Mark Danner

Bang Bang Abroad: Following it, Reporting it, Writing it

Bang Bang Abroad:

Following It, Reporting It, Writing It

Spring 2018, J298, Mondays 2 – 5 pm, North Gate 106

Mark Danner

It’s a dirty little secret that few things are more fascinating, more absorbing, more sheer fun than covering a war. Conflict, as a statesman overthrown in a coup once said, strips bare the social body, the better to see what lies beneath the skin. In this seminar, we’ll delve into the intricacies of covering political conflict: wars, coups, revolutions. We will study some of the classics of foreign and conflict reporting, discuss the fundamentals of international affairs and workshop some student articles, including masters projects. By the by we will track and analyze the peculiarities of US foreign policy as it evolves during the Trump era – and the exceptional demands this places on the correspondent in the field.

Course Lectures



Class Requirements This seminar will be a mixture of lectures and discussion, backed up by a large amount of reading and some writing. The most important requirements are that students

*Attend all class sessions

*Keep up with reading and writing assignments

*Participate in discussions

*Deliver at least one presentation to the class

A student’s record of attendance and participation in class discussion, together with the quality of his or her writing, will determine the success of our class and contribute the better part of the grade.

Schedule Note that classes will meet Mondays at 2 pm in North Gate 106.

Reading Our primary reading will draw largely from a number of books of foreign reporting, classic and contemporary. They are listed below. I strongly urge you to obtain these books in your own copies and in the edition specified, either from local bookstores or from online suppliers, so that you will be able to highlight and annotate them.

Tracking the News A significant part of the class will be given over to tracking and discussing foreign reporting and US foreign policy as it emerges during the Trump administration. Following these events closely in various publications, beginning with the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers and websites, and getting to know the work of the leading contemporary foreign correspondents, is essential. Even if you are not a habitual newspaper reader, you must become one for this class.

Presentations Each student will make a presentation in class on the work of a given foreign reporter, ideally one working now. I encourage you to get in touch with the correspondent and conduct an interview. The class will read at least one major work by the correspondent. Use of multimedia and social media during the presentation is strongly encouraged.

Writing Depending on response to the reading there may be an occasional in-class quiz. To bolster the clarity and vigor of your English prose, I strongly suggest studying two works: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language,” which can be readily found on the web, and Strunk and White’s little manual, The Elements of Style.

Office Hours I will count on meeting with each of you individually at least once during the course of the term. We will make these appointments on an ad hoc basis. I am best reached via email, at My office is North Gate 32. My writing, speaking and other information can be found at my website,

Grading Students will be graded on their preparedness and their participation in class, the strength of their presentations and the quality of their written work, as follows:

Attendance            25 percent

Participation          25 percent

Presentation          25 percent

Writing                 25 percent

Those who miss multiple classes will not do well in this course.

Films. During the semester we should be screening a number of films that bear closely on the subject of covering wars. We will hope to find an evening that works for everyone.

Tentative Syllabus

January 22 – Introduction. The Classroom and the Battlefield. The Current State of Foreign Wars. Wars Coups Revolutions. What’s Been Written. Writing With Your Ears. Long and Medium Form. An Approach to a Format. Long, Medium, Short. Presentations: Getting to Know a Correspondent and Her Work. Work Shop.

January 29 – Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War (Vintage, 1994)

February 5 — Anjan Sundaram, Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo (Anchor, 2014)

February 12 – John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World (Penguin, 2007 [1919])

February 19 – President’s Day (No Class)

February 26 – George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (Harcourt, 1980 [1938])

March 5 – Martha Gellhorn, The Face of War (Atlantic, 1994 [1959])

March 12 — John Hersey, Hiroshima (1985 [1946])

March 19 – Michael Herr, Dispatches (Vintage, 1991 [1977])

March 26 – Spring Break (No Class)

April 2 – Ryszard Kapuscinski, Shah of Shahs (Vintage, 1992 [1982])

April 9 – Edward N. Luttwak, Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook (Harvard, 2016 [1968])

April 16 — Dexter Filkins, The Forever War (Vintage, 2009)

April 23 – Jeremy Scahill, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield (Nation Books, 2013)

April 30 — Sebastian Junger, War (Twelve, 2011)

May 7 – Janine di Giovanni, The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches from Syria (Liveright, 2017)

Final Assignment Schedule

January 22 – Introduction. The Classroom and the Battlefield. The Current State of Foreign Wars. Wars Coups Revolutions. What’s Been Written. Writing With Your Ears. Long and Medium Form. An Approach to a Format. Long, Medium, Short. Presentations: Getting to Know a Correspondent and Her Work. Work Shop.

January 29 – Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War (Vintage, 1994)

February 5 — Anjan Sundaram, Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo (Anchor, 2014)

February 12 – John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World (Penguin, 2007 [1919])

February 19 – President’s Day (No Class)

February 26 –  Marie Colvin, On the Front Line: The Collected Journalism of Marie Colvin (HarperPress, 2012); Paul Conroy, Under the Wire: Marie Colvin’s Final Assignment (Hachette, 2013)

March 5 – Martha Gellhorn, The Face of War (Atlantic, 1994 [1959])

March 12 — Michael Herr, Dispatches (Vintage, 1991 [1977])

March 19 – George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (Harcourt, 1980 [1938])

March 26 – Spring Break (No Class)

April 2 – Ryszard Kapuscinski, Shah of Shahs (Vintage, 1992 [1982])

April 9 – Dexter Filkins, The Forever War (Vintage, 2009)

April 16 — Sebastian Junger, War (Twelve, 2011)

April 23 – Janine di Giovanni, The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches from Syria (Liveright, 2017)

April 30 — Rosa Brooks, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon (Simon & Schuster, 2017)

Annotated Syllabus

January 22 – Introduction. The Classroom and the Battlefield. The Current State of Foreign Wars. Wars Coups Revolutions. What’s Been Written. Writing With Your Ears. Long and Medium Form. An Approach to a Format. Long, Medium, Short. Presentations: Getting to Know a Correspondent and Her Work. Work Shop.

