Have You Been Listening to Serial Season 2?

 

logo-2Last year, NPR’s Serial podcast explored the case of Adnan Syed, a Baltimore high school student convicted of first degree murder following the 1999 disappearance and death of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. The series was so successful that it not only spawned countless parodies, but also a new subgenera of podcasts riffing off of host Sarah Koenig’s earnest-but-oh-so-NPR style. Many people wondered how they’d follow-up this year: would season two cover another murder, or would they apply the same treatment to an entirely different subject, as they intimated numerous times?

Last month, we found out: Koenig and crew are spending this season investigating the story of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the US Army soldier who left his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and spent five years as a prisoner of the Taliban and the Haqqani Network before being released in exchange for a number of Taliban members in 2014. That exchange was immediately controversial and became more so as the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture began to trickle out, as well as the costs of the attempts to rescue him (six soldiers died during operations to find him). Indeed, since the series premiered, the US Army has launched a court-martial against Bergdahl, charging him with desertion and endangering his fellow troops. More recently, his case has been cited by some of the Republican presidential candidates — including Donald Trump, who’s referred to him as “a dirty, rotten traitor” since at least August — as a textbook example of the Obama Administration’s fecklessness and America’s decline in general.

So far, the backbone of the season has been a series of interviews with Bergdahl conducted by author Mark Boal, in which Bergdahl details his motivations, actions, and experiences. That such interviews exist at all is rather amazing, but the show weaves them together with a great many other material, including interviews with some of the soldiers from his unit (who almost universally have contempt for him), other Westerners held by the same Jihadi networks, and even some members of the Taliban. The podcast’s website has a host of other information and media, as well.

According to Bergdahl, his desertion was a bone-headed attempt to expose gaps in security that went horribly wrong even before he was captured. He claims — and there is some corroborating evidence to support this — that he escaped once but was recaptured. Interestingly, the SERE team who debriefed him after his release has backed-up at least some parts of his story, that he was subject to terrible abuse by his captors, and stated that Bergdahl provided them a great deal of useful intelligence since his release.

Have you followed the series? Based on the material presented so far, it seems unlikely to me that the worst versions of Bergdahl’s story are true — i.e., that the was a Taliban sympathizer and/or collaborator — though it’s also fairly clear that very nearly everyone involved has reason to believe that. But even if Bergdahl wasn’t as bad as some claim, that hardly excuses his decision to leave his post, nor the skewed nature of the prisoner swap of him for five Taliban figures. I’ve found it fascinating, but it’s also lacked the suspense and addictive nature of the first series.

What do you think?

Published in Foreign Policy, Military
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There are 45 comments.

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  1. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    NYT: Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl left behind a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life.

    Assuming that’s what the note said, that would certainly change things. I’d be curious to actually see that letter, but — again, if the NYT had it right — that would rather change things.

    FWIW, the NYT article is from quite a ways back.

    It would seem logical that a balanced presentation by Serial would address and attempt to resolve this, as well as include a discussion of the quoted, and rather damning, email to Bergdahl’s parents.

    • #31
  2. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:Assuming that’s what the note said, that would certainly change things. I’d be curious to actually see that letter, but — again, if the NYT had it right — that would rather change things.

    FWIW, the NYT article is from quite a ways back.

    More importantly, I would say, if the podcast doesn’t address the numerous sources from multiple perspectives that he was severely disillusioned, then the Podcast is just pulling another “Making a Murderer”, ie, presenting the defense case as if it’s the whole story.

    Which, as I said in the “Making of a Murderer” thread, would be really disappointing because listening to them genuinely struggling with the issues is what made season 1 of Serial work for me.

    • #32
  3. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    NYT: Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl left behind a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life.

    Assuming that’s what the note said, that would certainly change things. I’d be curious to actually see that letter, but — again, if the NYT had it right — that would rather change things.

    FWIW, the NYT article is from quite a ways back.

    This article has additional released excerpts from his emails, enough to give you a fairly good idea of where his head was at.

