Cook: Who should play Bowe Bergdahl in the movie? I know who.

Cook: Who should play Bowe Bergdahl in the movie? I know who.

June 18th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

OBEY YOUR CONSCIENCE. -- Bob Bergdahl, in an email to his son.

Now, they want to make a movie about it.

That was the Hollywood news on Tuesday, as Kathryn Bigelow -- director of "The Hurt Locker" and "Zero Dark Thirty" -- announced plans to turn the Bowe Bergdahl story into a motion picture.

I know who they should get to play Bergdahl.

Each of us.

The background may change -- Afghanistan for Chattanooga -- yet like Bergdahl, we, too, must walk away at some point, abandoning our bases of beliefs -- oh, how we guard and defend them so closely -- for a wilderness where we possess neither dominion nor control, but only our conscience.

Those are frightening places, and usually, we only reach them through tragedy: we lose our job, or someone we love, or control over our lives, and suddenly, our collapsing world is no longer what we once thought, and what we once saw as true no longer is.

Yet it is here where we find real freedom, not the lesser freedoms -- We can smoke dope in Colorado! We can carry our guns in Georgia! -- we settle for in America. Here, in that place beyond right-wrong politics, we encounter the conscience of which Bergdahl's father emailed: the place within that is only loyal to truth, not party politics or memorized doctrine.

Here, we are free in ways never possible while imprisoned under the duress of trying to believe what others tell us.

"Obey thy heart," Emerson wrote.

Thy heart, not thy political party, not thy graying beliefs formed so long ago.

That's what happened to Bowe Bergdahl. He joined the U.S. Army, hoping to encounter some transcendent experience, some adventure of initiation.

"Something bigger," the late Michael Hastings wrote in Rolling Stone.

The opposite came true. His perception of America was shattered by a war-horror reality that led him toward disillusionment and his own private revolution of independence.

"I am ashamed to even be an American," he wrote to his parents. "The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting."

He's been condemned by the conservative public for these words, which is terrible and immensely sad. Any returning son should be welcomed home just as any other would, unconditionally, regardless of war-time letters or philosophy.

"Let us eat and be merry for this my son was dead and is alive again," Jesus says in the prodigal son story.

Such rejoicing is not possible in America, for we have not developed the perspective of a mature country, one that is able to be both proud and ashamed of ourselves.

For no country is divine and whitewashed pure, and it is a dangerous patriotism that only allows American pride without American shame. Study a half-inch into American history and foreign policy, and you'll find ample evidence of both -- the Kurtzian horror as well as the Coolidge heroism.

Yet we make it difficult to do this, only casting America as the shining nation upon a hill and our military a blameless force of good. So we reframe Bergdahl's return into questions of desertion and whether he was worth the release of Taliban prisoners and why Bergdahl's dad spoke Arabic at a White House news conference.

"A Muslim victory call," announced Sean Hannity on Fox News.

How juvenile and ridiculous, how shameful. Bob Bergdahl learned Arabic for the same reason he grew a beard -- as a pathway to identify with his faraway son, with the wild hope that he could one day travel there to secure his Bowe's release. It is a Father's Day love, a wild grasp at some metaphysical connection between the weeping father and his imprisoned son.

And Hannity mocks it.

But this is what you do when your political ideology is war-like, and based on the binary illusion of victory-and-defeat. My country pure, yours not. My religion right, yours wrong. My politics holy, yours corrupt. It is an unending war, with all of us taken prisoner.

Somehow, Bowe Bergdahl traveled past that. Instead of watching a movie about it, we too should make the same desertion.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.