I love Serial.

I am an Audible book junkie, so listening to Serial comes sort of naturally.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, Serial is a podcast produced by the people who do This American Life. If you haven’t gone down the Serial rabbit hole, you need to.

My focus right now is on Season Two of Serial.

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Start right there.  I think there are ten episodes. You can binge-listen, which is my favorite way to do it.

When I first saw that this was about Bowe Bergdahl, I thought, “Oh, gee.  Army shit. I don’t care much about Army shit. I won’t understand most of it, and well. . .”

But I listened anyway, because you never know with Serial. They start with something and then you just don’t know where it will end up.

Here’s the summary (but it is not any substitute for actually listening to it).

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Bowe Bergdahl is a former US soldier who went missing from his post in Afghanistan (2009) and was captured by the Taliban and held for five years before being freed (2014) in a prisoner trade (they got five Guantanamo detainees and we got Bowe).

After he was freed, amidst all the media hype, stories began to filter out that Bowe wasn’t captured in battle. He walked away from his post willingly. This was disturbing, of course.

For some reason (Obama-hatred?), the right picked this story up and ran wildly off into the sunset with it. Their version became that Bowe had become a Muslim, defected to the Taliban, and generally was a traitor, and that multiple soldiers were killed trying to find him.  Hence, President Obama, naturally, since he was a secret Muslim, traded away these very dangerous prisoners to get Bowe back where he can do secret spying things in the US.  Or something like that. (None of these things are true at all.)

The truth is not quite that simple, and for most folks, not nearly as cool to read about or listen to.

However, considering what we talk about here quite a bit, it’s very, very interesting.

Bowe’s explanation for what he did and why he did it is a story of idealism taken to extremes. And before you say, well, this is just what he says so how can we believe that, go listen to Serial’s account. They fact-check everything to the point that it is exhausting.  Bowe’s story has been checked, double-checked, and there is no reason not to believe him.

To understand it, you have to go back in time.

Here is where Bowe Bergdahl grew up in Idaho.

There are no close neighbors, apparently. The media describes the place as “isolated.” They were “nearly off the grid.”

And here’s a photograph of his parents before Bowe was captured. (After the capture, his father grew a beard and learned to speak the language of the Taliban in an effort to communicate with them, all very politically controversial, of course.)

They are Presbyterians.  The typical theology embraced by Presbyterians is Calvinism. I wasn’t a Calvinist. I was in the “whosoever will may come” camp, the “Jesus died for everyone” group.  This is called Arminianism.  Salvation is for everyone, anyone who will ask for it.

Calvinists are very different. They believe that Jesus only died for the elect, for those who were predestined to believe.

In their view, you are either elect or you are not. If you are, there is nothing you can do to reject the gospel.  You’re special, chosen.  If you are not elect, there is nothing you can do about that either. You are going to hell, period.

It’s a very black-and-white theology.  The world is divided sharply between the good guys in white hats and the bad guys in black ones.

Bowe did not just grow up attending a Presbyterian church.  Many folks do that and they are fine and in spite of that Calvinist view, end up reasonable people.

Homeschooled, he was taught to read St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine and the Bible. For his father, everything was defined in terms of “is this the will of God or is it not.”  There was no middle ground.  There was no nuance. This whole “will of God” stuff permeated everything they did. They talked about it a lot, these black-and-white ethical ideals.

Bowe did poorly at his studies and spent much of his time in the wilderness surrounding their little house, pretty much alone. He became enamored with the idea of valor, of proving his manhood, of being a hero.  And the heroes he admired included adventurers (like Bear Grylls) but also the warriors of old.

Reaching adulthood, he went to France and tried to join the French Foreign Legion. They wanted nothing to do with him, apparently, and he came home after a few days. Nobody really knows what happened.

Then he joined the Coast Guard. He didn’t make it through boot camp.

I want to stress this.

Bowe couldn’t make it through boot camp in the Coast Guard. He had an emotional breakdown and was discharged.

That should have been the end of the relationship between Bowe Bergdahl and the United States military.  However, it wasn’t.

