Serial: Episode 01: DUSTWUN
December 10, 2015 3:42 AM - Subscribe

In the middle of the night, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl grabs a notebook, snacks, water, some cash. Then he quietly slips off a remote U.S. Army outpost in eastern Afghanistan and into the dark, open desert. About 20 minutes later, it occurs to him: he's in over his head.
posted by Etrigan (56 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Man, there is no feeling like seeing a new episode of an old favorite unexpectedly show up. I had no idea we were so close to the new season. Listened to the first half of the episode on my way to work and I'm very excited so far.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:08 AM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have a lot of Feelings regarding Bergdahl, so this season is sure to keep me both enthralled and enraged. So far, they're handling it pretty even-handedly, letting him tell his own story but not lionizing him.

It makes sense that they jump right in to the incident itself, with virtually no talk about Bergdahl before June 30th, 2009. I suppose we'll get an episode on that later, but the next ep sounds like it will be "Here's what the Taliban says about it."
posted by Etrigan at 6:16 AM on December 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Etrigan: "I have a lot of Feelings regarding Bergdahl, so this season is sure to keep me both enthralled and enraged. So far, they're handling it pretty even-handedly, letting him tell his own story but not lionizing him."

If it's anything like last season, I'm sure people that think he was a deserter will think the show lionizes him and people that think he was a whistleblower will think it demonizes him. I really didn't follow this story at all, so I am coming at it from a fairly neutral POV so far.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:21 AM on December 10, 2015


Good start so far. I'm not sure what NEW things they can bring to this story, but I'm excited to find out.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:27 AM on December 10, 2015


"That's me, calling the Taliban." Damn!

Very interesting so far. I find it odd that with the benefit of time, increased age, and hindsight, Bergdahl still doesn't seem to realize how incredibly stupid and dangerous his decisions were.
posted by sallybrown at 6:58 AM on December 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


If he genuinely thought he was doing the right thing, it wouldn't matter how stupid or dangerous his decisions were, to him.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:01 AM on December 10, 2015


Holy cow, this guy must be a total moron.

I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt about his capture, but hearing him explain himself, how did he ever think this was a good idea, even as a protest? Even if he was being abused by his NCOs, walking into a combat zone and a harsh desert, unarmed and ill-equipped, is a masterclass how to make your really bad situation waaaay worse.
posted by jferngler at 7:28 AM on December 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'll just say that Bergdahl is not the first soldier I've heard of (or met) (or commanded) who thought some Big Grand (Dumb) Gesture would finally get The Right People to listen to him. I guess it comes from the same place as The Big (Crazy) Romantic Gesture that rom-coms have told us are the key to finally getting The Popular Girl to notice The Plucky Protagonist.
posted by Etrigan at 7:31 AM on December 10, 2015 [30 favorites]


Was super excited when I herd this came out today and just listened to it. It was far more a compelling story than I expected (I was a bit skeptical when I herd it was going to be the topic). Maybe because I didn't really pay much attention to the story when it was in the news I am coming in neutral to start with and not sure what to think as of yet.
While it is very interesting to get to hear from Bergdahl him-self it is also REALLY worth keeping in mind that, for the most part, the one person in this story who has the most to gain from lying is Bergdahl.
posted by Captain_Science at 7:36 AM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


His description of being locked standing up in a dark room and what that was like mentally totally shook me up. I was thinking, like, whatever he thought or meant to do, THAT is not where he thought it would lead, and I'm not sure anything would deserve that treatment.
posted by dnash at 7:41 AM on December 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


the one person in this story who has the most to gain from lying is Bergdahl.

Definitely! I think the stinger at the end was supposed to illustrate how much of a clusterfuck this is for the Taliban, the Army, and Bergdahl. I think that's where the story is leading.
posted by jferngler at 7:42 AM on December 10, 2015


As much as I'm like "WTF WERE YOU THINKING," I also wish we weren't in a situation where idealistic and deep-feeling (very) young men and women in search of Grand Adventure and Finding Yourself get targeted and recruited into a military whose command structure may be a very poor fit and which is fighting wars that did not need to occur in the first place. And that the potential physical and mental cost of war to the people fighting it was emphasized as much as the grander heroic aspects of it. (Not to deny at all that a large number of people have made excellent careers and lives in the military.)
posted by sallybrown at 7:44 AM on December 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


I suspect I won't be liking this story too much because of the sheer amount of stoopid life decision making in it, apparently.