    • #33
  4. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Roberto: This article has additional released excerpts from his emails, enough to give you a fairly good idea of where his head was at.

    Will check it out shortly. Thank you.

    • #34
  5. Kim K. Inactive
    Kim K.
    @KimK

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.:

    PJ:

    That means his reasons for deserting included not only, “I think my comrades and I are in danger due to poor leadership,” but also, “my opinion is so important that I don’t have to abide by regular military order.”

    That’s a good point. Some of his comments in the interviews indicate that he now sees his desertion as naive and stupid, but I don’t remember him acknowledging the level of arrogance that it also suggests.

    He compared his actions to those of Jason Bourne.

    • #35
  6. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Ok. I listened to the first episode.

    Sarah what’s her face said there is no evidence he left a note. We will see. She acknowledges he sent all his stuff home.

    I’m sorry but Bo is not remotely credible. I don’t believe his explanation at all. If Bo honestly thought going awol would accomplish anything, he is slower than Brendan Dassey. He said he changed his mind 20 minutes out but couldn’t go back because he might get shot. Hogwash. The sentries have night vision goggles. Approach slowly with your hands up and give the response to the challenge. They teach you in the military how to approach friendlies and how to challenge someone approaching to determine if they are friendly. This is basic training, not “Jason Bourne”

    My guess is, he convinced himself over 5 years of captivity that he just wanted to help and this was all a big misunderstanding.

    YMMV.

    • #36
  7. Last Outpost on the Right Inactive
    Last Outpost on the Right
    @LastOutpostontheRight

    The follow-on to Season 1 – Undisclosed – is very compelling, and resolves the indecision.

    As far as Season 2 goes, I went in thinking Bergdahl was a traitor. After listening to the first couple of episodes, I have come to the conclusion that he is incredibly stupid, but believes that he’s smarter than everyone else. He said he saw leadership problems during basic training, and began plotting a way to expose them even then!? Really?! That’s a dangerous combination of hubris and stupidity. Recalling the image of his parents in the Rose Garden tells me everything I need to know about why he is the way he is.

    I have zero sympathy for him as a soldier. And if my son or nephew – or any other members of my family – had been dispatched to search for him during their deployments, I’d have even less.

    • #37
  8. SEAMUS Inactive
    SEAMUS
    @SEAMUS

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.:I agree that it’s not as compelling as Season One, but I’m still enjoying it. I’ve been surprised that Bergdahl comes across as more sympathetic than I expected him to. That doesn’t excuse what he did, but even he admits quite openly that what he did was stupid and naive. He certainly didn’t deserve the treatment the Taliban gave him.

    I do find it odd that the producers chose to take on such a high-profile story, and one that’s still unfolding (indeed, they’ve slowed their release schedule and extended the season because new information is still coming to light, and I wonder how the court martial might factor into things).

    I had assumed that Season One’s “true crime” story was an indication of what the series would be about; but in fact, I think what defines Serial (as evidenced by the name) is the format, not the subject matter. So I suppose any subject that’s fit for documentary treatment is fair game.

    Great assessment – I couldn’t agree more.

    The only thing I would add is the show’s poorly disguised liberal leanings. It’s clear to me that they set out to show that Bergdahl is innocent of the charge of collaboration. Unfortunately for them, it doesn’t erase the fact that he abandoned his colleagues and put large numbers of US servicemen and women at risk.

    • #38
  9. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Last Outpost on the Right: The follow-on to Season 1 – Undisclosed – is very compelling, and resolves the indecision.

    I’ve seen the podcast, but haven’t listened because I’m not sure how much I care about the case.  However, I’m curious.  Would you elaborate what you mean when you say it “resolves the indecision”?

    • #39
  10. PTomanovich Member
    PTomanovich
    @PTomanovich

    One other omission that bothered me was the lack of emphasis on the disastrous impact that the manhunt for Bergdahl had on the relations between the US military and the Afghan people.  Whereas in the past, the soldiers went out of their way to build trust with the locals, during the manhunt all niceties (e.g. never forcing women to show their faces) were abandoned in service to finding Bergdahl.

