Friday, April 15, 2016

Who is to blame?

It's been great to listen to the second season of Serial. It focused on Bowe Bergdahl, the only American solider held captive by the Taliban during the war in Afghanistan. The host Sarah Koenig weaves a great story delving into the psychology of why Bowe deserted his unit, details of his captivity and the prisoner exchange that lead to his release. Koenig's narrative device is to outline a story while seeking the answer to a larger question, innocence and memory in Season One and responsibility and blame in Season Two.

The final episode of Season Two focused on the question of whether or not soldiers were killed as a direct result of searching for Bowe Bergdahl. The short answer is that while soldiers were hurt searching for Bowe, no solider was directly killed searching for Bowe. What is remarkable about this episode and Sarah's story-telling is the exploration of this question of blame. In some ways philosophical questions such as identity and human agency loomed larger behind the story than the simpler question of did Adnan Syed kill Hae Lee in the more thrilling first season. So how much should we blame Bergdahl for? Soldiers were badly hurt in the weeks after his disappearance searching Taliban territory searching for information or seeking to confirm information about his whereabouts. However as time went past it became an open secret that he was being held inside Pakistan. The search for Bergdahl became lodged in the larger war against the Taliban and the history and geopolitics of the region. The War in Afghanistan is part of America's larger war against Islamic militancy which is part of a larger cultural clash of civilizations, which is the result of human sin.

Who is to blame? (This assumes morality, responsibility and human agency exist.) The correct answer is everyone and some particular people. No man is an island, we can't pretend that our participation in the world has no impact on anyone else. But blame is a real thing, it was Bergdahl who decided to desert not you or I. But everything in between? How should blame be described and assigned? I think the solution is that you tell stories, seeing who the villains and heroes are, weighing their actions, establishing the boundaries of a scene and then considering it through the lens of the denouement.