What is a hero? If contemporary groupthink is our reference, we must believe that anyone wearing a government uniform is a hero. Firefighters saving kittens, police officers nabbing burglars, and military soldiers killing bad guys. Unfortunately, real life is not so naïve. Simply donning a costume does not magically transform a person into a hero. We have much to learn from Aristotle who said, “We become just by performing just action, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave action.”

The news has been replete with commentary about the prisoner exchange over the weekend. A U.S. soldier was released by Taliban forces in return for the release of five of their own personnel from Guantanamo. Almost immediately, the airwaves became full of cries of hatred towards the newly repatriated U.S. citizen. It certainly makes one wonder about the morals (or lack thereof) commonly found throughout the nation.

Zealous patriotism is a defining characteristic of all government propaganda and the misinformation released by the United States government is no different. Citizens are encouraged to believe that someone who unflinchingly gives his life in the service of government is a hero. A soldier who rushes into battle in order to carry out a mission directed from on high is the epitome of greatness. Doing your duty means sacrificing yourself for a political machine.

So when news of a person who questions the morality and/or legality of government actions comes to the surface, the initial reaction is one of abhorrence. Even though initial reactions are reactionary and based on ignorance, I highly doubt that many will take the time to truly consider the causative elements of these sorts of events. Thus, the “Land of the Free” and recipient of the “tired … poor … huddled masses yearning to breath free” from around the globe is not only quick to judge, but quick to condemn.

As I did some research on Bowe Bergdahl for this article, it was easy to see myself and many of my friends in his place. Growing up in a rural community, he quickly determined that he wanted to see the world and do his “duty” for society. First Bowe tried to join the French Foreign Legion, but his application was denied. Then he and his father considered forming a private military group to destroy the murderous warlords in Africa. Finally he decided to join the Army. According to his parents, Bowe was told he would deploy to Afghanistan in order to help the locals rebuild their communities and learn how to defend themselves.

In what seems to be the experience of nearly every soldier who joins the military, “My Recruiter Lied to Me.” His experiences upon finally deploying to Afghanistan were everything but what was described to him.

Even before Bowe deployed or initially joined the Army I could see the writing on the wall. It is no secret that the military demands complete and utter compliance by its members. So when I discovered that Bowe had been home schooled and was well versed in ethics and philosophy from teachers such as Aquinas and St. Augustine, I knew there would be problems. To make matters worse, immediately after finishing basic training, rather than join in stereotypical military hobbies, Bowe immersed himself in books about humanitarian crusades, Zen meditation, and the works of Aristotle, Augustine, Kant and Hume. This type of reading encourages critical thought and individualism, not blind obedience to the state.

His messages home related poor morale, subpar leaders, uncertain goals, and generally unfit soldiers. Finally in mid-2009, Bowe sent his last email to his parents. “The future is too good to waste on lies. And life is way too short to … spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be american.” Bowe is not even remotely the first veteran to come to this conclusion (Vietnam, Iraq, Peace).

He had discovered how the military truly operated and was disgusted by it. “In the US army you are cut down for being honest. … The system is wrong. … The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at. It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies.” At this point, the objective mind attempts to place himself in the shoes of the one whose experience we are critiquing. Are these the convictions of a traitor or simply someone whose perception of righteousness has been shattered by reality?

He concludes with these chilling remarks: “These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live. … We don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks. … We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them. … The horror that is america is disgusting.

Many have suggested that Bowe is a traitor. He is a “filthy, anti-U.S. deserter … who deserves to be dead.” They claim he tried to join the Taliban. They demand he be tried for desertion. Some claim insider knowledge from “secret special forces unauthorized back channel[s],” hinting of Islamic beliefs. Some even come right out with bigotry by nicknaming him “Abdullah.”.

But Bowe is not alone. Not only is he in a very large community of veterans voicing disapproval of war, but he is surrounded by thousands of soldiers who presumably could not stand the guilt of their actions and either committed suicide or are suffering from psychological issues.

So before you dismiss this young man as a traitor or a coward, perhaps you can take the time to consider how much dedication and courage it takes to refuse continued participation in violence and lies.

We need men with moral courage to speak and write their real thoughts, and to stand by their convictions, even to the very death.” – Robert Green Ingersoll