Bowe Bergdahl And The Question We Should Be Asking

Looking back now, it seems odd to me that I did not first hear of Bowe Bergdahl from the news.  At the time of his capture, back in June of 2009, I listened to NPR, a LOT.  Yet I don’t recall hearing his name.  Considering the media circus that has arisen since he was released from Taliban custody in May of 2014, the limited reporting of his story during his captivity seems strikingly silent.

I happened upon the story through my research, when I clicked on this YouTube video the Taliban released after Bergdahl was captured.  I found this not long after Rolling Stones published Michael Hastings’ report on Bergdahl in 2012.  I read that article with much interest, and if you haven’t read it, I recommend you do.  I was captivated by the story of a disillusioned young man who apparently decided to simply walk away from war.  Of course, only Bergdahl himself could really say if this was what happened that night in 2009, and at that time, he was still being held prisoner by the Taliban.

Hastings’ article describes Bergdahl as a restless young man, ready to explore and experience a life bigger than he could find in his small hometown in Idaho.  He says Bergdahl liked survival manuals, and the TV show Man Vs. Wild.  Hastings quotes Bergdahl’s father, Robert Bergdahl, as saying, “He (Bowe) is Bear Grylls in his own mind.”  The article goes on to mention that Bergdahl attempted to enlist in the French Foreign Legion and briefly entertained a desire to go to Africa to help villagers targeted by militias learn self defence.  Curiously, Hastings leaves out the reports of Bergdahl’s extremely brief stint in the Coast Guard two years before he enlisted in the Army, as reported in this article:

‘He did join in early 2006 and he did enter boot camp training,’ Coast Guard spokeswoman Lisa Novak confirmed to USA Today.  ‘He left after 26 days…with an uncharacterized discharge.’

No further explanation of this discharge was offered, although other reports attribute the discharge to psychological reasons. Bergdahl enlisted in the Army in the spring of 2008, and in March of 2009, his unit deployed to the Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan.

Sean Smith, of the Guardian, spent a short time embedded with Bergdahl’s unit before Bergdahl disappeared.  His video footage from that time seems to show some of the discipline and morale issues later reported in the unit by Hastings and others.  He described Bergdahl in a brief article as follows:

‘Bowe was particularly thoughtful.  Its a long time to be in that situation, and though I didn’t get to know him very well I’d think if anyone was equipped to deal with it, he was probably one of them.  He wasn’t the sort who saw everyone as good guys or bad guys.’

Bowe Bergdahl was rescued from Taliban custody on May 31, 2014.  This rescue was not some spectacular midnight raid of an isolated Taliban fortress by special forces, but rather was the result of negotiations that had been going on for years.  The United States agreed to release five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Bergdahl’s freedom.  And this would set off a fire storm of debate and angry vitriol in Washington D.C. and the media.

I think for many Americans, this may have been the first introduction into the controversies surrounding Bergdahl.  At this point, the question of whether or not Bergdahl had intentionally deserted his post in Afghanistan had not had as much play time in the mainstream media.  But much was made of the decision to trade five Taliban prisoners for one American, as well as the rushed and seemingly secretive way the deal happened.

According to this USA Today poll from June 10, 2014, just nine days after Bergdahl’s rescue,

Public opposition to the exchange of five Taliban prisoners for captive Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has less to do with Bergdahl himself and more with how President Obama handled the transfer, according to a new USA Today/Pew Research Center poll.

In fact it hadn’t been a rushed deal, and the debate over the deal had been going on for some time.  Michael Hastings wrote in his Rolling Stones article, a full two years before Bergdahl was even freed as a result of the prisoner swap:

‘The Hill is giving State and the White House shit,’ says one senior administration source. ‘The political consequences­ are being used as leverage in the policy debate.’ According to White House sources, Marc Grossman, who replaced Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was given a direct warning by the president’s opponents in Congress about trading Bowe for five Taliban prisoners during an election year. ‘They keep telling me it’s going to be Obama’s Willie Horton moment, Grossman warned the White House. The threat was as ugly as it was clear: The president’s political enemies were prepared to use the release of violent prisoners to paint Obama as a Dukakis-­like appeaser, just as Republicans did to the former Massachusetts governor during the 1988 campaign. In response, a White House official advised Grossman that he should ignore the politics of the swap and concentrate solely on the policy.