But "That's me, calling the Taliban" was just BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:08 AM on December 10, 2015


I guess it comes from the same place as The Big (Crazy) Romantic Gesture that rom-coms have told us are the key to finally getting The Popular Girl to notice The Plucky Protagonist.

I think you can probably count on one hand the number of war movies that emphasize the grit and the grind and the need for overarching coordination over the individual achievement and hail-mary win. A realistic narrative would emphasize that any story that pivots on a single person or even battalion's unexpected action isn't a story of brilliant victory, it's a suck-out and a story of planned failure. But we don't make movies that emphasize the cold sweat holy shit that really should have gone horribly wrong, we make ones that celebrate that sloppyness with a fuck yeah!

Which is my bloviated way of saying "you don't have to cross genres to identify an inspiration here."
posted by phearlez at 8:20 AM on December 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was thrilled to discover the podcast on my phone this morning. Definitely enjoying it so far - and great 'cliffhanger' at the end. I look forward to hearing the story unfold, because right now I just feel bad for the guy - and for the masses of people out there who want to do that Grand Gesture that will make their lives count, somehow.

I think Etrigan's romantic comparison is quite apt, actually. Just last night I was talking with a friend about how for women, weddings have become a Grand Gesture - the size, the spectacle, the expense - to prove to the world (other women) how perfect their relationship/life is.
posted by widdershins at 8:43 AM on December 10, 2015


The description of OP Mest (and other things about the episode in general) reminded me of the movie Jarhead. I feel like that movie got a really odd but interesting reaction in that it turned out to be not anti-war enough for the anti-war side, but also not pro-war enough for the pro-war side. Also its focus on "sitting around in the desert waiting for something to happen, yet knowing you're constantly under threat of attack."

I want to hear more details about what exactly made him think the leadership was so terrible. I had never heard this possible motivation - I think I'd mainly heard people thought he was trying to actually defect to the Taliban side.
posted by dnash at 8:55 AM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I feel like that movie got a really odd but interesting reaction in that it turned out to be not anti-war enough for the anti-war side, but also not pro-war enough for the pro-war side.

Most great anti-war movies are essentially satire that can easily be confused for pro-war movies.
posted by Etrigan at 9:01 AM on December 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


My initial impression hearing his story is that it could not possibly be the whole truth, but I can 100% believe that Bergdahl thinks it's the truth, even if it isn't. Five years of being isolated and terrified makes him a pretty complicated witness to his own story. Much like season 1, I think we'll never know for sure and I'm going to end up irritated and frustrated by the whole thing. I did, though, sit at my desk staring off into space to listen to the last 10 minutes, which I have not done with any podcast since the last episode of the Syed story. So I guess you've got me again, Koenig.
posted by something something at 10:34 AM on December 10, 2015 [10 favorites]


I was certainly not expecting to get sucked into this one...I don't really have any knowledge of how military things work, and it's been on the news so many times that I thought it wouldn't have that personal angle that the first season had, but Koenig and her crew certainly know how to tell a story. And the end! Man, she's good! I'm on tenterhooks waiting for next week!
posted by xingcat at 11:32 AM on December 10, 2015


I'm disappointed Koenig didn't state what she's trying to accomplish here. Understanding? Exoneration? Proving intent?

If it's just an exploration of the event I guess that's fine, but I'd like to know the why no matter what. With S1 Koenig stated pretty early (as far as I remember) that she wanted to prove whether Adnan was innocent or not. It ended up being more than that, but it least it was a direction.