Class Notes

Overview of Syllabus

  • Read foreign sections of NYT, WaPo, Foreign Policy, Politico
  • Weekly readings: be prepared to pick a passage to read aloud and say why
    • Can be a pivot point or example of something good
  • Presentations: bring a writer and a piece that is fantastic (length of a magazine article) to the class and have it discussed [ex. reported essay]
  • Recommended films: “Battle of Algiers” and “Only the Dead”
  • Recommended reads: “Gibraltar” by Ian Jack (Granta); Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger

Discussion – “Delusions of Baghdad” by Mark Danner

  • Lede of a piece is everything; there are no rules about ledes, you can start wherever you want
  • This piece begins “in medias res” ? fruitful because it creates suspense
  • Suspense ? sense in which you’re waiting for something to happen
  • Entire piece consists of combinations of impression of what’s happening on the street and interviews
  • List of bombings on page 383 is example of how to analyze a series of seemingly random attacks
    • Intel people tend to provide this type of analysis; ergo, the source is in intelligence informant
  • Overall goal of piece: to explain why what’s happening is happening
  • Additionally: sometimes one needs to get far away from a physical place in order to actually see what is happening in a region

January 29 – Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War (Vintage, 1994)

Abner Hauge presented Arundhati Roy’s “Walking with the Comrades.” (Penguin Books, 2011)

Class Recording

Class Notes

Afghanistan News

Q-head – analytic piece

Why NYT & WaPo at the same time? Provide context for the situation

NYT: As American-led forces have escalated in response to Taliban gains, they have unintentionally pushed the Taliban toward grislier violence. Airstrikes have forced the Taliban to lie low in rural areas, where they prefer to operate, seizing territory and extorting from locals.

  • Terrorist attacks are one of the few ways to get headlines in the US – it’s a way of talking
  • Target audience: population, Afghan government, international financiers (want to see impact)
  • Terrorism serves these groups as the army does the United States – it’s a strategic weapon to show that you are still acting when you are being knocked back at home (ex. Paris ISIS attack)
  • Save the Children attack – org. Pulls out of Afghanistan which is a long term win for ISIS; trying to isolate the Americans & western influence
  • Future? – attacks on NATO?
  • They said they were attacking a police station – double edged sword of information
  • NYT V. WaPo – NYT featured it on A1, WaPo buried it in the world section
  • The placement of these pieces represents the decision of the top admins

The Massacre at El Mozote

  • Retrospective, reconstruction, recent history
  • Genre? – tick tock (i.e. what happened from moment to moment)

– What happened during the massacre

  • He was sent to do the exhumation, but the massacre tick tock took over
  • Foreground, backstory (tick tock), and two of them meeting at the end

– Three act structure

– Exposition/suspense – rising action – climax – falling action – resolution/denouement

  • Climax – massacre
  • Exposition – exhumation
  • Part 1 prior to massacre; part 2 after massacre
  • Three narratives: present day, massacre, aftermath

– Climax 2 – congressional hearing

  • Each time you have exposition, there needs to be enough suspense to get past exposition to next suspenseful section
  • Government successfully denied massacre, even though all of the information came out & there were photographs – it’s not information, it’s politics

Reporting on this Story

  • Go to the Embassy – if you’re valuable to them (information-wise), they will talk to you
  • Ask for other people to talk to regarding the topics you want to discuss

Arundhati Roy Article

  • History of the Naxalite movement
  • Conveys her own experience – reader becomes her and experiences the journey viscerally
  • Background is always told through people/characterization

– First character is herself

  • Structure: here’s what happened to me, period
  • Descriptions of beauty & people are compelling
  • About the discovery of another kind of life

February 5 — Anjan Sundaram, Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo (Anchor, 2014)

Padmini Parthasarathy presented excerpts from Burning Country by Leila Al-Shami and Robin Yassin-Kassab (Pluto Press, 2016)

Class Recording

Class Notes


An outlier on the reading list, this book was assigned because:

  • The author went to Congo to become a stringer, without any previous experience – something a student could do
  • It is a classic first book: autobiographical, influenced by other writers (Naipaul, Kapuscinski)
  • Two main ways to be a foreign correspondent:
  • Join a paper, pay your dues, and rise through the ranks
  • Just go there

Anjan Sundaram

  • A PhD student in math
  • Why did he go to the Congo? – see pages 20-21 in text (didn’t want to work at Goldman  Sachs, someone told him the DRC was undercovered, Congo’s first election in 4 decades was happening, he met a person from DRC) – anti-professional reasons/romantic hero

Why didn’t students like it:

  • Not enough about journalism, more of a memoir
  • Author’s background should have been introduced earlier – grew up in Dubai under a dictatorship
  • Author is self-absorbed and un-self aware