    The irony is that the military was behaving in ways that the NPR listeners would approve of (at least in terms of respecting local customs) but because of Bergdahl were forced to abandon them, and act in ways that I’m sure most NPRers assume they always act.

    I’ll probably keep listening just to know what new evidence turns up.  And in terms of punishment, I will leave that up to the military.  But I will not be surprised (nor disappointed) if his punishment is more severe than Koenig thinks just.

    He did enormous damage to what took years and many lives to accomplish, and the military must do all it can to prevent future Bergdahls.

    • #40
  11. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    PTomanovich: One other omission that bothered me was the lack of emphasis on the disastrous impact that the manhunt for Bergdahl had on the relations between the US military and the Afghan people. Whereas in the past, the soldiers went out of their way to build trust with the locals, during the manhunt all niceties (e.g. never forcing women to show their faces) were abandoned in service to finding Bergdahl.

    Agreed.  I was just listening to Episode 2 on the way to work this morning and I had the exact same thought when I heard they were forcing women to expose their face because they had intelligence that Bergdahl was being transported as a woman (which he was.)

    The cost of his desertion in terms of manpower, time, money, and damage to the overall strategy is staggering, and that’s before Obama handed over five terrorists to get him (though that’s not Bergdahl’s fault, Obama would have handed over those five terrorists to get a cold soda if he could).

    I can see why a hard-core lefty like Sarah whats-her-face would take up the case of Bergdahl.  In her mind, he just went awol to help save lives and now he’s being unfairly court-martialed.  It’s another travesty of justice that she can help avert by letting this guy tell his side of the story.

    Leftist claptrap.

    • #41
  12. 1967mustangman Inactive
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    Last Outpost on the Right: The follow-on to Season 1 – Undisclosed – is very compelling, and resolves the indecision.

    I couldn’t bring myself to listen to Undisclosed.  There was no way that lineup was going to be objective.

    • #42
  13. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    I’m a bit surprised to hear so many people complaining about what the series hasn’t covered, when we’re only (as of today) five episodes into what will be at least thirteen. Maybe Koenig will be biased, maybe not, but I don’t think we can judge that until we’ve heard the whole thing.

    • #43
  14. David Knights Member
    David Knights
    @DavidKnights

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    David Knights: Much of what is being presented is the version taking your eye off the tragic crime by talking about how bad the criminal was treated as a child and how he’s really a good boy, with good intentions, who “just made a mistake”.

    I believe episode two dealt with this in some detail and a expect it will be given more treatment later in the series. If they don’t return to it, it’ll be a black mark on the show.

    Oh, they will come back around to the deaths that occurred during the search, but by that time, they’ve built up the “poor misguided boy” defense and then they’ll say, “these deaths were a tragedy, but the Stan is a dangerous place and these folks might have died or been injured anyway.  You can’t really attribute it to Bo’s actions”

    • #44
  15. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    A-Squared: I’m sorry but Bo is not remotely credible. I don’t believe his explanation at all.

    This week’s episode was all about why Bo left, which I listened to this morning.  All I could think of was Bo should have never joined the military in the first place and his actions were the result of the “Cult of Self-Esteem” that has probably ruined this country.  He obviously grew up on Rambo and Jason Bourne movies and he thought he would be an awesome special forces soldier. The problem is, reality, especially in the military, is not like the movies.

    Yeah, his Battalion Commander was a jerk, but that doesn’t justify going awol.  Also, it’s clear he planned it for a while (today’s episode mentions an e-mail he sent to a family friend 2 weeks before he went awol).

    I’ve been the military (admittedly in peace time) and I was just a guy looking to do my time and get out, but every soldier I knew thought the officer corps was incompetent (apologies to any officers on here).

    The podcast is trying to get us to understand his emotional state.  It’s counter productive to me.  I just don’t care.  He comes off as whiny and arrogant.  Do I think he should put to death, probably not, but he needs to spend a good decade or more in prison and lose his Sergeant promotion and pay.

    • #45
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