SGT La David Johnson’s convoy was caught in a complex ambush in Niger on October 4th, 2017 by members of an ISIS allied terrorist cell. In the resulting firefight his convoy, which was made up of mostly up-armored pickup trucks, tried desperately to get out of the kill zone and left his body behind. An extensive search for his body lasted for two days before it was finally recovered. However, what if SGT Johnson was not killed immediately in the ambush, but survived the initial firefight? What if he had been rendered unconscious or incapacitated, and captured by ISIS? These are questions that should confront the American foreign policy establishment, as they are quite pertinent with our current president’s previous statements on his feelings toward captured servicemembers.
On July 18th, 2015, then-candidate Donald Trump asserted that “I like people who weren’t captured”, referring to Senator John McCain and trying to discredit McCain’s status as a war hero after enduring years of torture in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” POW camp in North Vietnam. Trump also made statements about SGT Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. Army Soldier captured by the Taliban, saying he should have been thrown from a helicopter without a parachute or set in front of a firing squad for desertion (this was, of course, without a trial).
If SGT La David Johnson had been captured, would he have been able to remain confident that the full might of the United States government would be working toward his recovery with a man at the helm who has made such statements about POWs? There is a sacred trust between service men and women and our government: that we will never be left behind, and in return that we will fight on never lose faith in our government. The code of conduct is something that we live and die by, and we will never do something to discredit our nation. But what happens when that nation, or its leaders, break faith with us?
Donald Trump has made his feelings toward captured servicemembers abundantly clear: you’re on your own. This is a terrible thing to hear for someone in what is potentially the most terrifying, isolating and horrible circumstance a human being can find one’s self in. It sets a deadly precedent for our service, and a weakness that our enemies are sure to exploit sooner or later. We, as Americans, can only pray that they are not successful.