Shape of book

  • Memoir of a young man trying to illustrate his journey in DRC as a beginning journalist, but author is not equipped to do it
  • Writing about exploitation ultimately – indication of what he should be trying to do: genesis of having power thrust upon you (by virtue of being either: white, Western or wealthy)
  • Western canon: it’s always people with relative power that get to write about it
  • Heavily influenced by Naipaul and Kapuscinski, imitates them in the book
  • Broad outline is chronological, but takes steps back to explain why he went to Congo
  • Class L structure w/ two stories: DRC’s election and his development as a journalist (bildungsroman)
  • Beginning: in medias res, symbolizes things unknown – first paragraph: doesn’t know what’s happening, portrays himself as the victim from the outset in the phone left
  • Later writes a scene when he meets the person who stole the phone and has a redeeming scene where he hangs with with him and his friends & starts to address the real issues of the country (low-grade theft is normal, etc) – but never revisits those people again
  • You don’t need to paint people as completely innocent/guilty – there is nuance and complexity
  • Stealing phone – intimately connected to initial steps to becoming a journalist
  • Not effectively written – self obsessed & telling a story about his obsession, not enough about DRC
  • Portrait of a person who has always succeeded and is about to fail – the terror he feels is not about someone hurting him but about failing (author is not aware of this)
  • Pg. 144-146: well done section discussing the rise of nationalism, heavily influenced by Naipaul
  • Pg. 29-36: best section in the book – goes back to visit Guy who stole his phone and spends the evening w/ Guy & friends– illustrates relationship amongst friends well; doesn’t follow up with them later in the book
  • Did he takes notes on everything? – can the reader trust his memory?
  • Analysis in his journalism pieces is more sophisticated than the book

Portrayal of women

  • Shows lack of understanding of culture – scene with the domestic servant and vulgar conversation w/ Ali
  • Doesn’t unpack/clarify the conversation with Ali (pg. 200, 3 paragraphs)
  • Is this a bad attempt at humor? Including the scenes with the host wife trying to set him up – meant to be a lighter part of the book
  • Trying to show the reader that he was attracted to the domestic servant and then disgusted at the thought
  • Author missed a lot of stories about women in this period
  • Many women are unnamed (domestic servant, women at the pool, prostitutes)
  • Missing analysis of the power dynamic; solely contains fact and observation – there is a sexual currency that is being used and women are condemned for it
  • Author is not looking into why people are acting the way they are (motivations), and instead judging them for it
  • How could he handle this better? – could have spoken to her

Burning Country excerpts

  • Written by two Syrian-British authors: Leila Al-Shami (activist, since publishing this book has written for Al-Jazeera and other Middle Eastern publications) and Robin Yassin-Kassab (journalist)
  • Addresses when revolutions devolve into civil wars
  • People who are engaged in this revolutionary movement – have material needs (food, water, electricity, etc) and are not apolitical people
  • They don’t want democracy per se, they want better quality of life – these are the people that need to be covered more
  • An academic text, not narrative heavy
  • Why write this book while conflict is ongoing? – to document what is happening as best they could
  • Sourcing: a lot of Twitter and Facebook relationships; many interviews happened over Skype – large amount of citizen journalism (Siege of Aleppo important here)
  • Important to think about sourcing, especially when a reporter can’t get to a place
  • Social media can be good to figure out about the chatter and who is talking about what
  • Book is reminiscent of oral histories of leftist movements in Mexico
  • Pieces contain large block quotes – these are voices we don’t often hear
  • Syrian conflict – relatively little reporting until it became a civil war because western media knows how to report on civil wars; revolutions are more difficult to mainstream media
  • Revolution (aka insurrection, uprising, coup d’etat) reporting is difficult to do on the ground
  • Hard to talk to people on the ground, and even then people don’t want to be ID’d
  • Hard to judge people’s political strength – can’t really parachute into this area
  • Apply to current situation: Kurdish YPG
  • Geopolitical proxy war
  • American press doesn’t really know how to report the Afrin situations
  • US is NATO allies w/ Turkey and most of their arms are US-made; Kurds have been vital to the fight against ISIS w/ US
  • Turkey wants to move Kurds out and US is faced w/ allies on both sides and it has troops in Syria – US potentially has to tell Kurds  they are on their own
  • Coverage of these wars has been bad
  • Is this a piece of journalism? – Yes
  • Isn’t academic, has oral history
  • is a very vital piece of writing; viewed by various people in the conflict as subjective & biased
  • Reminder: under the most complex situations, people have motivations that you can relate to just by being human – there are political motivations that are familiar (human things that everyone can recognize); this is sparsely attributed to Syrians who are often portrayed as savages/refugees
  • Be conscious of what’s being sold to you when looking at coverage of a conflict in other places

February 12 – John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World (Penguin, 2007 [1919])

Mark Danner presented “Beyond the Mountains,” from Stripping the Body Part I, pp 3 – 46. (Nation Books, 2009)

Suggested Reading: “Discovering John Reed” by Howard Zinn from Howard Zinn on History (Seven Stories Press, 2000)

Class Notes

  • Covering revolutions are both fun and unpredictable because suddenly the world changes as all the things you took for granted becomes changeable – who has money? who has power?

