Martin W. Bender
Serial Season two completed this week. Like the previous season, it lacked a satisfying conclusion. Just as there remain touches of doubt about Adnan, there are also mixed feelings about Bowe Bergdahl. In fact, Bergdahl’s case is far more polarizing.
Bowe’s actions are not as unique as they seem. There are many reported cases of soldiers leaving their posts. Bowe was unique in what happened to him after he left. There are several deserters, but only one long term POW in the Global War on Terrorism. It is the uniqueness of Bowe’s circumstances that have caused his case to capture the attention of the American people. This is no small feat as the US has lost interest in this, its longest war.
Trading five GTMO prisoners for one soldier placed the Afghanistan war back in the forefront of national conversation. Americans are asking why the conflict continues as they revisit the fifteen-year war in Asia. It’s a fair question, one political leaders seem hesitant to answer. This may be why there is such vitriol over the Bergdahl case. In many ways, it is a microcosm of the Afghanistan war.
If one accepts Bowe’s reported motivation for his actions, he was taking drastic action to solve a serious problem. In his mind, it seemed reasonable. Generally, the war began the same way: drastic solutions. And just as Bowe did not expect where his actions would take him, so too the war did not proceed as planned. As situations changed perceptions shifted to the point where the original plan and desired outcomes seem ridiculous. Bowe wanted his unit to be safer, after he left they were in far more danger searching for him. The US wanted reduced support of terrorist operations, the results here are definitely mixed.
When Bowe disappeared he became an unknown. Thousands of people were searching for him, millions of dollars spent, and he was never found. Kind of makes movies like Eagle Eye and Enemy of the State seem like nonsense. For five years, no one knew if Bowe would come home. Fifteen years into the war in Afghanistan no one knows if America will achieve its objectives will. There remains a cloud of uncertainty over the entire operation. As the mission continues to drift, it seems unlikely the US will succeed in its original objectives.
With Bowe's return home, the process of sorting out his actions is taking place across the world. It is unlikely there will be a unified consensus on his situation. Some will listen to the news reports and podcasts, read the books, and watch the movies and see Bowe as a hero, while others who engage the same material will identify him as a villain. There isn’t likely to be a satisfying conclusion to the story. When the war concludes and the military returns home the same thing will happen. To some, the US will be heroes and to others, villains. There’s not likely to be a unified understanding of this war. There rarely is.
The sad truth is war is brutal. When people witness and engage in this brutality they are pushed to extremes where drastic solutions seem reasonable. This seems to be what happened in Bowe’s case and at the start of America’s war in Afghanistan. With any luck, both experiences will enable all to consider the ramifications of their actions.
I enjoyed Serial Season Two and recommend it to anyone interested in the war in Afghanistan or the Bowe Bergdahl case.