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The Drinker and the Hostage

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This morning, while flying back from North Carolina, I sat next to a big man who smelled of alcohol.

Not long after takeoff, he ordered a beer—then drink it in about 10 minutes. The next time the flight attendant passed, he ordered another drink. A stiff one. He guzzled that one quickly, too.

Upon landing, with time to kill, I Tweeted the following …

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What ensued was sort of unexpected. One after another, people slammed me. Maybe he’s terrified of flight. Maybe he just lost a loved one. The point: I had no idea why he was drinking, and to automatically assume alcoholism was presumptuous bullshit.

Every single person who made that point was correct.

Which leads me to Bowe Bergdahl, the POW who was recently retrieved, via trade, from the Taliban. After many initially celebrated the return of a soldier, the good vibes of the story turned bad. First, people (rightly) slammed President Obama for swapping five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Bergdahl without consulting Congress. This, at best, was a move that sidestepped the law, and it was despicable.

Second, though, is the mounting case that Bowe Bergdahl was unworthy of being saved; that he deserted his troop, deserted his country, laid down his weapon and departed. That narrative has been supported by many who served with Bergdahl and—if true—it’s damning.

That being said, well, we should be ashamed of ourselves. Without knowing the facts and without hearing from Bergdahl, we have labeled the man a sellout and a traitor. We have taken the most surface of facts (he left), and immediately drew a conclusion. Yet much like the drinker sitting next to me, what do we really know about Bowe Bergdahl and his time in Afghanistan? Was he, indeed, a spineless deserter of his country? Was he suffering from mental illness? Did he just received horrible news in the mail; the sort of news that drives people to insanity? Were his fellow soldiers mercilessly beating on him? Was he simply unfit to serve? Was he a bad guy? A really bad guy? A Taliban sympathizer who always hated the U.S.?

Answer: We don’t know.

So, what should be done here goes against every modern American impulse, and that is—wait. Hold back. Chill. Give him a chance to explain. Let those around him respond. Wait until we know for certain; for 100-percent certain.

Then, and only then, shall we sit in judgement.

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