'Serial' Is Re-Opening Old Wounds

The podcast Serial, which became part of the cultural zeitgeist after an immensely popular first season, has returned with a second season, which is focused on army sergeant and alleged deserter Bowe Bergdahl. In the first and second episodes, Bergdahl finally got his chance to tell his side of the story, explaining just why he left his post in Afghanistan in June 2009, and how he was then captured by the Taliban and held captive for five years. In the latest episode, another crucial question is raised: Did American soldiers die searching for Bergdahl? According to his former platoon mates who spoke to host Sarah Koenig, six soldiers lost their lives looking for him. However, other sources, including Reuters in 2014, suggested that the soldiers who died were on unrelated missions.

Koenig interviewed a member of the Taliban to find out their side of Berdahl's captivity story. According to him, Bergdahl was a "golden chicken" worth "more than 5,000 individuals" in their grand scheme of things. However, it's a much different story when you ask Americans the same question about Bergdahl, who is set to face a court-martial for desertion charges. The public reaction to Bergdahl's release has been mixed and highly charged.

The response might seem harsh, considering how they're directed at a U.S. soldier who had been held hostage by the Taliban for five years, but the aftermath of Bergdahl's actions could suggest otherwise.

According to former members of Bergdahl's platoon, he is responsible, at least indirectly, for the deaths of six soldiers. His former team leader, Sergeant Evan Buetow, told CNN in June 2014:

The fact of the matter is, when those soldiers were killed, they would not have been where they were at if Bergdahl had not have left. Bergdahl leaving changed the mission.

That mission became a PR (personal recovery) search after Bergdahl disappeared, and many say that it was because of these efforts that six soldiers died. Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen and Private 1st Class Morris Walker were both killed in a roadside explosion; Staff Sergeant Kurt Curtiss died from gunshot wounds suffered in an enemy attack; Second Lieutenant Darryn Andrews was killed by an IED and grenade; Staff Sergeant Michael Murphrey died of injuries sustained from an IED; and Private 1st Class Matthew Martinek was seriously injured by explosives in an enemy attack.

However, around the same time as Bergdahl's disappearance, the Taliban began increasing their attacks on U.S. forces, killing almost 200 soldiers between June 2009 and the end of the year, muddling the circumstances surrounding the search for Bergdahl and the deaths of the six soldiers.

At a news conference this past June, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel countered the allegations of Bergdahl's former platoon mates, saying:

I don't know of circumstances or details of U.S. soldiers dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Sergeant Bergdahl.

But in the second episode of Serial, the Taliban member whom Koenig spoke to recalls a "massive search — a ground search and also airplanes," undertaken in an effort to find Bergdahl. It's not difficult to understand why Bergdahl's fellow soldiers were so quick to pin blame on him. Even if the six soldiers had not died during the PR mission, Bergdahl had sealed his fate. One platoon mate tells Koenig:

If we would have found him, I think a lot of us would have shot him. I truly say that with sincerity that we had that much hate towards him.