This kind of perspective is difficult to live with in a world filled with people who ignore the flaws in the system. Instead of pushing back most conform but when you have a belief in honor, conforming goes against your principles. Bowe hoped to find someone to follow that he could respect (and I would imagine camaraderie as well) in the military. Instead he found infantile leadership and that he didn't fit in - Bowe while an exemplary soldier was a different breed. He wanted to ponder life, learn, be the best he could be instead of playing video games, getting hammered and objectifying women. It's hard being caught in a place you could do well in only to find it completely pear shaped because of lack of conscious thought and no one seems to care. It's maddening and you think "I need to do something".
One caveat regarding people who see life this way is that it is attached to everything. Things that might roll off of other people accumulate in a tally for those looking to do better. The constant analysis of your environment / situation makes all the errors compound giving a much higher sense of urgency and dysfunction to the situation for you than others may feel. But in a way the analysis is also true. When you don't fit into the system because you can't see things the same way everyone else does, there is a legitimacy for the elevated stress level. Your senses are taking in how you don't fit in which is generally not a calming feeling.
According to Bowe, the Coast Guard bootcamp is one of the worst and he actually got himself discharged three weeks into basic training. (The internet seems to say that the CG boot camp is not extremely tough physically but is one of the hardest psychologically.) My parents met in the Coast Guard: Dad was a pilot and Mom trained the new recruits. It was the late 70s early 80s and not many women were in the military. My mother was the only one of the four women to make it through basic training. I heard her say many times as a kid "the cadets were more scared of me that their drill instructor". That should give you a pretty good idea of who my mom was. Or sort of. Just before the Coast Guard she got "saved" and began questioning her life. After being discharged she began to feel that all her angry feminism was wrong and that she should follow a man like the Bible said. It was a stage play called Insanity. Before they said it in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, as a kid I had remarked "the man might be the head but the wife is the neck that turns it." I saw so many women rattle the cage of their willing subjugation usually getting what they wanted through manipulation. That was who I spent nearly every single hour of every single day with for the first 16 years of my life. It's like being in your own kind of prison camp held captive by the people who are supposed to have your back. Listening to the story I've thought "that could have been me". I came very close to joining the Army a few years back and am thankful that I didn't.
I was one of those annoying kids who asked a lot of questions because I had an insatiable desire to know why things are the way they are. My mother actually banned me from sitting in the front seat of our station wagon because I loved to push all of the buttons on the console to try and figure out what they did. "Don't push buttons that you don't know what they're for. What if one set off a bomb?" That chastisement always seemed ludicrous to me - I was smart enough to assess things for their potential of harm and knew the probability of screwing with the climate control was highly unlikely to have a negative outcome - sans my mother that is.
When my sister tried teaching algebra to me I was stymied because she had very little idea why math worked. For the most part she just memorized the steps and said that's what I needed to do. After restarting my second algebra book three times upon reaching the middle and not being able to remember what I had memorized, I gave up figuring I was too stupid to get math. Sometimes when people explained things to me it made about as much sense as that chick finger spelling into Hellen Kellers hand untill that one day it clicked. I've been in the dark waiting for that proverbial light to click and something makes sense.
My entire life I've struggled with taking everything way too seriously, over thinking everything. I know how it seems when you are doing the best you know how and the people in charge have no concern for you, only focusing on what you did wrong. You learn that you can't trust people who only find the bad in you. The head of Bowe's division screamed at them for not shaving while being caught in the middle of a shit-show-rescue. It became one of the tally marks Bowe made that precipitated going AWOL. Experience has taught you that these kind of people don't have your best interest at heart and it's easy to get paranoid.
Through my childhood, we did some weird experiments insisted upon by my mother - mostly health food type shit, but the rest were attempts at finding a brand of religion that fit them. The first thing I remember going away was the "christian rock". I was reprimanded for dancing around the living room to it as maybe a 7 year old, told that it was "the devils music" and that we would be throwing it out. Next we rounded up any toys that were construed as "demonic" - cabbage patch dolls, transformers etc, and got rid of them. There never was any movie or TV watching except for a few times when my dad would watch This Old House on the old TV in the basement. A lot of uber religious organizations seem to like appropriating elements of Judaism because they believe it's magical or something. All of us siblings were tasked with cleaning the house, doing the laundry and cooking. "Honor thy father and mother that your days may be long and prosper." Saturdays usually were spent volunteering with church or working on projects around the house - fixing one of the cars, remodeling or something of that nature. Our homeschool program espoused honoring the "Sabbath" which they regarded as Sunday. Of course the "real" Sabbath is on Saturday so my mother struggled as to what the right day to honor it was. I guess they somehow decided they were honoring the spirit of the idea by doing it on Sundays but I digress. Fake Sabbath was spent at church in the morning and evening, the afternoons were supposed to be rest or read-your-bible-time. We didn't buy anything on Sundays and we were not supposed to play.