One year later, he joined the Army.

Think about this for a second. He couldn’t make it through boot camp in the Coast Guard due to psychological problems, and they let him join the Army. Can we lay this at his feet, or do we need to lay this at the feet of whoever waived his psychological history and let him in the Army?

It was like the Army was begging for this. They sent him right straight to Afghanistan.


Bowe, the Calvinist-raised morally-rigid misfit, goes to Afghanistan and guess what?  He has problems. He was looking for valor.  He got boredom and authority figures he wasn’t fond of and nothing that resembled “war” in his mind.

He decided that the situation was fraught with danger for himself and his comrades because he believed that the officers over him were incompetent (hell, they let him in the Army, remember) and that the only way he could get the attention of anyone higher up was to cause an incident.

So, that’s what he did.

I will repeat here that I am barely scratching the surface of this story.  Go listen to Serial.  You can hear Bowe talk about all this, hear his comrades talk about it, hear the Army officials talk about it. You’ll learn a lot about the military mindset, about international negotiations and how fragile and fucked up they can be, about politicians and how fucked up they can be.

What has intrigued the hell out of me though is that this young man grew up in a rigid religious home with parents who saw the world as pretty much evil (in the hands of the devil), given ideals that allowed for no tolerance or compromise ever,  isolated from society, homeschooled, and was almost entirely “off-grid” roaming about in the “wilderness.”

It fucked him up. The psychiatrist who testified at his trial said it did.  It fucked him up.

In the end, there was a trade and Bowe came home.

And last fall, he was court-martialed. I read a good bit about his court-martial and I really have come to the conclusion that they did the right thing in the end. He was given a dishonorable discharge and fined about a year’s salary, but no prison sentence on the grounds that he already served a prison sentence. Bowe’s days of hunting for adventure via the United States military are over.

I hope he finds healing and peace. I hope the US military has done something to make sure that nobody else can join the military with such a goofed up history.  His comrades seem to have come to grips with what happened and even those who were injured have found a measure of peace.

There are consequences to the way you choose to raise kids.






22 thoughts on “Lost”

  1. Wow, Sally. I’m going to start listening today. What a fascinating story. I’m afraid of the parallels I’m going to draw.


  2. Nicole and Joseph Naugler won’t understand this, IMO, they won’t think it applies to themselves and their children. Part of it, I suspect, is because they really have no intention or belief that their children will enter the big wide world. I believe their intent is that their children never leave the family compound or their sphere of influence and control. What happens to these children/adults when Joe and Nicole die (as do we all eventually)? I don’t think the Naugler parents think that far ahead. Realistic long term planning is not their strong suit, imho, as we have all seen, and besides after they are dead what do they care ? They’ll be dead and it’s all about Joseph and Nicole, imho. The fact that they will have left behind a dozen or so adults who cannot function or live independently will be someone else’s problem.


  3. You need to listen to the first season of “Someone Knows Something”. I didn’t like the second season but I did recently start the third, Neither touch that first season. I know that someone knows something lead me to the serial podcast, I enjoyed the first season but haven’t started the others yet. I will now that I finished bingeing on a podcast that consisted of 108 full length (usually an hour and 20) and 52 minisodes (20 to 30 minutes). I’m a podcast junky, I drive 90 miles a day for work so they keep me content.


  4. I’m not usually a podcast person but you’ve piqued my interest, so I’ll give it a listen.

    As far as the Naugler children I don’t think Nicole has any clue what the future holds for them. She’s been asked before and has evaded the questions over and over again. Her children are limited also, it’s difficult to do much when you don’t have identification or an education. The good people of Kentucky will have to deal with the ramifications of that eventually.


  5. As much crap as the Coast Guard gets, it’s actually one of the most demanding branches in the military physically and psychologically. The Navy has the lowest requirements for enlistment I believe.

    The entire story behind Bergdahl is complex. I’m sure you enjoyed the podcast, but I wouldn’t take it as the absolute truth. It was after all created to entertain, and clearly from a certain perspective. The people that were there know the truth.


