Serial: S02 Episode 08: Hindsight, Part 2
February 19, 2016 8:50 AM - Subscribe

Woulda, coulda, shoulda...
posted by jenfullmoon (16 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So Bowe REALLY wanted to be a kung fu fighter/WWII soldier/1800's soldier/samurai soldier, not a modern-day soldier. He was just all caught up in fantasies.

"He's not a great messenger for his message."

Bowe got diagnosed with schizotypical personality disorder.

This makes everything work for Sarah--that he was mentally ill and that explains everything.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:34 AM on February 19, 2016


As a formerly recruiting-adjacent soldier, this one really hit me in the gut. The system sometimes fails, and when it does, it can fail catastrophically. Everyone did everything right in their own narrow slice, but the pie came out rancid.

I still don't hate Bergdahl, and I don't want him to be in Leavenworth for the rest of his life (the maximum penalty for misbehavior before the enemy), and maybe not even for five years (the maximum penalty for desertion), but even with the possibility that he was mentally ill at the time, he fucked up in a spectacular, foreseeable, and barely forgivable way.
posted by Etrigan at 12:28 PM on February 19, 2016

Ugh, that "John Galt" stuff. Yowza. Can't help but remind me of the quote:
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
Even all his "I wanna be a samurai, or an old timey soldier, they were noble and stuff" is so massively naive. (Did you read War and Peace, dude?)

Interesting reactions to the diagnosis, that Mark sounds almost displeased by it because he feels it potentially diminishes any of Bowe's concerns about the military operations. And Mark's the one trying to make this into a movie, right? I guess we know what his angle is now - he wants to write a script critical of the Afghanistan missions and use Bowe's experience as a focal point.
posted by dnash at 1:07 PM on February 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

So Bowe REALLY wanted to be a kung fu fighter/WWII soldier/1800's soldier/samurai soldier, not a modern-day soldier. He was just all caught up in fantasies.

This kind of thing is super-common amongst teenage and pre-teen boys. Sometimes you just don't get the emotional development to grow out of it. It's what I think of as a Dungeons and Dragons mindset: what if the world did have a simple and coherent set of rules, and right and wrong, and heroes and villains? Our culture constantly pumps this idea at us, and at the same time most of us develop a distance from the idea due to our engagement with the real world, and due to the way that we (as young people) try these ideas out with ourselves and others. But there are always people who remain in these fantasies forever.
posted by selfnoise at 1:24 PM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Scott Beauchamp (yes, that Scott Beauchamp) in Vulture:
This is what brought me tears. For the first time this season, I really saw myself in Bergdahl. Our circumstances were wildly different. So are our dispositions. But I felt the same hunger when I was young, and I was afflicted with the same naïveté. I had wild, romantic notions about sucking the marrow out of life, about breaking myself down and rebuilding myself in a sort of crucible. I didn’t want what I considered banal professionalism. But here’s the rub: Everything is banal professionalism. Even in the military, which Bowe comes to realize, as I did, too. There are few places in the world, the Western world, at that, where one can indulge in Virtue Ethics instead of Deontological Ethics. Bowe says near the end of the episodes that he “…wanted to be a World War II soldier … I wanted to be a samurai soldier, warrior, fighter …” Mark Boal chuckles at the statement, but I got it. And I think for the first time I got him. He was looking for not an adrenaline rush, but the highest level of moral intensity accessible to human experience.
posted by maudlin at 2:12 PM on February 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

This makes everything work for Sarah--that he was mentally ill and that explains everything.

What do you mean by that?
posted by schoolgirl report at 8:25 PM on February 19, 2016

I'm not gonna listen to the podcast again to get her exact wording down (listened to it twice already and I have other things to do by now), but she said something along those lines. I gathered that unlike the Adnan thing, that seemed to resolve something for her in her head about the case, or why he did it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:18 PM on February 19, 2016

Jenfullmoon, I had the same understanding you did.
posted by samthemander at 10:46 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Evoked Christopher McCandless .
posted by From Bklyn at 3:51 AM on February 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

And the crazy thing is that even after his stint in the Army and being deployed and being captured by the freakin Taliban and being tortured, and now being court martialled . . . Bowe STILL feels the same way. Like, when he said he wanted to be a samurai, and Mark laughed a little, Bowe didn't even chuckle. He even stopped talking for a few seconds, like, offended that Mark would find this dream of his funny.
posted by chainsofreedom at 11:23 AM on February 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've a deep natural sympathy for deserters, draft evaders, and people who refuse to take part in military service. That extends to people who signed up for it eagerly at the outset. ('cause we're all constrained by circumstance and have imperfect knowledge.) At the start of the series, I assumed this was the story of a kid who got fed up with an unethical, pointless war and bugged out, only to invent a crazy and entirely implausible story later on to try to avoid prosecution. That's a guy I can easily understand and feel empathy for. Sadly, this doesn't seem to be the story of our hero.