What had already long been an ugly debate in D.C. erupted in the media after Bergdahl’s release, instantly becoming a divisive debate as talking heads took their usual sides on the left or the right.  Some railed against the choice of the Taliban prisoners, reporting that they were top level militants who had killed Americans and would surely return to the battlefield to kill more.  The fact that President Obama did not give Congress 30 days notice of the swap was another point of contention, both on Capitol Hill and in the media.

Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, said the swap was illegal because Obama didn’t give Congress the required 30-day notice before transferring detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The requirement is in the 2014 Defense Authorization Act.

‘The president has released, illegally, arguably the five most vicious, serious Taliban terrorists,’ Inhofe said. ‘Sure they’re happy to have him home,’ he said of Bergdahl’s family, but ‘you weigh that against the circumstances that will present themselves by five terrorists out killing Americans.’

LA Times, June 3, 2014

Judge Napolitano on Fox News went so far as to say that President Obama should be arrested for “providing material assistance to the Taliban.”  It appeared to be a growing sentiment among the public.

Others pointed out the importance of not leaving any of our military personnel behind as the war came to an end (no, seriously, it was supposedly coming to an end at that time, according to the media and the politicians) and that prisoner swaps had been a part of ending wars for ages.  As this article points out:

‘…time is running out for those who believe that Guantánamo is a place where they can hold people forever without due process, and that John Bellinger is correct to point out that, with the drawdown of U.S. troops at the end of the year, it will no longer be acceptable under international law for Taliban prisoners to continue to be held.’
All of this made for interesting debates in the media, but the real fuel for the fire was something with much, much bigger implications in public opinion.  It was the question of whether or not Bergdahl should be considered a deserter.  Had he committed the terrible crime of leaving his own men to run away from the fight?  This is a crime that is widely viewed as treasonous and cowardly, no matter the deserter’s reasoning. The focus of the politicians and the media turned increasingly to Bergdahl’s actions.
Initially, hints of this had leaked out here and there, even in Hastings’ Rolling Stones article back in 2012.  It seemed that Bergdahl had possibly considered the option even before deploying when he told a fellow soldier, Jason Fry, as reported by Hastings:
‘If this deployment is lame…I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan.’
After Bergdahl’s release, the scattered comments and reports coalesced. According to The New York Times, a classified military report that contained the details of the Army’s investigation of Bergdahl’s disappearance mentioned two other times Bergdahl apparently left his post, once in California during training and another time while in Afghanistan.  He returned both of those times.  The media jumped on the questions of Bergdahl’s mental state before he vanished from his outpost.

Before he became a Taliban prisoner, before he wrote in his journal “I am the lone wolf of deadly nothingness,” before he joined the Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was discharged from the Coast Guard for psychological reasons, said close friends who were worried about his emotional health at the time.

The 2006 discharge and a trove of Bergdahl’s writing — his handwritten journal along with essays, stories and e-mails provided to The Washington Post — paint a portrait of a deeply complicated and fragile young man who was by his own account struggling to maintain his mental stability from the start of basic training until the moment he walked off his post in eastern Afghanistan in 2009.

The Washington Post, June 11, 2014

The men who had served with Bergdahl, and who had served in the region in the months after Bergdahl was captured began to speak out about what happened.  They had been pushed hard in the months after the capture to find their fellow soldier at the same time as US activity increased in Afghanistan due to the surge.  They faced exhausting pressure, in terrible conditions.  And they were understandably angry.  These men had remained mostly silent during the years of Bergdahl’s captivity, and according to Matthew Farwell, a veteran of the Afghanistan war who helped Michael Hastings with the 2012 Rolling Stones article, they had been required to sign non-disclosure statements.  Here is what Farwell said about it on Democracy Now in an interview I recommend listening to:
MATTHEW FARWELL: Yeah, and, you know, that was one of the biggest things that disturbed me so much about this whole story and that really got me thinking it must be something, is it’s unprecedented to have an entire brigade—3,500 people have to sign a nondisclosure agreement about pretty much their entire tour in Afghanistan when they come back home. And so, these guys have bottled up this emotion. I’ve spoken with them.

AMY GOODMAN: But explain that, signing a confidentiality agreement to protect? I mean, what was the reason given?