Was a goal stated and I missed it?
posted by Tevin at 12:41 PM on December 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think Koenig learned from Season 1 that having the goal of learning the truth is an illusion, that the more investigating you do, the more unanswerable questions appear. What this story has in common with that one is looking at a situation from multiple points of view, calling out truth where you can see it, but mostly grasping at fog. It made for the world's most popular podcast the first time around.
posted by rikschell at 1:03 PM on December 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


OK, so more broadly speaking: what is the point of view? Like, what should I hope for when I listen each week? Is it going to offer me anything more substantial than what I could get with reading what's already been reported?

Doesn't seem like it, from this episode. It feels like well trod ground that's being brushed over again for ... what?
posted by Tevin at 1:06 PM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


It feels like well trod ground that's being brushed over again for ... what?

Yeah, I've had reservations about this since it was leaked that they would be doing the Bergdahl case. High-profile doesn't seem like a good use of the resource, nor an ongoing case.
posted by Etrigan at 1:11 PM on December 10, 2015


So far so good! I think it's good structurally that Koenig isn't interviewing Bergdahl directly, but instead relying on these taped interviews made by Mark Boal and Page 1. The most awkward parts about the first season was Koenig's direct relationship with Adnan, the conversations they had and her feelings on them. I think this insulation will give her a bit of journalistic detachment.

I also appreciated her explanation of wanting to tell this story at various scales, both zooming in specifically on Bergdahl himself and scaling out to the whole milieu of the US military in Afghanistan. That sort of thorough from-all-angles journalism is the strongest argument for a podcast like Serial, and I look forward to seeing how they do with it.
posted by Nelson at 1:27 PM on December 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I somewhat disliked the serial eps I listened to last season. But I appreciated the idea so giving this a shot. I'm intrigued so far. Definitely feel like they'll do a better job avoiding condescension with this subject but also I really can't hear enough about the perspective of US soldiers in these current wars.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:30 PM on December 10, 2015


What do people make of the fact that Serial teamed up with the team that did Zero Dark Thirty, which was criticized for consulting with the CIA and allegedly making a pro-torture, pro-military movie? I never bought into all that but I'm surprised that nobody's brought it up. Will people trust that Serial can take an unbiased look at Bergdahl's story, or are they tainted by the association?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 8:09 PM on December 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, is this all just a promotion for a movie?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 8:16 PM on December 10, 2015


I'm a servicemember who knows people who took part in the search for Bergdahl right after he went missing. People died during said search.

At the same time, I think that 5+ years in Taliban control was enough punishment for the guy.



I definitely don't agree with the continued promotion and back pay the guy got in captivity. That should have been pulled when it turned out he left on his own recognizance. Some of us earned stripes.

Kick him out, but don't punish him further. He lived a life that most of us can't even fathom.

I simply don't think after he walked out of FOB Mest (admitted, by himself, in said episode of the podcast) that he should have continued to be promoted and been paid when he walked away from his post. He's admitted this. It's not like he was snatched. Agreed, he needs to be convicted before a military court before they recoup these things, but it's not like there's an argument as to what he actually did. He's admitted these things. Don't punish him further, but only backpay him at PFC pay for when he was in captivity. Nothing he did deserves a promotion and therefore (relatively greatly!) increased compensation based on his POW promotions to E-4 and E-5. It's not 'honorable service', which makes a big difference when it comes to compensation.
posted by SeanMac at 8:16 PM on December 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


OK, so I have never heard of Bergdahl before today.

it's not like there's an argument as to what he actually did. He's admitted these things.

So, that being the case - that he admitted that he deserted his post and went AWOL in a warzone no less - shouldn't he have been court-martialed? Why wasn't he?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:50 PM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


What do people make of the fact that Serial teamed up with the team that did Zero Dark Thirty, which was criticized for consulting with the CIA and allegedly making a pro-torture, pro-military movie? I never bought into all that but I'm surprised that nobody's brought it up. Will people trust that Serial can take an unbiased look at Bergdahl's story, or are they tainted by the association>