I'm really impressed that the program has managed to force me to care about a story without a single sympathetic character. (Aside from Koenig, and perhaps the imprisoned journalist interviewed in an earlier episode.) I'm a lot more engaged by this season than the last one, despite actively disliking and distrusting everyone at the mic. That's some quality radio production.
posted by eotvos at 5:33 PM on February 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I had been struck while listening to the Season 1 follow-up episodes how much more Koenig had become a part of that story than she has been in season 2. I don't know how much that influenced the production of this episode, but it seemed like this was the first episode to really take a lot of time to worry about what Koenig thought was the truth.

The diagnosis is interesting because I think it supports the gut feeling I have -- and it sounds like I'm not the only one -- that a guy who acts like Bergdahl is likely to do something pretty irrational in his situation.

To my mind, however, that makes it so much harder to evaluate his claims to have done one particular irrational thing -- get a Generals attention by walking off-base -- over another -- try to disappear into Afghanistan and re-emerge a hitman for the Russian mafia.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 6:03 AM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

The problem with Bergdahl's justifications is most people already understand that's just how life is. I had a friend very similar to him a a young adult. This guy, too, had a short unsuccessful Army career, and was obsessed with finding some bigger meaning in life that the rest of the group was realizing didn't exist. It ended badly. Some people never grow out of the feeling of exceptionalism they have as teenagers and never develop the skills to live in the adult world. You can call that schitzotypical disorder if you like.

I've spent time in the Navy and I get what he was going through, because there's plenty of bad leadership in the military. There's lots of incompetence everywhere in life and it really sucks when the bad leaders are making decisions that can get you killed, which I thankfully never had to deal with. Still, the natural state of a soldier, like a sailor, is complaining because most of the time shared discomfort is the only comfort you can find. That's where these guys are coming from when they say they understand where he was coming from and still hating him for walking off. He refused to do what everyone else did and opted to go off on his own idealistic crusade.

I can't speak to if he had some weirder and more irrational motive for walking off, but from what I've seen of his naive ideas of what being a soldier is (I.E. action movie hero) and his inability to accept reality as it is I think it's safe to accept the rationale he provides as true to his internal reasoning.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:24 AM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

To my mind, however, that makes it so much harder to evaluate his claims to have done one particular irrational thing -- get a Generals attention by walking off-base -- over another -- try to disappear into Afghanistan and re-emerge a hitman for the Russian mafia.

At this point I feel like it's kind of neither and both, in that either one is really only a staging point along the way towards becoming the entirely fictional hyper-effective, hyper-ethical hyper-man that Bowe wanted (wants?) to become. I think attempting to make sense of his motive is almost pointless now -- I don't think he really made sense of his own motives before he deserted.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:35 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite] recap of the episode.

"As Koenig’s investigation continues she manages to secure a semi-diagnosis of schizotypal personality disorder for Bergdahl. Its sufferers are eccentrics, paranoiacs, given to personalizing external events and drawing outlandish conclusions from them. This fits Bergdahl, who got chewed out for not shaving and decided this meant his commanding officer was going to have his entire company murdered, to a tee.

The weird thing is how Koenig and Boal react to the diagnosis. Koenig, fixated as always on her personal belief in her subject’s guilt or innocence, sees it primarily as a vindication of Bergdahl’s explanation for running away—he really was trying, however misguidedly, to call attention to abuses, however illusory, and not attempting to defect or desert. Boal shrugs the diagnosis off as irrelevant to what he already had come to believe about Bergdahl’s mindset; his main worry is with Koenig, whom he tells that the diagnosis might “make take him less seriously as an American soldier with opinions.” Well…yeah. Shouldn’t it? Isn’t that the kind of thing personality disorders of this sort tend to affect?"

posted by jenfullmoon at 4:55 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Bergdahl's friend Chad clearly had the best line of the episode with: "Ugh, Ayn Rand. Ok. Here we go."

It's probable that I don't understand personality disorders that well, but I am confused on how to square Bergdahl's diagnosis now with the earlier episode where they discussed that his surviving his captivity was a sign that he must have been psychologically healthy enough to handle it.
posted by lullaby at 5:24 AM on February 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

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