MATTHEW FARWELL: The official reasons was that if they said anything about Bowe Bergdahl, it could, you know, hurt him or possibly cause him to be further mistreated by the Taliban or the Haqqani Network. But, to me, having served in the Army both as a trigger puller and then as a desk jockey at a four-star general’s headquarters, it seemed like it was an exercise in covering the Army’s butt and, you know, trying to not make themselves and this war look as bad as it was.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the soldiers being told not to say anything—

MATTHEW FARWELL: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: —having to sign confidentiality agreements. What about the media?

MATTHEW FARWELL: Well, that’s the other funny thing, is how complicit the media was with this. I’ve spoken with the White House official that was in charge of coordinating the media response and kind of ensuring that no one in the media spoke out or wrote about this. And frankly, you know, he managed to snow a lot of the people in the media…

There was reporting on soldiers who, it has been claimed, were killed as a direct result of the search for Bergdahl, although the Pentagon says it can’t confirm any direct link.  And Stars and Stripes has recently written the story of Navy SEAL James Hatch who was injured during an attempt to rescue Bergdahl.  Hatch had his femur shattered, and has endured 18 surgeries since, along with suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Bergdahl’s platoon members are even planning for the release of a book and a movie about Bergdahl’s “premeditated desertion.”
And now, stirring up the debate once again, as Bergdahl faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, the Serial Podcast, a spin-off of the radio show This American Life, has released the first three episodes of its second season, featuring Bowe Bergdahl’s story.  The podcast episodes include recordings of Bergdahl himself, talking with Mark Boal, the movie producer famous for Zero Dark Thirty.  According to Sarah Koenig who hosts the podcast, Mark Boal contacted Bergdahl because he wants to make a movie about him, and ended up recording hours of conversation, in which Bergdahl explains his side of the story.  In what strikes me as a bizarre assertion, Bergdahl tells Boal that he walked off the base that night because he wanted to create chaos in order to bring attention to what he felt was a dangerous situation within his unit.
The timing of this brings up the question of the effects the podcast will have, not only on public opinion, but also on Bergdahl’s court-martial proceedings.  Indeed, this article says:

‘I think Gene Fidell [Bergdahl’s attorney] decided it was time to get his client’s side out,’ Gittins [a former military defense attorney] said. ‘While the lawyers are limited in what they can do, the client is not.’

The public airing of Bergdahl’s side of the story may create an additional challenge for the Army, as it will make it even more difficult to ensure that the jurors selected for the court-martial remain impartial and unaffected by the Bergdahl narrative as it continues to unfold on Serial, Gittins said.

The podcast also may affect widespread public perception of Bergdahl’s case. On the internet forum Reddit, a discussion of the first Serial episode showed a broadening variety of perspectives on Bergdahl in the military community, which has overwhelmingly condemned him until now.

Bergdahl opted to defer his plea in his first court appearance, and he is scheduled back in court next month.  The Serial podcast will resume next month as well, and more details of his terrible ordeal will emerge, unfortunately through a source who’s motives I find questionable.  I’m sure there will also be more reporting on the military personnel who were effected by the search operations for Bergdahl as well as the court-martial begins, especially if their stories come out in a book and movie.  The media will undoubtedly keep spinning it as a left versus right political issue as election coverage ramps up.  And no doubt, it certainly remains a compelling story, which I clearly felt the need to write about at length.

But what I find most compelling in all of this, is how, in our ongoing national conversation, we are all failing to ask what I see as the most important question of all.  It isn’t whether or not Bergdahl is a traitor who put the lives of fellow soldiers at risk, and it isn’t whether his freedom is worth the release of five Taliban members.  The question is how are we ignoring that, with our silence, we have allowed our leaders to put these young men and women into the situation that resulted in all of this?  We bought the lies that led us into these wars, repeatedly.  We continue to allow them to send our children off to fight, to die, to suffer the consequences of the devastating trauma, for the profit of themselves and their cronies.  We continue to allow them to use returning soldiers to further their political agendas in the all-too-complicit media.  We jump to take sides based on our own political beliefs, arguing, name-calling, and finger-pointing when we should be examining our tacit support for these wars of aggression.  We should be asking our “free press” why they continue to spout the lies, supporting the wars and promoting militarism.  We should be supporting our youth, giving them better options than fighting in a war we don’t even understand, and that we largely ignore.


