A striking 2009 photo of one of the nation’s most talked about people, Bowe Bergdahl, recently surfaced: the then 23-year-old, wearing his Army fatigues and a yellowish scarf around his neck, is standing at an Army outpost in Afghanistan. He is smoking a pipe. His right hand is on a sand bag, the left hand comfortably in his pocket. The young soldier’s entire pose, down to his right foot about to casually cross the left, bespeaks a man living in an alternate universe. That universe might well be one of classical Greek warrior statues, standing contrapposto, too confident in their martial mastery to be perturbed. Whatever Bowe Bergdahl was thinking when he struck that pose, it worked: the photo illumines a young man trying to square his conceptions of himself into a wartime reality that did not fit.
Public opinion polls on the Bergdahl-Taliban prisoner exchange don’t look good for the newly-freed 28-year-old: Most Republicans, according to one poll 71 percent, opposed President Obama’s prisoner exchange, while even among Democrats, according to the same poll, support for the deal stands at 55 percent. Simply put, there is no ticker tape kind of love affair between the American people and this soldier who once dreamed of military gallantry in faraway places, according to published accounts.
Perhaps one day the American public will find out if Bowe’s alleged inquiry to his platoon mates about hiking over the Afghanistan mountains to China is fact or fiction. Whatever the case, Bowe would not have been able to indulge his fantasies about war and his own being but for one overarching, yet entirely overlooked, fact: the civilian population of the United States began indulging in fantasies about war, and our own virtue, long before Bowe ever did.