My thoughts were an immediate "Really?" when I heard Koenig say they were partnering up with Boal. I haven't seen Zero Dark Thirty and I won't, knowing what I now know about the CIA's involvement.
I'm willing to give Serial a chance here. The first episode was ok, but I don't think it really dug much into anything not in the public record, except that Bergdahl, who is active duty and also under investigation, speaks to Boal, which to me raises the question of how Boal got access. Wouldn't his lawyer advise Bergdahl not to speak to the guy?
There's so much Weird around Bergdahl (why did the Taliban keep him alive, why was there a Rose Garden speech, why was there a prisoner transfer, why did he do this) that there's an obvious reason for someone to look into it, and it might as well be Serial, but Boal's involvement seems to be another bit of Weird, and it makes me wonder how much truth Serial will actually uncover.
posted by qnarf at 6:04 AM on December 11, 2015


The partnering with Boal doesn't bother me, I don't think. I haven't seen Zero Dark Thirty but I saw and appreciated The Hurt Locker. We don't yet now what type of movie Boal is making, like how biographically true his movie will be. Having more than one take on the subject is also OK with me.
posted by dnash at 8:04 AM on December 11, 2015




So, that being the case - that he admitted that he deserted his post and went AWOL in a warzone no less - shouldn't he have been court-martialed? Why wasn't he?

The process is ongoing.
posted by Etrigan at 10:03 AM on December 11, 2015




I'm about halfway through the first episode, up to the discussion of the idea that what he's going to do is the Grand Gesture that will Finally get Everyone to LISTEN TO ME!

I came very close to noping out at that point. I'm not sure that there's a compelling reason to spend 8-12 hours on something that's going to boil down to, ho boy did you make a stupid decision. I think I'm in it to see how wide Koenig goes, and maybe she'll look at some of the external weirdness around it. Maybe that will help illuminate a greater point. The first season did a terrific job of convincing a number of people (myself included) that Adnan Syed's conviction was, at a minimum, a gross miscarriage of justice. This season could go in a direction like that.

Also, listening to Bergdahl tell his justification, I was filled with a sense of deja vu, and a name popped into my head: Chris McCandless.
posted by aureliobuendia at 1:23 PM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


With S1 Koenig stated pretty early (as far as I remember) that she wanted to prove whether Adnan was innocent or not.

Did she? I don't remember that at all. It seemed like what everyone thought she was doing though.
posted by sweetkid at 2:36 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's fair, sweetkid, and that's not what I really meant to say. Here's a comment from elsewhere that better articulates what I'm getting at.

Season One of Serial started with the framework of re-opening a cold case. The challenge as presented in the first episode was: how do we sift through memory and come away with facts? So they started their investigation, they talked to Adnan, they reviewed old court cases, they talked to new people, and they came up with something a little different than what they started with.

Part of Season One's appeal, for me, was that I didn't know anything about this. I didn't know anything about anyone. It was a story wholly unto itself and it happened so long ago that it might as well have been history (this also turned to be a point that soured me against the show in the end but we'll get there). There is also an inherent tension within the show between Adnan and the court. Adnan says he is innocent and the court says he is guilty. There are two diverging timelines and that's where things get interesting.

With Bergdahl's case there is no ambiguity. What he says happened and what he is being tried for are, as far as I know, in alignment. He did the thing. The army says he did the thing. The Taliban definitely know he did the thing. So where's the tension?

Well, there is tension because the WHY and HOW are still missing. Why did he really leave? Why did the Taliban keep him alive? Why did the President give his Rose Garden speech and then, almost immediately, turn around and give the cold shoulder? Why the prisoner swap if he was basically a traitor? These are interesting questions but they are not questions that can be adequately answered by Serial. Why? Because they are questions wrapped up in personal intent (that can never be "known" though it can be interesting to explore) or pertinent facts in an ongoing investigation that almost certainly WILL NOT be shared with Koenig and co.

OK, so fine, then what about an exploration of the events with Bergdahl? In season one I really enjoyed the ongoing conversation with Adnan. As Koenig learned more about the case she got to hear his side of events and that gave the show a unique insight. This will not apply in Season 2. The only access Koenig has to Bergdahl is through tape received from a second party, a second party that, as far as I can tell, is no longer in communication with Bergdahl.