Ten Days that Shook the World by John Reed

  • Tone: immediacy
  • Book is about a guy (the author) going around the city trying to figure everything out
  • Note: the author didn’t speak Russian & had a translator – therefore, many of the interviews were with people who spoke French; this creates an inherent bias about who you’re speaking to
  • When there is a political revolution/violence, you can see the different political forces at play when you can’t during times of peace – who’s strong? who’s weak? what might happen next?
  • Not a perfect book – very messy book & hastily written so some things are wrong
  • Style:
    • What is in the author’s favor? – it’s in first hand; has a quality of breathlessness to it
    • Advantage: ability to convey excitement of what’s going on
    • Manages to generate a good deal of suspense
    • Has a driving/propulsive power – from a lack of sleep
    • The book was written months later but maintains a constant sense that something is about to happen
    • Difference between a historical and a journalistic account
      • Historical account assumes something is about to happen – Reed shows anything could happen in his account
    • Pacing in book seems deliberate, especially in the transitions between chapters – ellipses are omnipresent
    • Has a way of placing the reader in the scene and bringing the reader along
    • Constantly interviews people on the street
    • Introduces a lot of turning points when you don’t know what’s going to happen
  • Much of what is happening politically is hard to depict (i.e. sessions that go on for 8 hours)
  • Shape of the book – chronological order; day by day
  • This writing reflects a “first draft of history”
    • Reed wanted to get down what he believes are the important speeches of history
    • Criticism: there is too much of the speeches
    • Author’s POV: pro-Bolshevik; wants workers and peasants to hold power
    • Far from an objective account
    • Believes the Bolsheviks should win but doesn’t know how it’s going to happen and keeps being educated by people on the street – therefore, his information is incomplete
  • In Russia, there had been a revolving door of power/political revolution, so now there needs to be a social revolution
    • This is about contesting who the power belongs to
    • Political revolution: took power from the traditional aristocracy (March Revolution/French Revolution) for representational democracy
    • “Power fell onto the street” – unclear who has the power at the beginning of the book
      • Power is different from legitimacy
  • WWI factored into this revolution – where the weapons and weary soldiers came from
    • Revolution wouldn’t have happened with the war – WWI was a catastrophe from Russian perspective and people were starving on the homefront
    • Laid ground for revolution and coercive power (arms) to be in play – soldiers/deserters were coming back from the war (at first, they were supporters of the czar)
  • Pg. 98: “Trotsky coldly…”
    • Following the eyesight, several dependent & descriptive clauses
    • Descriptive paragraph giving a lot of exposition about the current situation
    • Common technique of his – what is looks like/smells like and then a joke
  • Pg. 105
    • Combining narrative with description; shows what’s in front of his face while he moves; doesn’t stop the narrative; followed by a key moment
    • The most basic things are in question and he shows is by telling
  • Very good about pointing out moments of absurdity (i.e. Winter Palace scenes) – could not have pulled this narrative off without a sense of humor
  • Pg. 110-111
    • Idea of reporting at an unsettled time – you can walk into places you clearly shouldn’t be and no authority is present – beneficial to reporter (and dangerous)
  • About the author
    • Reed was raised in a wealthy family
    • Has contempt for the bourgeoisie & supports the working class
    • He is playing at idea of revolution
    • He’s not a worker – became a leftist/Communist after attending Harvard

Beyond the Mountains, Part I

  • Mark Danner was 28, told by friend to go to Hispaniola
  • Haiti is the size of Maryland w/ few good roads – means the land is vast
  • Arrived in the middle of a city-wide riot
  • Revisited and wrote about Haiti for nearly 20 years
  • Has relevance/similarities to John Reed re: revolutions
  • Similarities:
    • Major sections written after the events occured
    • Bifurcated vision – shows “street terror” happening on the street but tries to describe the attacks w/ immediacy
    • Structures what is politically going on
  • Duvaliarist analysis derived after the event – all of the reporting was about how to come up w/ the analysis
  • Two categories of reporting in this piece:
    • Why do we have this violence?
    • Why aren’t things progressing as they should?
  • Not present for the massacre, but talked to a lot of people who were there
  • Danner over-reports when he doesn’t know what’s going on
  • Venn Diagram – traditional politicians, popular leaders, army, government, Duvaliarists
  • Judging the power of groups of very hard to do
    • Western media has become perilously reliant on polls; they are not reliable in the ways we want them to be reliable
  • Political transitions – Why is Haiti so troubled? Why isn’t it easy to transfer to democracy? How do you get an election that’s actually fair in a country were few owns everything?
  • Centers of power: military, industry, church, legislators, land owners, banks, labor unions/workers
  • Advice:
    • In a revolutionary situation, you have to accept that you’re going to be surprised
    • Make assumptions of your own and follow your instincts (if you know the history)
    • Separate yourself from the press corps
  • Author spent much of the time covering the days around the actual election
  • A lot of the reporting was the author going around the city and interviewing people – you’ll get better interviews the more you know about something

February 19 – President’s Day (No Class)

February 26 – Marie Colvin, On the Front Line: The Collected Journalism of Marie Colvin (HarperPress, 2012) [pp. 149 – 171, 189 – 215, 224 – 233, 369 – End.]; Paul Conroy, Under the Wire: Marie Colvin’s Final Assignment (Hachette, 2013) [all]; NYT – ‘An Endless War’

Suggested Viewing: Marie Colvin 2004 Interview, Colvin’s Final Interview with CNN, and Paul Conroy’s Interview from Baba Amr

Rosa Furneaux will present on Lynsey Addario.

Viewing and Listening: Addario’s website and NPR Fresh Air Interview.

Suggested Reading: Excerpt from It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War (Penguin Books, 2016).

