I was skeptical about whether Sarah Koenig would be able to inject as much mystery and intrigue in season two of Serial as she had in the smaller, more intimate mystery surrounding the murder of Hae Min Lee in season one. Much of what made season one work so well was that our minds would change after each episode — we’d vacillate between whether Adnan Syed was guilty or not.
A similar experience didn’t seem possible in season two. We were already familiar with the Bowe Bergdahl’s situation— or at least the outlines of it — and Bergdahl’s story in episode one was so convincing that I’d already decided that President Obama was right to rescue him, and that the United States military was wrong to indict him (we learned this week that Bergdahl will face a court martial).
Koenig’s conversations with the Taliban in the first half of this week’s episode didn’t do much to dissuade me from my position. Whether Bergdahl had deserted his platoon or set off the DUSTWUN alarm didn’t matter that much to me, because I’m a pinko liberal commie, and I felt he was justified in either respect. The conditions were awful, command was screwing him over, and no one would listen to him. He was frustrated, so he attempted to do something about it.
It wasn’t until Koenig revealed the consequences of Bergdahl’s actions that I really began to understand what an awful and selfish decision Bergdahl had made. I began to see it from the perspective of the other soldiers. Suddenly, it didn’t matter why Bergdahl left; what mattered was the position he put the other soldiers in. That’s what Serial does so well: The show drills every decision to the human level.
The search for Bergdahl was massive, and credit goes to the other soldiers for understanding and reluctantly respecting that the search for Bergdahl was the “right thing to do,” in spite of the fact that they wanted to murder him themselves. I don’t blame them. The soldiers had to walk around for 3-5 weeks in 90 degree heat, carry 60-100 packs, deal with IED explosives, and interact with the Taliban. They were miserable. Their socks rotted. They had to huddle at night together to sleep. One soldier got diarrhea and shat his pants and had to walk around for three weeks wearing them. The odds of being killed in the line of duty increased for all of them. They did all of this to try and rescue one man who voluntarily walked off the base. They signed up to fight a war against the enemy; they didn’t sign up to risk their lives for a selfish fellow soldier.
If I had to walk around in the desert for three weeks in shit-stained pants, I’d hate Bowe Bergdahl to.
Suddenly, I began to sympathize with John McCain’s position. Sure, maybe Bergdahl deserved to be rescued, but he also deserves a court martial. Maybe being held prisoner for five years by the Taliban is punishment enough, but his acts should also be put on record. He should be convicted, sentenced to time served.
In other words, the question for me is no longer, “Was it a DUSTWUN or a desertion?” it’s whether resources should’ve been allotted for his rescue. Was the money, manpower, and misery that was put into the Bergdahl search worth it for a man who, in effect, betrayed not the military itself, but his fellow soldiers? For me, it’s no longer a case of Bergdahl vs. the United States Military. It’s Bergdahl vs. the individual people who put their life on the line and suffered immensely to try and save him.
I lost a lot of respect for Bergdahl this week. Next week, Koenig will cover Bergdahl’s attempt to escape the Taliban, and I’m sure my mind will slide the other way again.