Let me see if I can get this straight with what I know: We send soldiers into battle (my oldest son served in the Army for five years and was deployed in Iraq for more than a year) to risk and give their lives to hunt terrorists, and we proclaim that is justified and it is our duty as a country. And then we free five known combatants or terrorists, who we would have soldiers risk their lives to capture or kill, in order to save the life of one soldier, and we say that is our duty as a country.
Does this seem confusing or a conflict to any of you out there? My mind spins from the contortions that one has to go through to justify both of these positions simultaneously.
The same soldier we get returned from captivity by letting loose those we call our enemy would be sent into battle to give his life in order to capture these five enemies or use deadly force to end them as a threat. So if the goal is to make sure the lives of all soldiers are preserved no matter what, including releasing the enemy to freedom to possibly do harm to others, then why are we sending them into battle in the first place? Is our goal soldier safety at all costs or is it eliminating the enemy? If it is eliminating the enemy, then how can one justify this swap which puts the enemy back on the battlefield.
I am not an advocate for war and using our military to solve our problems in the world. In fact, I think it is very problematic in this day and age to come up with rationalizations for a just war theory. And I believe that most of the wars conducted in the last half century have cost us dearly in lives and precious resources and gained very little security in the world. From Korea to Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan to many other military ventures, what we have lost cannot be justified in any way by what was accomplished. I think any president should pause long and hard before committing our men and women to battle, and the weight for choosing a peaceful path should outweigh most military considerations.
But if a president commits to the idea that the sacrifice of young men and women is necessary to eliminate an enemy, then they should be required to make the very tough choices regarding prisoners captured by that same enemy. In that instance, we should do everything possible to bring the soldier home, but not by freeing the same enemy that soldiers are being asked to die for. It confuses not only me, but also our country as a whole because it causes many to lose faith in what exactly is our goal.
I, myself, prefer peace over war, and believe killing another human being is rarely ever justified and that 21st century wars have little justification in weighing the losses versus the gains. But for those leaders making decisions to go to war, they should have to stick to a consistent policy that would not rationalize freeing dangerous enemy combatants to save a soldier's life so we can feel good about ourselves.
Finally, if the compassionate and loving thing to do is to get Sgt. Bergdahl back at all costs, then isn't the compassionate and loving thing to do to not fight the war in the first place?
There you have it.
Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent.
Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.