Meeting In The Middle, A Christmas Truce


It was Christmas in the trenches where the frosts so bitter hung.
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung.

For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war
had been crumbled and were gone forever more.

My name is Francis Tolliver.  In Liverpool I dwell.
Each Christmas come since World War One I’ve learned its lessons well.

That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame,
and on each end of the rifle we’re the same.
-John McCutcheon in “Christmas In The Trenches.”

Katie Aguilera

On a frozen Christmas Day in 1914, after nearly five months of devastating fighting, soldiers on opposite sides of the “no-man’s land” that separated the Allies from the German forces came together to celebrate the holiday.  They did so in a spontaneous, collective desire to find some form of humanity, something not easy to do in the trenches of World War I.

Soldiers who had been told that they were enemies came together to help each other bury the dead who had been left to lie in the bomb craters where they fell, sometimes for days and weeks.  They exchanged tobacco, souvenirs, treats, alcohol, and more importantly, the gift of peace for a brief moment.

It’s not really known how it started, or how many soldiers partook in the unplanned Christmas truce of 1914.  Some stories suggest these gatherings between the trenches resulted from the soldiers taking turns singing carols to each other, some simply from soldiers calling out that they wouldn’t shoot if the opposing forces wouldn’t.

However it began, there are a variety of accounts, from several different areas along the front lines, of soldiers taking a break from war for the day.  Against the wishes of those in charge, those directing the killing and dying from afar, who saw such behavior as treasonous fraternizing with the enemy.

Reports of the Christmas truce had a brief appearance in newspapers in America and England, and a few scattered pieces in other newspapers around the world.  But right from the start, France wouldn’t allow the story in their papers.  Germany kept reports under wraps as well.  Soon, the reports faded from the media throughout the world, and the story of the 1914 truce became a topic that was avoided for decades.

It was a dangerous story, one that war-mongering politicians and big military industrial corporations who rely on the willingness of the common man to fight their wars have a powerful interest in suppressing.  Naina Bajekal wrote in her essay titled Silent Night:  The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce of 1914:

…for many at the time, the story of the Christmas truce was not an example of chivalry in the depths of war, but rather a tale of subversion:  when men on the ground decided they were not fighting the same war as their superiors.


The commander of the British Second Corps, General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien believed this proximity posed the greatest danger to the morale of soldiers and told Divisional Commanders to explicitly prohibit any ‘friendly intercourse with the enemy.’  In a memo issued on Dec. 5, he warned that:  ‘troops in trenches in close proximity to the enemy slide very easily, if permitted to do so, into a live and let live theory of life.’

Of course.  Because it isn’t so easy to attack those you get to know.  If your enemy becomes a fellow human, with families and goals of their own, they are much harder to turn into a target.  And creating an ‘us versus them’ mentality is critical to maintaining a successful military, as well as keeping the rest of us at home supportive of the wars.  The tales of the Christmas truce were tucked safely away from public view.

According to David Brown in a Washington Post article, Remembering a Victory For Human Kindness, Maurice Floquet, a WWI veteran who was 111 at the time of the interview, said:

Such a thing could not be told to the soldiers, for how would they pursue the war if they knew?

And Murdoch M. Wood, a British WWI soldier, is quoted as saying,

I then came to the conclusion that I have held very firmly ever since, that if we had been left to ourselves, there would never have been another shot fired.

In other words, he believed that after the Christmas truce, the soldiers would have packed up and gone home, if their leaders had not required them to return to battle.  Imagine if the soldiers had.

Imagine if the common man, the citizens of this world, like the soldiers in 1914, laid down arms and emerged from trenches, crossing that no-man’s land of our leaders’ divisive intentions to shake hands.  To help each other bury our dead, to exchange tokens of compassion and peace.  Imagine if we simply turned our back on ‘their’ wars, returned to our homes, and worked towards our own prosperity.

That is my Christmas wish.  That we all accept, and admit to ourselves, that everyone in the world is a human being with families and goals of our own, beliefs of our own, lifestyles of our own.  Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don’t, but that is what makes humanity.  I wish we would stop letting corrupt politicians and greedy military industrial corporations convince us that other humans are targets, that they are our enemies because of our differences.  I wish we would adopt that ‘live and let live theory of life.’