Class Recording

Class Notes

Marie Colvin

  • Her collection (published in the Sunday Times) gives us a view of what she did and how she did her reporting; as does Conroy’s book
  • It seems likely the Syrians traced the satellite signal of Colvin’s media interviews to target the media center, the attack of which resulted in her death
  • Colvin started at UPI, which is a smaller institution, but it allowed her to do what she wanted to do – it’s not about the prestige of the institution, but what you are allowed to do there
  • Colvin has more of a focus on people and the consequences for people on the ground – hard to find a reporter more relentless about this
  • Colvin has an ideology that merits skepticism that Conroy has – what difference will a photo or article make?
  • Is she putting her life unduly at risk?
    • Bearing witness and not leaving when others left
    • Takes pride in being there last – Ex. Chechnya and Kosovo
    • Strong, competitive aspect to Colvin’s mentality
  • There’s a level of guilt and bifurcation in the life of someone who does this for a living – Colvin gets to enter and exit war zones
    • Dependent on the help of the FSA who they are eventually going to abandon in Syria
  • Final dispatch from Homs
    • Why did she start in the basement?
      • More unique than a hospital
      • Maybe w/ next attack the widow’s basement could be destroyed
      • Filed this piece verbally by traced satellite phone – risky because of security
  • Almost like a magazine writer, she writes longer pieces
  • Integrates first person really well & it always serves a purpose; doesn’t draw gratuitous attention to herself
  • Shows the relationship between foreign desk editors and reporters – need to make a lot of decisions and influenced by many things

Lynsey Addario Presentation

  • NPR podcast addresses kidnapping in Libya
  • About experience as a female in a male-dominated career
  • She had access to places none of her male colleagues did in the Middle East
  • Says the Congo changed her life
  • It’s not about how she shot it, but how she got the access – takes time with her subjects when she can
  • Tries to spend 1-2 hours with them beforehand
    • Transsexual project in NYC took months to earn the trust of her subjects before she brought her camera
  • Style is reminiscent of Salgado
  • Since becoming a mother, she has shot more mothers with their children in regions/refugee camps all over the world

March 5 – Martha Gellhorn, The Face of War (Atlantic, 1994 [1959])

Lauren Hepler presented excerpts from El Narco: Inside Mexico’s criminal Insurgency by Ioan Grillo (Bloomsbury Press, 2012)

Class Recording

Class Notes

Martha Gellhorn

  • The Face of War is reading across a life – her 20s to late 70s
  • Colvin looked up to Gellhorn – frivolous comparison because they’re both female and war correspondents?
  • Brings up: what is the subject of war? is it war? what is war correspondence?
  • Gellhorn writes a lot about how the war affects the civilians at home – “vox populi”: people on the street
  • This would be what another journalist would fill in with when they haven’t made it to the battle
  • How are Gellhorn’s topics news? – turning attention to that subject jus as war turned its attention to its subjects
    • In WWI, significant numbers of civilian casualties, but most of the deaths were military
    • WWII: over 100,000 civilians died from a single bomb
    • Covers the span of time in which civilians became casualties of war
  • Women focus on who is affected by war, not perpetrators of war; observations of people and how their calculations of their lives change
    • Very interested in adaptability, esp. women and children in how they survived during the war, not how they were injured
  • Tone of material in Spain
    • People in Spain are more casual about warfare – veneer of romanticism of Spanish people
    • People still believe they’re going to win; they don’t know much about the military so they believe they will win
    • Comparison to Homs – no hope amongst civilians, no military operations portrayed
    • Spain & Syria both started in revolution and ended in war
    • 1930s Spain is a rehearsal for WWII
    • Nobody helps in Spain despite everyone knowing what was happening – Gellhorn began as hopeful and then covers Spain
  • Revolutionary spirit: when Colvin gets to Homs, the spirit is decimated
  • Gellhorn’s original impetus to write was political; Colvin came to writing later in life
    • Gellhorn’s introduction in her book begins by referring to Watergate (a good example of democracy and journalism at work)
  • Then Gellhorn covers WWII – what happens between Spain and WWII?
    • Lesson: recognize fascism early and do something about it
    • Her writing becomes increasingly cynical
    • Theme: war is part of human nature (and stupidity)
  • Does Gellhorn lose hope? She must have some intact because she continues to write about war and conflict
  • She is outraged by wrongdoing and inequality – is sympathetic to people on the street – this is seen very well in her Vietnam pieces
  • Lived all over the world & married to Hemingway – didn’t want to be known as his wife and “a footnote in someone else’s life”
    • Gellhorn & Hemingway did coverage of Spain and China together – her work is better as a reporter on the ground; it’s more comprehensive, endures/reads better now
  • “High Explosives for Everyone”
    • reporting from her hotel and walking around town, mostly observation – would this be acceptable to magazine editors today?
    • Strength: a missed day for more correspondents becomes material that Gellhorn can turn into a pieces
    • Also of note: she wasn’t on deadline and had no editorial oversight – no tether that is often in place for journalists
    • Lesson: how to see what is in front of your face; writing about wounded people
  • Style
    • Very slow and takes her time sentence by sentence
    • Trope: this was this, now it’s what (i.e. how war affects life); theme of juxtaposition
    • Has an eye that actually works via writing – hard to teach and especially hard in a pack of reporters
    • Pack reporting is the opposite of Gellhorn’s writing
      • Why do the descriptions of the wounded work?
        • Not heavy-handed, simple
        • Not overly gruesome
        • Stream underneath the surface; saw the man described on pg. 25 before as someone she tried not to look at (relatable)
    • Very present in her work; acts as a guide in the space
    • Uses simple words, but the writing is very effective
    • Hemingway-esque: that-and
    • A lot of the pieces read like short stories; narrative – influence from being a novelist: feels free to make a story out of her observations
    • Not political analyses, no nut grafs; writes what she is observing during war
    • In the 1930s, Hemingway had a huge effect on magazine journalism – Gellhorn represents a trend in getting good writers to cover int’l conflict
    • Gellhorn is very good at sharing details and every detail pushes the narrative forward
    • “Use your ignorance” – use fresh vision to come up w/ something everyone experiences but no one would write about
  • Criticism
    • Doesn’t provide political background
    • When in contact with non-white people, perspectives becomes racist in writing (racist names to refer to groups of people, etc) – illustrative of prejudice that was inherent in America at the time
    • Israel pieces have not aged well
  • Vietnam
    • Humanizing the war and empathizing with civilians/what she’s actually able to see
    • Genocidal death toll from American bombs – Gellhorn has a capacity to see if and write it
    • Journalists fly in and look at other places and write about it from an external lens – journalists represent the perspective of these places
    • Wasn’t let back in Vietnam because her perspective was left-wing and from the people – but today, it still isn’t “enough” of a denunciation
    • Consecutively, there is a rage that builds up in the book
    • First Vietnam piece: undercuts the beginning by describing actions of American soldiers; shows the result of American policy
    • No one was writing about civilian deaths in 1966 (very early in the war)
      • Why is she so critical? – at this point in the book, the reader can see the perspective she’s coming from
    • Is it propaganda? Is it a legitimate piece of work? – yes, documents in detail how and who are getting killed (civilians, not Vietcong combatants)
    • Gellhorn’s transformation: journalism doesn’t convey permanent truth
    • What’s being conveyed in this piece is still being contested today – Americans were methodically killing & bombing civilians

