Serial: S02 Episode 06: 5 O'Clock Shadow
February 4, 2016 9:44 AM - Subscribe

Why did Bowe Bergdahl walk off?
posted by jenfullmoon (9 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've found this season really fascinating. The whole thing is a huge clusterfuck with just clusterlayers all the way down, and yet I feel like the answer to the question posed by the episode is basically:

Because he is a person who has trouble letting go of his comfortable fantasies.

But of course we all do!

And I guess the how and why of this world that takes that person who indulges in a fantasy about war and life, and exploits that, and then ultimately deposits him in this situation, and then tells him after the fact that he's a dangerous idiot and a traitor... that's what I find so compelling.
posted by selfnoise at 10:11 AM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Your actions are as bad as child rapists" for taking a bit of your uniform off in the heat?!?! But at the same time if you're doing dumb things that might get you killed...kinda justified on the yelling there somewhat.

This just kinda sounds like "bad job situation that you're stuck in no matter what," which we can all relate to.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:51 AM on February 4, 2016

Excited to finally here some of the details about specific incidents that motivated Bowe.

I'm kinda fascinated by the dueling perspectives of this. Like, when the higher up guy explains why appearing out of uniform is bad, because it could be the first step in a breakdown of the mission - I can understand that perspective. It does make sense. And I also understand the troops perspective of "dude, it's fucking HOT and we're digging a hole, nothing's going down right now give us a fucking break." And it seems rational to me that that should be ok.

And then, when Bowe and his troops say they feel the higher-ups were more angry that there was photo evidence on a website because it made them personally look bad - I mean, Commander Baker has a plausible cover story for why it's bad, but you will never get me to believe his own ego was not part of the equation in a serious way. But ironically, if he was pissed about how those photos look to the public, I mean, me as Joe Civilian out here I would not expect to not see photos where the guys are less than full battle rattle. I would be seriously concerned if it didn't look like they got to have any moment of something like normalcy. So those photos don't alarm me at all.

I wish they could've got Baker interviewed. That "you couldn't shave?" remark is crucial to understanding him. Because it's exactly the kind of gruff sarcasm an old army guy would say as a macho cover for expressing concern. (I'm basing this on my WWII vet Grandfather.) A certain kind of old Army guy just does NOT do emotions such as "I'm so glad you guys made it back alive and unhurt." Never gonna say that. What he'll say is "you couldn't shave?" and the obvious ridiculousness of the remark is meant to cause mirth that breaks the tension of emotions that cannot be spoken. I have a hard time believing he meant it as seriously as the troops - not just Bergdahl, apparently - seem to have taken it. The more I think about it the more fascinated I am at how this one tiny moment could encapsulate a massive generational clash, as younger troops raised in a world where "being a man" means different things just do not understand how to read subtext from their withholding elders.

Or, on the other hand, this Baker guy could actually be that much of a sand-burned butthole that he meant the remark straight and serious, in which case fuck him. And part of me wonders if his declining to be interviewed suggests this is the more likely interpretation of him. Because, for sure, the full-on hard ass version of him would never in a million years explain himself to some woman journalist.
posted by dnash at 4:47 PM on February 4, 2016 [10 favorites]

"You didn't shave?" as a joke would be a matter of tone. If you want people to know that you're joking, you'd better change your tone to be something more fun. Instead of oh, yelling it out.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:38 PM on February 4, 2016

But Bergdahl heard about the comment secondhand, so he wasn't privy to the tone.
posted by rikschell at 8:42 AM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I really enjoyed this episode in terms of narrative structure. There was a lot more action vs exposition. Some tense moments while they were up in those MRAPs.

All of the things that Berghdal was pissed about sound annoying. Yet NONE of them sounded out of line with my understanding of how the military works. I hate bureaucratic, hierarchical, rule-driven environments -- one of the many reasons I would never go into the military. What the fuck did he expect? Of course you have to follow the rules, even the ones you think are dumb. If you want to innovate and challenge authority and have autonomy even at lower levels, go work for a startup.

I wonder how much media literacy plays in here. It really feels like Bowe had some really unrealistic Hollywood army superhero expectations for his deployment.

That said, I am really looking forward to next week!
posted by radioamy at 9:47 AM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Okay, let me put on my former-commander hat for a minute here. The most valuable command relationship is where the two guys (battalion commander and command sergeant major) are opposites:

1) The Old Man -- The CSM is the yelling asshole, so the BC gets to be the benevolent one who says "It's okay, sergeant major, it's hot out." And then the CSM growls as he stalks away, and the troops know that someone has their back, but they better lock it up anyway.

2) The Good Ol' Boy -- The BC starts out yelling, and the CSM walks up and says "Sir, I got this. This is NCO business." And then the BC growls as he stalks away and the CSM says "You know how it is, guys. You two put your shit on and stand guard while everybody else digs the hole," and the troops know that someone has their back, but they better lock it up anyway.

When both the BC and the CSM are nice guys, then it defangs all the people under them who have to make sure that shit is locked down. Conversely, when they're both assholes, then it makes everyone under them work out of fear instead of respect, and that doesn't work out well.

It sounds like Baker and Wolfe might have had the second kind of relationship (judging by Wolfe's "joke" about raping, killing, pillaging, and burning), but that requires the CSM to be right there on the spot to defuse the BC's assholedom:

BC: "You couldn't shave?"
CSM: "Sir, I got this. This is NCO business."
BC (walks away, growling)
CSM: "Good job out there, guys. You kicked some ass. Let's go get you a hot meal, and then you can sleep until tomorrow. Oh, and remember to knock them beards off your faces when you wake up, right?"
Platoon: "Roger, sergeant major."
CSM (walks away, following BC to rescue the next poor bastard)
Random guy in platoon: "Man, Colonel Wolfe is a dick."
Random sergeant in platoon: "At ease, soldier. He's just under a lot of stress. Sergeant Major Wolfe has our back. Let's go get some grub."

I was generally The Old Man, but my soldiers knew that when I started swearing louder than my NCO, hoo boy.
posted by Etrigan at 10:43 AM on February 5, 2016 [17 favorites]

1) In all his reading, did Bowe never read anything about the Vietnam War? I'm just really surprised that he was so surprised at the reality on the ground in today's modern army.

2) The BC sounds like a total ass, but hey, at least the platoon wasn't spooning sand into ice cream bowls to measure strawberries.
posted by chainsofreedom at 11:27 AM on February 20, 2016

This struck me as well.
Anyone who has seen an army movie in the last 40 years should know that soldiers don't get treated like lost children at summer camp.

I could totally see the " couldn't shave" comment as a sarcasticly absurd comment, but I'm sure it could've also been an a-hole-ish comment from a by-the-book pedant.

I was shaking my head until they had that doctor speak about the how Bergdahl seemed to have a condition with several aspects, one of which was extreme paranoia--so that seemed to fit into his taking extreme offense at things that might other wise be eye-rolled off.
posted by blueberry at 8:03 AM on March 3, 2016

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