Oh, and that second party? Mark Boal also has a vested interest in telling the story in his own way and was gathering the tape for his own film, and who has a complex history with the CIA, one of the organizations who will certainly be under the microscope with the show. But, almost certainly, any new facts they uncover during this case will not be able to corroborated with Bergdahl, or clarified, or mulled over, or any other such thing that made the first season worth listening to. Yeah, Koenig calls the Taliban. OK, great, but is that going to yield any meaningful information? Are interviews with anyone who is likely to give her access going to be able to offer her any meaningful information?

I doubt it.

But beyond all that I have another issue with this season. It's simple, and it goes back to something that I write about in the reviews on my site: what is the point of view? Why should we care what Serial has to say about this case? There's no good reason in the first episode. I might change my mind if they were given total access to Bergdahl. That would be a different story altogether. But they're not. They have tape of Bergdahl that is going to be filtered through Boal and his goal and vision.

Though a lot of what's been presented leaves me scratching my head, I don't think the whole season has to be a waste. Hopefully we will get to hear more from soldiers in Bergdahl's camp to learn more about life in Afghanistan. Hopefully this will make more people aware of how modern warfare is conducted and the horrors it brings on soldiers and civilians. Hopefully it holds the feet of poor leaders to the fire and sparks a call for change. I'm leaving room for myself to be surprised. I hope I am.
posted by Tevin at 4:46 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I recommend the Slate Serial podcast. In episode 1, they got a vet who was posted near Bergdahl's camp to give some background commentary on the environment, the plausibility of Bergdahl's muddied plans to Do Good (spoiler: "That is very much a fantasy from a Jason Bourne movie"), and just how bad a camp commander could really be. I hope to hear similar interviews from Serial.
posted by maudlin at 5:25 PM on December 11, 2015


a name popped into my head: Chris McCandless.

Funny you say that. McCandless has popped into my mind as well. There's a post on the blue about the return of Serial, and a topic has popped up about "isn't this just inviting salacious use of real people's lives for one's own entertainment?" Which, I can certainly understand that some people may actually be doing that. But the ways some people phrase the argument feel to me like the very concept of a podast/book/movie like this is only that. And McCandless has come to mind as another example. Because I think people's reactions to that story probably say more about themselves than about McCandless himself. Some people say he was a fool who got in way over his head trying to live in the Alaskan wilderness... some want to side with him as some kind of hero for rejecting modern society. Me, I think I fall into a "why can't it be both?" camp, but mostly I feel his is a story we could all bounce our own lives off of, in terms of what we think is moral or right, or how society should function - and in particular, how we're educated to think of morals and society through the books we're assigned in school (Thoreau, Emerson, Steinbeck, London, etc.) vs. how we experience it in daily life.

So, I haven't followed the Bergdahl case much at all before yesterday, and yesterday was the first time I learned that maybe there was - in Bergdahl's mind at the least - something more to his disappearance than the "useless deserter/traitor" narrative I had mostly heard from the news reports. I can already see how this can turn into another McCandless situation, where people will insist their own explanations must be more right than anything Bergdahl says about himself.
posted by dnash at 7:29 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I suspect that there's an "a ha" moment that we haven't heard yet, which is what caused Serial to pick up this case.

There are already strong hints that the military and the media did a poor job investigating this the first time around. (There also very well could be a bigger story that isn't about Bergdahl that the series is going to shift toward).
posted by schmod at 11:56 AM on December 13, 2015


So, with quite conspicuous timing, the army has moved forward with a court-martial.

A serious question: where are people getting the "people died while searching for him" narrative? Because it's not from official channels. To quote a NYT article:
But in his testimony, General Dahl [the army's investigating officer] — who was recently promoted from major general to lieutenant general — said that no troops had died specifically searching for Sergeant Bergdahl and that no evidence was found to support claims that he intended to walk to China or India or that he was a Taliban sympathizer.
It would be nice if anyone wanting to claim otherwise produced evidence to back it up, since a Lieutenant General with zero reason to lie has testified under oath that it did not happen.
posted by tocts at 3:16 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


where are people getting the "people died while searching for him" narrative?