Peace, and happy Holidays


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A History Lesson (Part Two) The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand

Katie Aguilera

In the early hours of July 28, 1914, the man who was then first in line to take the throne of Austria, along with his wife, left Philipovic army camp of Bosnia in a line of automobiles, on a drive that would end with death, and start a cascade of events that led to world war.  An initial attempt at killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand that morning by throwing a bomb at his car failed, but later that day, the Archduke and his wife, Sophie, were fatally shot in their car in front of Moritz Schiller’s food store on Franz Joseph Street in Sarajevo, Bosnia.  It was an assassination that would trigger global conflict, four years of unprecedented death and destruction.

I think that most Americans, like me, were taught very little about World War I in school.  Just a quick, passing overview, the gist of which was something about Germany attempting to take over the world, lots of men dying in trenches, and Americans swooping in at the last minute to save the day, to save the world.  And there was a little something about some duke or something who was killed.  But there was never any explanation, there was no understanding of just how the assassination of one man and his wife could launch the entire world into such a bloody, devastating war.

World War I, known mostly as the Great War before World War II, began a month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and then invaded.  There had been increasing tensions between these countries, and surrounding countries, for decades.  Several treaties and agreements had been struck, creating a divisive and increasingly hostile atmosphere throughout Europe and Russia.  Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Kingdom of Italy had formed a Triple Alliance, agreeing to militarily support each other in the event that either of the three was attacked by any other powerful nation.  The Russian Empire, the French Third Republic, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland answered with an agreement of their own, the Triple Entente.  The dominoes were lined up in place, just waiting for the proper catalyst.

When Ferdinand’s car came to a stop outside the store where Gavrilo Princip had just stopped in to buy a sandwich after his fellow assassin, Nedjelko Cabrinovic, had attempted to kill the archduke with a bomb, Princip reacted quickly, and fired two shots.  He hit both the Archduke, and his wife Sophia, who sat next to him in the open car.  Both died shortly thereafter.  This gave Austria-Hungary the excuse it wanted to issue an ultimatum with several demands to Serbia, an ultimatum that was not expected to be agreed upon.  When Serbia agreed to all the demands except for one allowing Austria-Hungary’s participation in an internal investigation into the Archduke’s assassination, the dominoes fell and war was declared.  The countries of the world lined up and took their places in the battle, based on the alliances previously formed.

Over 70 million military personnel were mobilized during the Great War.  More than 9 million combatants were killed, and at least 7 million civilians died as well.  It was one of the deadliest conflicts in the history of the world.  So, just who was this man, Gavrilo Princip, who fired those two shots in Sarajevo that set the world aflame?  What led him to do it?

Gavrilo Princip was born on July 25, 1894 to Serbian parents whose family had been in Bosnia for centuries, according to Wikipedia.  His father was a farmer who earned additional income by transporting mail through the mountains between Bosnia and the Dalmatia region of Croatia.  Gavrilo was a good student, and at the age of 13 he moved to Sarajevo to be enrolled in school there.  In 1911, Gavrilo joined an organization known as Young Bosnia that wanted Bosnia freed from Austria-Hungary’s control and united with Serbia.  In 1912, Gavrilo was expelled from school after involvement in a demonstration against the Austro-Hungarian authorities.  He traveled to Belgrade, Serbia and volunteered to join the guerrilla groups under the leadership of Major Vojin Tankosic that were fighting the Turks.  He was rejected because he was small, and he returned to Sarajevo, humiliated, but traveled back and forth to Belgrade and eventually he met one of the founders of the Serbian Chetnik Organization, Zivojin Rafajlovic, who had him sent to Vranje where the Chetnik training center was located.  There Gavrilo trained to fight and use weapons.  This made him a good candidate for the assassination plot against Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Major Vojin Tankosic, who had rejected Gavrilo for his small size and would later admit to supplying the weapons used in the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, was a member of an organization known as Union or Death, commonly referred to as the Black Hand.  This group formed on May 9, 1911, and by 1914, when Gavrilo Princip would cross paths with them, they had several hundred members, possibly thousands.  Their goal was to bring about the creation of a Greater Serbia, in any way necessary, including the use of guerrilla fighters and saboteurs, and terrorism.  Many Black Hand members were also leaders in government positions, and as a result, the Black Hand had influence over government appointment and policy.  Even Crown Prince Alexander was a supporter.  The Black Hand decided to kill Archduke Ferdinand after learning of his planned visit to Sarajevo, and Gavrilo was recruited for the job, along with two other Young Bosnian members, Nedjelko Cabrinovic and Trifko Grabez.

