Serial Season 2 Episode 3 Mentions Last POW Escape

It's early enough in the season that I'm not sure yet how I feel about Bowe Bergdahl's story, but whether you believe his claim for why he left his base or not, I'm betting you'll be pretty heavily affected by the most recent episode of Serial , Season 2, Episode 3. The title of the episode is "Escaping", and it concerns two escape attempts by Bergdahl, with emphasis on the second, which took place in June 2010. According to the episode, Bergdahl was able to successfully escape the room in which he was being held, using an assortment of makeshift tools that he'd been collecting during his imprisonment, and evade capture by the Taliban for what his debriefers later determined was a period of 8.5 days, even though he'd been injured by a fall early on in his escape.

It may not sound like an impressive amount of time, especially given that after his recapture, Bergdahl was held for another four years, but as Sarah Koenig pointed out, we really don't hear many stories of prisoners of war escaping their captors at all, because even though the Code of Conduct demands that American POWs make every effort to escape, to actually do so is extremely dangerous, and thus very rare. In fact, as Koenig states in the episode, the last successful POW escape was during the Vietnam War, almost 50 years ago. I don't know about you, but that's a number that really shocked me: no American has successfully escaped a prisoner of war situation in almost five decades? Seriously? I had to look into this.

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As it turns out, throughout the Vietnam War, which lasted for over 19 years, approximately 1,350 Americans were taken as prisoners of war, and just 34 successfully escaped. That's a 2.5% success rate, just to give you an idea of how high the odds are stacked against escapees. The most notable of these success stories is that of James N. Rowe, who was held for five years in southern Vietnam before he saw his opportunity in December 1968, overpowering a guard while his captors were distracted by helicopters overhead, and flagging down a chopper for his own rescue. It's an incredible story, but again, that was after five years of captivity, and Rowe later dedicated much of his career to developing the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program, which to this day trains military personnel on what to do in the event of their capture. So it completely changed the course of his life, essentially, and there was an extremely specific set of circumstances that had to come together for Rowe to even get an opportunity to escape, let alone for it to be successful; the majority of the other POWs who escaped even briefly were recaptured, sometimes never to be seen again.

So that's what Bowe Bergdahl was looking in the face as a prisoner of war in Pakistan, and that's what he elected to take on with his own escape attempt. Whether you believe his motivations or not, Bergdahl was up against some of the highest stakes and lowest success rates you can imagine, and he attempted escape anyway. At the very least, that should give you some empathy for the direness of his situation, and the immensity of his own effort to escape it.