. Bergdahl may have been a deserter, he looks more like a bit of a flake with a history of going walkabout, but he may have deserted, and, again, say he did.
Does that make him less than one of us?
And by us, I mean us human beings, not us Americans.
Did he deserve to be left to die?
More than you? More than me? More than whom?
The war---wars---have been going on for thirteen years. Every grown man and woman in the country under fifty could have volunteered to go fight. Every one under forty still could. Bowe Bergdahl did. He fought that war for several months before he was taken prisoner. How many people now saying he deserved to be left to die did not fight a single minute because they were too frightened, too complaisant, too selfish, too indifferent, too willing to let the Bowe Bergdahls do it for them? How then do they dare give themselves the right to judge Bergdahl’s deserving?
Bowe Bergdahl went. It didn’t work out very well for him. But he went.
In my judgment that makes him more deserving than any of the chickenhawks and Sunshine Patriots.
But who am I to judge?
What makes me think I’m deserving?
It’s as I’ve said, “Looked at close, none of us is worth it” or as Hamlet said, “Use every man after his desert, and who shall ‘scape whipping?”
So we don’t just treat each other as if we’re all Private Ryans. We assume we are. And we don’t assume we, ourselves, are Captain Millers. We assume we aren’t.
We don’t demand proof someone deserves saving because we believe everyone does.
And because someday we may need saving ourselves and we don’t want to have to prove we’re worth it.
In saving Private Ryan, and Sergeant Bergdahl, grandly and meanly, we’re saving ourselves.