Lauren Hepler – Ioan Grillo Presentation

March 12 — Michael Herr, Dispatches (Vintage, 1991 [1977])

Jacob Shea presented reporting on Rodrigo Duterte. NYT – ‘They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals’; NYT – Rodrigo Duterte’s Talk of Killing Criminals Raises Fears in Philippines; NYT – Philippine Police Resume War on Drugs, Killing Dozens; New Yorker – When a Populist Demagogue Takes Power; New Yorker – Rodrigo Duterte’s Campaign of Terror in the Philippines; CNN – Duterte’s crackdown: 6 stories from the front lines

Class Recording

Class Notes


  • Known as the “golden age of war reporting”
  • Dialogue in book is reminiscent of Full Metal Jacket & Apocalypse Now films (Full Metal Jacket written by Michael Herr)
  • A decade after Dispatches was published, Stanley Kubrick hired Herr to adapt “Short Timers” which became Full Metal Jacket
  • Author born in 1940 in Syracuse, NY – attended Syracuse University, but left school early and didn’t graduate
  • Book is the writing of a young man
  • Interviewed w/ Harold Hayes, editor of Esquire magazine, to get credentials for Vietnam, which was granted
  • 27 years old on his first assignment & had never done war reporting before
  • Was in Vietnam November 1967-October 1968; book represents 10-11 months of reporting
  • Only one piece from the book was published when he was in country by Esquire – “Hell Sucks” in 1968
  • A 27 year old with no experience getting assigned to a war would not happen today – magazines had a lot of money in the late 60s; it was the golden age of new journalism and magazine writing
  • In Vietnam, Herr was hanging out with writers whose work was known and his was not
  • Book was published in 1977 and the war ended in 1975
  • Between 1969-1977, Herr got divorced, moved to New Hampshire, couldn’t finish the book and then finally did
  • The final product is a book of the 70s – a retrospective gloss on war, which is bolstered by Apocalypse Now
  • Also isn’t strictly war reporting – it’s new journalism
  • Techniques of fiction
  • Looser with facts
  • Self-conscious – hypersensitive individual consciousness
  • Utilizes characterization
  • Contains a lot of scene setting & description
  • Often about drugs, religion
  • The section in Khe Sanh contained fictional characters & dialogue; it turns out much of Dispatches is fictional
  • The text is focused on low-level soldiers – author is the #1 subject of the book, not what happens to him but what is going on in his mind
  • New journalism arose during the 60s – document of Vietnam War of the 60s
  • What emotions are explored? – fear of death & idea of luck
  • No large scale description of war and what it’s about – Jonathan Schell gave more description of war in “The Village of Ben Suc”
  • Schell also had a translator
  • Herr had no translator and didn’t really talk to civilians – mostly reported on the grunts who didn’t know what the war is about
  • Trying throughout the book to understand these young men; he’s older than them even though he’s 27
  • Herr is dependent on them for protection; grunts act like the senior partner in these relationships
  • The grunts are in awe that he’s there without a gun and doesn’t have to be there; there is astonishment through the book that the reporters are choosing to be there
  • Why is political analysis dramatically missing in this book?
  • Herr arrived in the middle of Tet Offensive and Khe Sanh – doesn’t think that what the war is had to do with military strategy
  • Most reporters think war is over during Tet Offensive & writing about war’s own futility
  • Transposition of Heart of Darkness to Vietnam – seen in Apocalypse Now
  • Hearts of Darkness documentary is about the making of Apocalypse Now
  • Realm of heightened experience entwined with the war
  • Extraordinary effect about how we feel about the Vietnam War
  • Pg. 67-69 – complex passage
  • Becomes both a shooter and a medic – starts to participate as opposed to observing – is this journalistic?
  • Most reporters in the book ended up dead in the war
  • Why is he happy? – intent on describing personal experience and understanding the war
  • Obsessed with his own experience of war and how he is drawn to it; obsessed with why he is covering the Vietnam War
  • Aestheticization of war – several passages where he writes about the beauty of tracer bullets coming up to hit them (aka the beauty of war) in Pg. 131-135