  6. Whatever happened to Nicole’s oldest child, Jacob? What happened to Jacob’s baby? You never see pictures of those 2. I think the girl’s name was Faith? We used to see posts saying look at my beautiful Granddaughter. Did they ever get legally married? The one that follows Jacob, Q, seems like a kind child (building stuff for the family). I know he almost caused an accident. I blame that on Lazy Joe since he’s the caregiver during the day. Does anyone know anything about Faith, Jacob and baby? Can anyone give an update? Can we discuss them in the forum?


  7. The people that were there know the truth.

    And of course, that is exactly who they interviewed. Did you listen to Serial? If not, then you are missing those interviews. And no, not from any particular perspective. They go back and forth with “how much can we believe that X says” and “X” includes Bowe and everyone else involved. Yes, it is complex, and that’s why to get the whole story you need to listen to the thing in its entirety. My little summary was nothing.


  8. I will absolutely listen to this one. These days I love Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and Pod Save America. But I need a break from politics, even when humor is involved. Thanks for sharing!


  9. Jacob and Faith split up. They were never married. There was an incident when the split occurred and Faith had to get the police to help her get the baby from Jacob. She has an outstanding protective order against him at present. They are still wrangling in court over paternity and child support (I assume). Faith is living elsewhere (don’t know where, and haven’t tried to find out – she is officially not part of all this anymore) with the baby.

    I would prefer to keep discussion about them to a minimum. For one thing, Faith and the baby have nothing to do with any of this and are better off left alone. Jacob, at this point, doesn’t seem to be active online trashing anyone, so I don’t want to target him at all until and unless he decides to join in with his parents and start something.


  10. My son actually knows him and was stationed with him. We have met his dad. From what I personally know about him and his family this is mostly BS. Could be wrong, but I don’t think so.


  11. As good as Serial was, S-Town was a million times better.

    Serial is interesting, but S-Town will change your life.

    Don’t google it, too many spoilers out there now, but please give it a listen.


  12. So, what is “mostly bs”? What part? He wasn’t homeschooled? They aren’t Presbyterian Calvinists? They don’t live sort of, not entirely, off-grid? (Or they didn’t when Bowe was young?) What? He absolutely was found to have mental health issues, both in the Coast Guard and again in the Army.

    The rest of the story, the stuff about him leaving his post willingly, about his court-martial, about his captivity and release, all that is public record. He absolutely was found to have mental health issues, both in the Coast Guard and again in the Army.

    The question, of course, becomes “what part of his mental health issues can be traced back to his childhood?” And I have no idea about the answer to that question. The psychiatrist who testified at his court-martial said that some of it did go back to that. Bowe himself alluded to that same thing in his interview (again, public record). But how does one quantify that? I mean, was it 10% or 50% or 2% and how would you go about determining that?

    I don’t know. I just thought that it was interesting.

    Here’s a clip from his interview with Major General Kenneth Dahl after he was recovered. Is Bowe being untruthful here? The whole interview is here.


  13. No, the events of the night he went AWOL, and the subsequent search are absolutely not public record. The narrative the military has decided to present is. The guys in the SCIF that know the truth literally can’t say a damn thing for nearly a half century.


  14. No, the events of the night he went AWOL, and the subsequent search are absolutely not public record.

    None of that is of the slightest interest to me, frankly. That’s where the whole controversy lies and that’s not what caught my attention about all this. The history of how he grew up and what his worldview was like at the time is, and that has been checked, rechecked and rechecked again.


  15. Sally, i just want to thank you for sharing that site. I’ve fallen down this rabbit hole. I’m on Episode 3 of Bergdahl’s story. So far I find the podcast to be very well done. It’s interesting and fills in quite a few holes and corrects some of the misinformation in the media’s coverage of the story. Thanks!


  16. No, the events of the night he went AWOL, and the subsequent search are absolutely not public record. The narrative the military has decided to present is. The guys in the SCIF that know the truth literally can’t say a damn thing for nearly a half century.