I'm not sure what to say, because I had posted a link that addressed that question, but my comment appears to have been deleted.
posted by dnash at 4:17 PM on December 14, 2015


I'd like to see that link, dnash! Because I had the same impression tocts did.
posted by torticat at 11:33 PM on December 14, 2015


Oh I see the question was also covered in a couple of the links jenfullmoon provided above. Short profiles of the six men who died reportedly because of Bergdahl's disappearance are in this Time article (although in only one profile does it say specifically the soldier was searching for Bergdahl at the time he was killed).

I suppose opinions about responsibility could differ in a case where it could be argued that resources were being diverted to the search, which is why the court martial case is claiming only that Bergdahl had "endangered" other troops?
posted by torticat at 5:32 AM on December 15, 2015


The thing is, I don't think the profiles really provide any evidence that the deaths are Bergdahl's fault. We are, after all, talking about people who died while deployed in an area rife with hostile forces that were working constantly to harass and kill US troops, via attacks, IEDs, etc. Literally any action they were undertaking carried a risk of death, whether it was searching for someone, or working to train local troops, or monitoring a crossroads, or practically anything else they could have been doing.

I understand why members of the armed forces are angry with Bergdahl. However, unless it is shown that there was a statistically significant uptick in the number of deaths during the time the search was on compared to before and after, claiming those people died "because of" Bergdahl is more than a little disingenuous. It amounts to pawning off responsibility for those soldiers being in danger to a single PFC, as opposed to the entire command structure of the army that put the soldiers there in the first place, and that was dictating day to day operations.
posted by tocts at 6:00 AM on December 15, 2015


If you go to the "what listeners should know" link jenfullmoon posted - skim through the comments and someone linked a Newsweek article titled "Did 6 soldiers really die searching for Bergdahl."

The conclusion is basically, no. The deaths occurred on other missions after the official search had been stopped. But some of his fellow soldiers seem to be blaming him indirectly because they considered themselves to always be still looking for him.
posted by dnash at 6:02 AM on December 15, 2015


My initial impression hearing his story is that it could not possibly be the whole truth, but I can 100% believe that Bergdahl thinks it's the truth, even if it isn't. Five years of being isolated and terrified makes him a pretty complicated witness to his own story.

I agree with this, something something. Also he sounds like he was a troubled young man even before all the trauma (and by troubled I don't mean mentally ill necessarily, just... internally tortured; too introspective and far too self-doubting, at the very least).

So I guess you've got me again, Koenig.

Same here. Sigh!
posted by torticat at 3:02 PM on December 15, 2015


I didn't know much about this story beforehand. The thing that strikes me as most interesting is how quickly the sentiment about Bergdahl changed. I am not exactly sure on the timeline (and I'm sure Serial will cover it), but he went from national hero to Public Enemy #1 pretty quickly, and right around the time he was coming home. What changed to make that happen so quickly, and at that time?
posted by radioamy at 3:15 PM on December 15, 2015


radioamy, I didn't know much about this story either (just was peripherally aware), but from what I've read in the last few days--the case was controversial since long before Bergdahl was released, with lots of arguments about it among people in Congress, the Pentagon, the State Dept, and the White House.

Some service members had started complaining about all the hoopla about trying to find Bergdahl since not long after he walked off, calling him a deserter/traitor way back then. At some point I think Bergdahl's family even asked the military to call off the hunt for him (or publicize it less, or something?) because they feared what US soldiers might do to him if they found him.

After the exchange was finally managed, the White House clearly underestimated what the backlash would be from Obama's Republican opponents. So the WH photo op was staged, and then all those backstage political tensions exploded in public.