Jacob Shea Presentation: Reporting on Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Philippines

  • Populist demagogue; sexist and violent public persona
  • Presidential campaign
    • Ran on campaign against illegal drug industry
    • Moralistic vendetta to clean up corruption
    • Promised violence early on: vowed to kill “up to a hundred thousand criminals”
    • Used social media effectively; won in 6 million vote landslide
  • Within first 100 days, listened 150 politicians and police officers publicly as involved in the illegal drug trade
  • According to Philippine Daily Inquirer, which tracked killings, in 3 months, more than 1,400 killed by police and vigilantes
  • In the past 20 months, at least 4,000 Filipinos (predominantly urban and poor) killed by police
  • Human Rights Watch estimates the number to be over 12,000
  • Adrian Chen, staff writer at The New Yorker
    • Normally writes profiles, intersection of technology and culture; not a war correspondent
    • Goal: aim to explain how Duterte could be elected, have enduring popularity
    • Only had two weeks in country (transportation challenge)
    • Read all local coverage, helped find sources
    • Duterte’s PR team kept offering interview and then backing out
    • Had connections to political elites
    • Articles have few scenes
  • Daniel Berehulak, regular contributor to New York Times
    • Australian, based in Mexico City
    • Has covered Iraq War, Afghan elections, aftermath of Japan’s 2011 tsunami, 2010 floods in Pakistan
    • Two Pulitzers: 2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa and 2017 Philippines “War on Drugs”
    • In “War on Drugs”
      • Photographed 57 homicide victims over 35 days at 41 sites
      • One scene with police, took 300-400 images – a number of photos not filed because it was too gruesome to share
      • “ I have worked in 60 countries, covered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent much of 2014 living inside West Africa’s Ebola zone, a place gripped by fear and death. What I experienced in the Philippines felt like a new level of ruthlessness: police officers’ summarily shooting anyone suspected of dealing or even using drugs, vigilantes’ taking seriously Mr. Duterte’s call to ‘slaughter them all.’ ”

March 19 – George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (Harcourt, 1980 [1938])

Alicia Medina presented on Rania Abouzeid’s coverage in The New Yorker of Baghdad. The Women in a Morgue in Baghdad, Out of Sight

Class Recording

Class Notes

Homage of Catalonia

  • In the canon of war reporting at the top of the list – Why?
  • First example of immersive journalism – was a journalist but volunteered as a soldier (didn’t act as journalist in a field, but took copious notes in a diary)
  • Went to Spain at 33 years old – almost immediately became a soldier/grunt and then a corporal
  • Didn’t cover the war as a correspondent/not an embedded journalist
  • Very controversial book – written because he knew it would be controversial
    • Wasn’t a popular book when first published – not instantly deemed a classic
  • Examples of participatory journalism (aka I go and I do it; don’t stand on the sidelines): Paper Lion by George Plimpton, anything by Michael Pollan
  • Becomes a soldier for “common decency;” motivations is to kill fascists
    • Fascist government in Italy & Germany; WWII is on the horizon
    • Competing spheres of influences already seen in Spain
    • Wants to kill fascists because he’s a left-wing socialist writer
  • Descriptions of filth & smells, but not killing a lot of people and it frustrates him
  • What is the role of a journalist? To observe?
  • Orwell engages in media criticism and analysis of propaganda
  • Why is this book a classic? – it represents amid the thicket of disgusting politics, a self-conscious effort to tell the truth
    • Reader sees him struggling to tell the truth
    • This book was not intended to last; written very much in the present tense and focused on present political debates and issues that were not meant to last
  • Hochschild introduction: puts political section in an appendix (how Orwell originally wanted)
  • Emphasize: desire to tell the truth
    • Wanted to forget politics when going to the front, but found that he couldn’t escape politics at the front
  • Book is half about killing fascists; and then it becomes a book about politics of the Spanish Civil War; and then it becomes a book about politics and truth – and then telling the truth as a journalist/writer in a century that is a cesspool of lies
  • A lot of 1984 is in this work – this is the reporting he did to write 1984 and Animal Farm


  • As far as you can get from Herr regarding prose
  • Similar reporting techniques – access to different frontlines in the war
  • Extreme self-conscious – both have initial subjects as themselves – a lot of seeing, smelling & their first hand experience
  • Metaphors in his prose is always very homey/familiar
  • Orwell spent 115 days in Spain; short but dramatic – shot in the throat and thought he was going to die for a large part of the book
  • Ignorance is the greatest tool – freshness – sees everything as it is now
  • General arc in book toward personal understanding (political recognition/bildungsroman) – the narrator is innocent/ignorant in the beginning
  • Is the book without nuance?
    • He questions his own view in a lot of the book
    • Overstates degree to which revolutions are occuring
  • Book is supposed to be an antidote of all of the propaganda occuring at the time – ready to be critical of the political situation in Spain
  • It serves the narrative to establish Spain as a paradise when he first arrives to when he returns in April to see a shift
  • A lot of his experience is reflected on his body (being cold, his injury)
  • There is a lot of humor in his writing in this book – tries to be entertaining in the first half, able to convey a person that you like
  • Sitting for long periods of time not fighting – descriptions of firewood, landscape, etc
  • Scene where Orwell gets shot – uses colloquial language
    • Interesting that he remembers so much
    • Phenomenological; very clear
  • Prophetic nature of book – Russian Revolution behind and the Cold War in front of it