The assassins were trained, and a short time before Ferdinand’s scheduled visit, they traveled back to Sarajevo with the help of Serbian military personnel, and were joined by four more men.  They were supplied with bombs and army pistols from Serbian arsenals.  It seems apparent that they had plenty of support from authorities, and the Black Hand’s activities were not very secret to the Serbian government, given its large number of government and army members.  Eventually, Prime Minister Pasic learned of the plan, and in hopes of avoiding conflict with Austria-Hungary by keeping the involvement of the Black Hand secret, a rather lack-luster attempt was made to stop the assassins with a recall order.  The essay, The Assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand: Trigger For War says this:

This ‘recall’ appears to make Apis (Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic) look like a loose cannon, and the young assassins as independent zealots. In fact, the ‘recall’ took place a full two weeks before the Archduke’s visit. The assassins idled around in Sarajevo for a month. Nothing more was done to stop them. The extensive network of contacts that smuggled them into Sarajevo, fed and housed them, was not utilized to stop them. This calls into question the Black Hand’s and the Serbian government’s desire that the plot truly be cancelled.

Pasic then decided to warn the Austrians.  Like the recall order, this was basically an effort to cover himself and the Serbian government, giving them a measure of deniability.  But it was a very vague and empty warning.  Jovan Jovanovic, the Serbian Minister in Vienna, simply said to Dr. Leon von Bilinski, the Austrian Minister of Finance, that Ferdinand should not go to Sarajevo because, “some young Serb might put a live rather than a blank cartridge in his gun and fire it.”  The implied warning was missed or ignored, and no further warnings were given.

Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were murdered in Sarajevo, and the event was used to trigger the armed conflict that had been brewing for some time, that had in fact already been occurring in some areas.  It was just the excuse that was needed.  And it was delivered to the leaders of these countries through the hands of a young, idealistic man who believed he was fighting for his people, and was willing to die for that effort.

It can be easy, looking back, to speculate that the Black Hand, the Young Bosnia group, any of these secret societies, may have been manipulated and used in order to create desired events, to create the necessary trigger.  After all, this has occurred repeatedly throughout history.  There are enough examples to keep me busy writing history lessons for some time.  But, speculation aside, it is known that members of the Serbian military, and government knew of the assassination plan, and in fact, assisted in various ways to ensure that at least one of the seven assassins would succeed.  And for me, that is the most important lesson to be learned from this piece of history.


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Bare Feet, Not Arms?


Bare feet, not arms.  It was a bumper sticker that occupied prime real estate on the rear window of my little orange van for many years.  In light of today’s events, I felt the need to write about another profound 180 degree journey I have been on recently, one that has, until now, been largely a private one.  Today, after San Bernardino.  After Roseburg.  All the others…you know what I’m talking about.  Shootings.  Mass killings.  Those scary guns.

I  think I first need to give some back story to my journey.  I grew up in rural Oregon, where it seems that pretty much everyone has guns.  It is a place far, far away from inner cities, and gun violence for the most part.  I remember guns in racks in the back windows of pick-up trucks.  My father’s rifles were often in a coat closet, unloaded but in reach.  I never learned to shoot, I never even held a gun, they held no interest for me.  I really didn’t think twice about them.  But, they weren’t scary back then.

Then, Columbine happened.  And closer to home, Thurston.  School shootings, drive by shootings, work place shootings, became common on the nightly news.  Not because they were dramatically increasing, but because the reporting of them was increasing.  And increasingly alarmist in style.  Guns became scary.  I began to believe that no one except law enforcement and the military should be allowed to own handguns and assault rifles.  It made sense to me then, make those illegal, and the problem will go away.

