As the extraordinary PBS documentary “Death and the American Civil War” makes clear, before 1861, “there were no national cemeteries in America. No provisions for identifying the dead, or for notifying next of kin, or for providing aid to the suffering families of dead veterans. No federal relief organizations, no effective ambulance corps, no adequate federal hospitals, no federal provisions for burying the dead. No Arlington Cemetery. No Memorial Day.”
That war created a new frame of reference for soldier, citizen, and the state: a new set of commitments and undertakings at the national level that have broadened and deepened to this day. That Bergdahl may have violated his part of the contract is dismaying, even perverse, under the circumstances. But it is really not the point.
He’s one of ours in a war we may not have sought but that our military fought; we made his presence on the field of battle possible and we are responsible for getting him back.