    Well, then if they discussed it and you know something about it, they’ve already violated the order. If they were ordered not to discuss it, then you shouldn’t know anything about it either. Including whether or not they agree with the outcome.


  17. So far I find the podcast to be very well done.

    I thought so too. They are meticulous fact-checkers.


  18. Semi random thought here – I wonder if something happens to Joe and Nicole – alien abduction, Sasquatch attack, eaten by wolves etc – will the property just go back to the company that owns it or is anyone else, maybe an adult kid, also on the contract so they could keep it if they wanted? Do the kids (older ones anyway) realize that they N-E-E-D to be able to make a living to support themselves, not just know how to eat dandelions and lamb’s quarters to survive? Survival is not living, it’s what you do in an emergency. If you lose your home you can’t just go live in the woods because someone else owns those woods and they likely don’t want weirdos living there.

    Not sure where I’m going with this. I think I need a nap.


  19. will the property just go back to the company that owns it

    That’s a good question and I don’t know the answer. According to Nicole, Joe isn’t on the land contract. It’s Nicole solely. I do know that in Kentucky, land contracts now confer some equity to the buyer, something like a mortgage does. Whether that equity could become part of her estate or not is something I couldn’t find.

    If Joe or the kids had to renegotiate the contract, the terms could and very well would be very different.


  20. As good as Serial was, S-Town was a million times better.

    I’ll second that one. I loved S-Town and was just unhappy when it was over.


  21. “If the buyer dies will the land go back to the seller?” This is a great law school exam question. I’m going to answer it as if it were.

    Under a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling in 1979 upon the default of the buyer the land contract is to be treated like a mortgage. In this instance we are not talking about default, but about the death of the buyer. I assume since a mortgage cannot be transferred to the heirs neither can a land contract. Said death would most likely be treated as a default. The land company is under no obligation to transfer the rights of the buyer to the heirs, unless that is a written stipulation of the sale contract. In the case of a mortgage the heirs can simply sell the property through the executor and/or probate since there is a deed made out to the deceased. The executor either maintains mortgage payments until the sale or negotiates with the mortgage holder. At the sale the mortgage is paid first and the remainder goes to the heirs. In the case of a land contract the buyer does not have the deed the seller does. The deceased buyer does have legally recognized equity however in the property. Therefore I conclude that the land will not go back to the seller. A foreclosure sale is the most likely scenario, the same as there would be in a default of mortgage. The balance of the land debt and any and all costs for the foreclosure and subsequent sale will go to the seller. If and only if the auction sale price exceeds the debt and costs will the estate of the buyer receive any money from the sale. The heirs can buy the property at auction just as anyone else can as long as they have the full cash to do so.

    So let’s say you have a hard scrabble piece of property out in the boonies that you overpaid for (because you were a bad credit risk) that you have since polluted with human waste, garbage, etc. and have not maintained. It is a given that will detract from any value. Foreclosures in rural areas historically sell for under fair market value. The likelihood of any substantial sums going to the heirs is low. The likelihood the heirs can obtain ownership of the property are even lower unless they get some financial windfall such as a payout from a life insurance policy or win the lottery.


  22. I followed the Bowe Bergdahl story for years. While he was in captivity, I followed along on his father’s Twitter account and blog. I remember his dad building a cabin deep in the woods for Bowe to live in, if and when he ever came home. I thought this odd. Knowing Bowe was definitely going to need help to integrate back into society, and his dad was planning on complete isolation for him!
    The most interesting aspect to me, was that Bowe wanted no contact with his parents after he came back to the U.S. I can understand the first few months, knowing what his mindset probably was.

    Articles from 2014 say he still had no contact with them. I found one from 2016, that says he has spoken with them by phone, but it makes it seem as if he still has never seen them in person. Very interesting to me, knowing how he was raised, that perhaps his views and opinion of this had come to light during the intense therapy he went through.
    Sally, was there any mention of his reunification with his parents in the podcast? I am going to listen, but am just curious. Thanks for passing this on!


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