Serial season 2 premiered December 10, 2015. This season is focused on Bowe Bergdahl and his disappearance from his outpost in Afghanistan in 2009, subsequent capture by the Taliban, his release five years later, and the events after. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on each episode as they are released. I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments section and spread the word for others to join the discussion as well. If you haven’t read the previous discussion posts you can find them here.
And we’re back! Hope you had a wonderful holiday season. I don’t know about you but I kind of enjoyed the week off from Serial. The holidays take it out of me and I was glad to have some down time to let my mind rest and come back refreshed for what was teased to be a turning episode. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that did not happen this week.
This week’s episode focused mainly on the history and political relationships of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and much of Southeast Asia. At the beginning of the episode, Sarah talks about the motive for the Taliban…why they operate the way they do, how they operate, and how they get away with such blatant operations. She says “I don’t understand what is going on.” I find this ironic because this was the main complaint Jason Dempsey had about the U.S. military in episode two…we lack institutional knowledge. With this lack of understanding, Sarah attempts to give us the breakdown of thousands of years’ worth of history and relationships to understand how the Taliban are able to operate so openly in places that the U.S. military has a strong hold on (Afghanistan) and U.S. diplomacy is supposed to have great relations (Pakistan). Without getting into it all over again, I will boil it down to this: it’s a quid pro quo relationship. The Taliban are the lesser of two evils in some circumstances for civilians in Afghanistan and in Pakistan they help keep India from gaining a foothold in the country, which is Pakistan’s greatest fear. They are given liberties to move about and skirt checkpoints and searches because it benefits both sides to play nice.
Another aspect that Sarah touched on in this history lesson was the juxtaposition of traditional and radical interpretations of the Quran. It was interesting to note that the more radical interpreters are not the older generations but the younger ones…the young men acting as guards in the prisons such as the one Bowe is being held in. Sarah spoke with David Rhode, a reporter who was kidnapped seven months before Bergdahl, and escaped. He relayed the story of an older man attempting to teach tolerance of non-Muslim people to the young guards. He offered to share the same food as David to prove that there was nothing unclean or fearful about him. In one of the recordings made with Mark Boal, Bergdahl remembers an older man taking pity on him and providing him with an additional blanket. Sami, Sarah’s reporter on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan, believes he interviewed this man and was quoted the man as saying “everyone has good deeds”. I’m not sure if by including this quote Sarah was attempting to force home the point that this conflict isn’t simply black and white or that there’s good in everyone but it was something that stuck out to me.
We learned little else about Bergdahl’s time in captivity or the military’s actions during this time. Bergdahl did describe being locked in a cage for the remainder of his time. He attributed his survive, both physically and mentally, to his body’s unwillingness to give up even after he had given up mentally. It’s a testament to the power of nature and our basic fight to survive. He explains to Boal that he felt “every second” of his time in captivity because his body hurt and demanded his attention. He says he had no time to daydream nor did he want to because that’s what had gotten him into this position in the first place. It’s a moment of self-reflection that I so wish he had had before walking away from OP Mest.
Sarah reports that those who debriefed Bergdahl once he was returned to the military’s custody reflect back on what a success story his survival is…if you discount the facts that landed him in the hands of the Taliban in the first place. All of his tactics are straight out of the highest level of SERE training.
Hint of a Zoom Out
All season long we’ve been promised this further and further pull back to reveal just how large of a situation this actually was. Sarah shares a snippet of a conversation between Bergdahl and Boal, describing some of the torture he endured while in that cage. He describes being slowly slashed across the chest with a boxer cutter hundreds of times. (I don’t care what your feelings on Bergdahl are, that is something that you can’t ignore; something you need to sympathize with him on.) He says while this was happening he was verbally abused and told it was retribution for the things prisoners at Guantanamo Bay had to endure. It seems our actions as a country aren’t as isolated as we’d like to think; something our politicians should keep in mind while they’re out making campaign promises and soundbites.
Want and Need Answers
We’ve heard from the immediate players: Berghdahl, the captors, the search party soldiers, but we’re still missing the military. I mean the BIG MILITARY; the guys sitting in the Pentagon. Where are they during this time? What are they thinking? What are they doing? I can’t imagine who she’s going to be able to get to talk about the deliberations and negotiations for Bergdahl.
Sarah’s reporting thus far, while not poor, has created more questions than answers for me. While I can appreciate that her reporting is interesting enough for me to develop more questions, I still want some solid, concrete answers…something that I feel she’s promised us from the very beginning.