“In the old days, deserters were shot.” – Donald J. Trump
If you don’t know (and you most likely do) there exists a weekly radio show by the name of This American Life. That show, created in Chicago and still produced by Chicago’s WBEZ, is the most popular podcast in America. An easily digestible work of modern anthropology; regular listening could make a pensive man out of even Donald Trump. Probably. It’s relatable is what I’m saying.
Serial is a spinoff of This American Life. Instead of telling a new story each week like it’s precursor, it tells one story over the course of an entire season.
Serial’s first season followed the story of Adnan, a teenager, currently grown and incarcerated, accused of killing his high-school sweetheart. I’m over simplifying it here but that’s the best I can do to share the general premise without delving into every detail, discrepancy, and feed for conspiracy laid bare by host Sarah Koenig. Like CrossFit and veganism, Serial is one of those things you want to discuss with everyone until friends turn visibly annoyed and start to avoid you. I’m still not convinced of Adnan’s innocence and I’ve run out of people to debate with about it.
But this week isn’t about Adnan. It’s about Bowe.
“I am ashamed to even be American.”- Robert Bergdahl in a candid email to his parents shortly before his capture.
You were introduced to American POW Robert Bowdrie Bergdahl, or “Bowe”, at one of either two unforgettable moments in his life; as the terrified star of a Taliban hostage video or as the freed American hero returned home. The day of his rescue President Obama collected Bergdahl’s parents and all of America for a ceremony officially welcoming the man with proper pomp and circumstance. Initial merriment was short-lived as questions regarding the soldier’s disappearance quickly rose to surround him like buried bodies rising to crash a patriotic cookout. Celebration aborted.
“Obey your conscience!” – Bob Bergdahl, responding to his son’s final email before the soldier’s abduction.
Regarding Bergdahl, here are the only indisputable facts:
- He was held captive by Taliban affiliates from June 2009 until his release in May 2014.
- In exchange for his release, five (5) Taliban commanders were released from Guantanamo Bay. These were men from whom you’d never want to accept a friend request.
What’s not so clear:
- Under what circumstances did Bowe go missing?
- How was he captured?
- Was the agreement to release Bergdahl in exchange for Taliban detainees even legal?
- If Bergdahl is a deserter, and soldiers died in efforts to rescue him, should he be tried in court here in the U.S?
This is where the road to truth becomes murky. A few fellow soldiers of Bergdahl say the soldier left his position of his own accord, even leaving behind a note owning up to going AWOL.
He was charged with two crimes by the U.S. Army, one could end with a life sentence.
My Thoughts after listening to Serial S2E1
We’re being fed this story on a plate of voyeurism, no first-hand chats with our subject. Bowe’s voice is heard in clips from taped phone calls. It feels like I’m scrolling through my boyfriend’s text messages hoping to find some sort of clarity on our relationship. Not the classiest way to collect information, but of course I’m going to do it. Because I can.
After having gone through the crucible of season 1, I now know this entire season will end with no conclusion. It’s investigation for the purpose of investigation. For that reason, I feel less invested.
I’m not yet hooked. What about you?
Oh, and here’s a handy infographic I created to sum up everything we know now and everything we hope to learn in the next few weeks. Enjoy.
UPDATE #1: December 14, 2015, a few days after the first episode of Serial season 2 aired, the US Army ordered Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to face a general court-martial. If convicted of misbehavior before the enemy, Bowe could face life in prison. Some believe the podcast worked against him.
UPDATE #2: Mark Boal was spelled incorrectly in the infographic above. That spelling has been corrected.