Never mind that I have always supported the right to hunt for food, and have always thought that people should be allowed hunting rifles, which could also suffice for home protection.  Those were just the sort of gun everyone used to have in their coat closet, or their rear windows.  Not the scary sort.

I held onto this belief for many years.  Bare feet, not arms.  I thought that people who wanted an armory were paranoid and crazy.  And this allowed guns to remain a scary bogeyman that I didn’t understand.

The argument that it is necessary to be armed to protect oneself from the government when they decide to round us all up some day seemed absurd to me.  And, it really still doesn’t work for me today.  If the government decides to round us all up, well, I’ll just say that I accept the fact that the government is much better armed than I could ever be.  Or want to be.  Guns aren’t the solution to our power-hungry, corrupt government.  But does that mean that it is worth giving the government the power to take them away?

My 180 degree journey on guns, I think, really began with Sandyhook.  My oldest child was in Kindergarten at the time, and I spent the day trying not to bawl as I waited for the school bus to bring him home safe.  I don’t care about all the conspiracies around Sandyhook.  I believe that babies died, and it was horrible.  At first, it reinforced the thoughts of gun control for me.  But, it also started conversations that led me to challenge my own beliefs.

Around the same time, I was deep in research for the novel I’ve been working on for years.  Research that has made me aware of how serious our situation is, we the people of this nation.  Research that has made me aware of just how corrupt our government really is.  I began to understand some of the pro-gun arguments.

So, I decided that I needed to do some ‘experiential’ research. I decided that, as part of that research, I needed to learn how to shoot a rifle, to learn how they work.  So, I did.  Then, I decided that I needed to experience the full process of legally obtaining a gun of my own.  So, I did.  As I turned to walk out of the gun store with my new purchase in hand, a friendly policeman applauded my choice and an elderly couple cheered me on.  It was bizarre, awkward, and kind of fun all at the same time.  Since then, I have discovered that target shooting is really fun.  And those guns that terrified me?  I know a lot more about them now.  I can pick them up, take them apart, clean them, put them back together, just like I can my bicycles.  They don’t scare me anymore.

As I said, I am still not sure where I am on this journey.  But, I have come to understand what I believe to be the true meaning of a ‘well-regulated militia.’  Yeah, the so-often forgotten part of that amendment everyone loves to argue about, especially after a mass shooting.  I don’t believe it really has so much to do with protecting our right to own weapons as it does with addressing the need for citizens who can defend this nation from attack.  Because, the original intent, I believe, was for our country not to maintain a standing army, but to be able to call up the citizenry in the event of an attack. To defend our borders, to defend our homes, to defend our families.

Now, I find myself a long ways down the road of this 180 degree journey, once again questioning my direction.  The guns don’t scare me anymore.  What does, what truly terrifies me, is this culture of violence we seem to be wrapping ourselves in.  This culture that lacks empathy for one another.  We raise our kids on violent entertainment, we allow them to avoid humanizing face-to-face interaction with their peers by giving them cell phones, tablets, computers, talking robots.  When they act like kids, we freak out and drug them.  We don’t even seem to mind that when a commercial during our nightly news isn’t about pharmaceuticals, it is about the violent program that will come on after the news.  We just sit blankly, letting our kids watch and absorb it.  We normalize violence, we make it acceptable, and then, we scream and yell about the weapons when somebody unleashes.

But, in all of the yelling, no one will tell me exactly how they see increased gun control successfully putting a stop to mass killings.  How will increased gun control keep illegal guns out of criminal hands?  How will increased gun control keep the next Dylann Roof from simply building a bomb to detonate inside the church of those he hates?  It is the anger, the hatred, the violence, the lack of compassion.  It is not the method used to unleash those.

I am still open on this debate.  I want to put a stop to babies dying in their schools.  I would love to hear some legitimate ideas.  Sure, I’m enjoying shooting red cups, paper targets, and rotten produce, but if somebody can present me with a true argument in support of disarming the citizens who are supposed to be our national defense, I might be willing to consider giving up my gun.

But you had better be ready to explain to me how you are going to address the root causes of these violent killings because I hate band aids.  And, you had also better be ready to explain to me why you aren’t ‘up in arms’ over all the people, all the babies, dying around the world as a result of the bombs, and moderate rebels, our own government is unleashing on them.  You better be ready to tell me why you are silent about their deaths.


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