Some of this is covered in the 2012 Rolling Stone article by Michael Hastings, which is old but still well-worth reading.
posted by torticat at 4:07 PM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Episode 1 recap:
"Here’s the thing, though: His story is very dumb. To hear Bergdahl tell it, he was so concerned with the dangerously poor leadership provided for his unit that he decided to draw attention to it by running away from his post, traveling on foot to a larger American base a day’s journey away. The swift and massive response of the armed forces to any reports of missing soldiers would provide him with exactly the spotlight required to expose conditions on the ground. This is, presumably, the most positive read on his reasoning out there, since it’s Bergdahl himself doing the reading.

Yet it’s still ridiculous, even if you believe every word. Bergdahl also says that his desire to prove himself to be a real-life action hero helped him settle on this course of action—he compares himself to Jason Bourne, he took along a newspaper clipping about a record-setting solo-sailing feat of endurance in his meticulously selected pack of supplies, he changes course mid-route in order to attempt the Rambo-like feat of catching an enemy booby-trapper in the act as proof of his loyalty to the US of A and as a shield against the criminal charges certain to follow his abandonment of his post. In other words, even viewed through the most favorable lens imaginable, he’s just some young doofus hopped up on lone-American-hero imagery and driven stir crazy enough by a shitty detail to try to become one himself.

The point is that reasoning and reason are two very different things. Boal and Koenig can crawl as deep into Bergdahl’s head as they like, but all they’re gonna find there is this possibly well-intentioned but certainly half-assed, borderline-delusional Joseph Campbell hero’s-journey bullshit.

Nor will “understand[ing] how Bowe sees the world” help them understand how it’s seen by a system that wants to throw him in prison for the rest of his life for this dopey offense, or by the crowds who cheer craven chickenhawks calling for his execution."
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:34 PM on December 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


That piece seems a little ax-grindy. I similarly raise an eyebrow at Boal's association, but the fact that Boal's recordings and conversations set out with a goal of understanding the person doesn't make it impossible or even unreasonable to do journalism that involves them. If Serial/Koenig's goals don't go any further then that's a whole other thing, but I don't see it as remotely unreasonable to piece together a version of the story from BB's perspective. Doesn't mean you have to take it as face value or even credit it as more likely to be true than anything else.

Similarly, yeah, the story and clearly the reasoning that brought BB up to that course of action is batshit. Who's going to deny that? Even BB himself acknowledges, however unenthusiastically and without any sign that he's learned better, that it was dopey. Doesn't change the fact that it happened and had a pretty huge fallout considering it was the self-important action of a young man.

I dunno, maybe I am more blasè than most about whether Serial might have been a failure at what it set out or claimed to be doing. Ray Bradbury notoriously said that Fahrenheit 451 was about television entertainment ruining appreciation for literature, not censorship. In my not so humble opinion, viewed as a work with that thesis it is inferior to what it is if we view it as being about censorship and society.

Serial as a determination of Adnan Sayed's guilt or innocence is mediocre. As a look into criminal justice and police work it's excellent. Understanding BB's mindset then or even now doesn't really much interest me, but I think there could be a lot to look at around the incident that would be very interesting.
posted by phearlez at 1:45 PM on December 17, 2015


So is it possible that the launch of this season is what triggered the court martial?
posted by latkes at 8:49 AM on December 18, 2015


So is it possible that the launch of this season is what triggered the court martial?

Nah. That's just the Army being the Army. He was going to be court-martialed as soon as they realized he walked away.
posted by Etrigan at 8:58 AM on December 18, 2015


I've been wondering if the impending court martial decision was what set the timing of the Serial release! Anyway Wikipedia has a mediocre summary of Bergdahl's legal timeline. The investigation was announced two weeks after his return.
posted by Nelson at 9:11 AM on December 18, 2015


I mean, we knew they were considering whether to court martial or not, but it's weird that they announced a yes decision right after the show launch.
posted by latkes at 11:31 AM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Three months from the Article 32 hearing for the investigating officer to write up his report, submit it, and have the convening authority issue a decision isn't unheard of for a high-profile case. The Fort Hood shooter's Article 32 hearing was in November, but the convening authority didn't order a court-martial until the following July. I doubt the show shifted Bergdahl's case any.
posted by Etrigan at 11:37 AM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


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