Most of my life I didn't believe what I was being sold. I mean I tried to because it was what I was told was right but I knew I didn't "get" god or life any better than algebra. Christians, "good christians", take communion and get baptized but there was a caveat - if you did those things as a charade, you would be damned to hell. It sounds silly now but trust me, as a kid who grew up pretty isolated, I believed it just like folks used to believe the earth was flat. So I held off many times from taking communion and didn't get baptized till my teens. There wasn't any god I could feel in me and despite my best efforts I felt like a bad person.
The other day my partner and I watched the first few episodes of The Story of God with Morgan Freeman. I've know that what you believed about life effected how you live but after seeing numerous religions and realizing that what you believe effects EVERYTHING, I thought holy shit! My problem with feeling at a loss with life is because of what I've believed. Sitting at the DMV I began writing down what I have come to believe so that I can meditate on it. Most important is what we believe about ourself but that's usually hidden deep below rapid fire subconscious patterns that take something drastic to break open.
One of the comments about Bowe now that he has returned back home to await trial was to the extent of "Bowe has accepted the fact that he sees the world differently than other people but is still trying to make peace with it". That's the process I've felt myself in for the past year or two. I've come to understand that there is no assimilating - but it has been a struggle to accept it because it seems to mean that you will always be alone and struggling. Till reality shattered, you thought you could make sense of life and find a place to call home but despite your best efforts you are stuck facing the truth - this isn't your time zone.
Trees of the same type can be vastly different in structure depending on the environment they grow in. You might see similar bark, leaves or needles etc but what you can't see is the past of the tree. Where is has tunneled roots searching for water or the strength of the fibers as they grow more densely to withstand the wind. While weeding our garden today I considered how all of the plants could not be the other no matter how hard they tried. Each has it's unique genetic code and all it can do is soak up sunlight and flourish. The Bible says to "know them by their fruits" which always seemed like the starting bell to the holier-than-thou olympics. But it's just a fact - a plant or tree can only grow what it's genetic code is and that's what it's fruit will be. There is the exception of grafting. I think through extreme circumstances a different strain of life is grafted onto some people. When others see you, you look like the normal tree but your fruit is some cross pollinated wacky shit and the internal structure is vastly different.
A podcast called The Moth helped start to change my life a few years ago. Listening to people tell true stories from their lives helped me see through their eyes and gave me compassion not only for them but also for myself. I can't say what should happen to Sergeant Bergdahl but I feel like I totally get where he was coming from and could easily have been in his predicament. Hearing the hatred many people have for Bowe made me want to share my experiences to say "you just don't get it". I don't see this guy as a weak piece of shit. He got his ass kicked in Coast Guard bootcamp, sucked it up and made it through Army basic (that takes guts IMO), and survived 5 years of captivity. His roots go deep because they had to and that should be respected. Most people you can comprehend with very little information because you've shared a similar life but then there are some you need to switch eyeballs with to understand.
Regardless of what the military or the public decide, Bowe is going to have to come to terms with himself. I don't think he is crazy whatsoever but simply sees life very differently and no one recognized it as a factor. When you realize that the world isn't what you thought, it's a shock that you can't ignore. We have to quit trying to look like the other trees so we aren't confusing people. It's like they took a bite of an apple that tastes like a lemon. Shouldn't be a surprise that no one is thrilled with the experience. The telling of Bowe's story in this podcast was like peeling off the deceptive skin revealing the true flesh. There's nothing wrong with being different. A tool box full of screwdrivers isn't as helpful as one with an assortment of implements. Life is a drama and we all are actors. Your character might have a shitty back story but it's okay. None of us get a choice in how we enter the world and the intervening years till we wake up - it's just a story but it's not who you are. All you can do is exist as you without concern for the story, surrendering to the moment and just let life play out.
Thank you Serial for the hard work you all put into the series. The amount of effort this required almost exhausts me to think about! I am thankful that there are people telling some of humanities stories so that we can come to understand and accept each other.