Recommended Reading

Alicia Presentation: Rania Abouzeid

  • Lebanese-Australian backgrounf
  • Took family holidays to Beirut during the Civil War
  • Spent 15 years reporting in the Middle East (New Yorker, TIME, Foreign Affairs, The Guardian, Al Jazeera)
  • Awards: Michael Kelly Award, George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting
  • Has covered Syria in depth
    • New Book: No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria

“The Women in a Morgue in Baghdad”

  • Focus on the most invisible of the invisible
    • Gender, moral, nationality, social class
    • Feelings of the worker at the morgue
  • Complexity: good against evil narrative
  • How aftermath of violence tells us about society; double punishment
  • Was working in the morgue on another story when the bodies arrived – need to have an open mind to see these stories and Rania has it
  • This is almost a standalone poem amongst reporting in Baghdad – good + simple reporting = effective

Covering ISIS

  • Military defeat versus ideological defeat
  • Media obsession with ISIS, fueling their narrative
  • Binary portrayal of ISIS mirrors the narrative in the West
  • The media considers people living under ISIS to be pro-ISIS as opposed to oppressed
  • If there is no ISIS angle, there is no “sexy piece” to the editor – basic problem in war coverage: in order for Iraq to get covered in the daily US news, 20 people have to be killed or the regular news won’t cover what’s happening over there
  • Abouzeid is deliberate in challenging dominant narratives

March 26 – Spring Break (No Class)

April 2 – Ryszard Kapuscinski, Shah of Shahs (Vintage, 1992 [1982])

Andrew Beale presented an excerpt from Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.

Class Recording

Class Notes


  • Storied journalist, books are famous
  • Thought to go on to win the Nobel Prize, though he didn’t
  • Apparently present in 27 to 32 coup d’etats
  • Most famous book is The Emperor
  • Wrote for 35 years for the Polish Press Agency
  • Spent time based in Africa – any war in that hemisphere, he had to go cover it
    • He was there in the 60s/70s – many coup d’etats he had to cover
    • Late 40s/early 50s was the beginning of the American empire
    • Kapuscinski – covering the end of colonialism & criticized for his colonial POV
  • Covered coup d’etats as a daily press reporter

Shah of Shahs

  • About the Iranian Revolution
  • Periodicity – depends on when and where you were born which influences how you look at the world
  • Afghanistan & Iran are still the dominant key elements of U.S. foreign policy in the last 30 years – we still have troops in Iraq & Syria
  • The US funded the Mujahideen in Afghanistan – Bin laden was in Afghanistan where he planned 9/11 – Iran/Iraq War – Desert Storm
    • This has dramatically influenced what is going on in the world and in our lives, not in the least the current Syrian Civil War
  • First page – Shah fleeing, Khomeini coming
    • What is he actually writing about? – looking at his own hotel room; this is a metaphor of writing itself
    • Tapes, photos, notes & notebooks everywhere – taking this pile of notes and trying to derive a story out of it
    • The beginning is a process of understanding; the room is a blank template for putting together the story
    • Attempts to outline what he’s doing with the rest of the book; chaos at the beginning and then he orders the chaos
    • Is it effective?
    • Creation of suspense – telling the audience what his subject is going to be and what the audience going to find out
    • The first chapter is about what’s being shown on TV – exposition: to place you in a moment in the revolution
  • Page 9 – refers to the end of colonialism worldwide; also explains how the revolution changed Iran
    • Shah was a colonialist regime
  • POV is not American; POV is from Poland
    • At this time, Poland is a Soviet Bloc country; Solidarity (faction trying to break free of the Soviet Union) is rising
    • People think he is writing about Poland – treatment of Savak
    • Several of his books are thought to be veiled accounts of Poland
    • Aesopian stories – during communist era in Eastern Europe, stories that were fairy tales which brought forward the truth were popular (The Emperor was Aesopian)
  • Narrative bounced around a lot – hard to keep track of who was talking
  • Daguerreotypes – hung on photographs, notes and cassettes
    • A way to vitalize what is mostly exposition – history of Iran, how Iran came to be at the state it is, Shah, Mossadegh
  • Missing 20 pages in Polish edition that aren’t in the American version – about the coup d’etat that overthrew Mossadegh
    • Kapuscinski said he cut it out at the request of the US government because they didn’t like the way the CIA was portrayed
    • After his death, someone asked the publisher and the published debunked that story – the author cut it himself thinking it would undermine him in the US
    • Indicative of his dealings with the Polish secret police in his life – had appreciation/fear of intelligence services and didn’t want to piss off the CIA
  • Fact v. Fiction
    • There is no doubt in the way he writes
    • Is this bad journalism? It’s not fiction – it’s based on some fact
    • No gradation between what is true and what is false
    • Pg. 43-45: scene with bus stop & Savak guard
      • Not attributed to anybody, begins like a story (it’s a parable)
      • Powerfully written, holds for any police state, not just Iran
      • But how did he get this story?
    • Are his methods full of holes? Does it matter if the small facts are right or wrong? – what matters most is the larger truth?
      • Larger truth: this book is about revolution & autocratic power
    • Pg. 108-110: man and police officer don’t exist, another parable
      • At the heart is the question of veracity – what does and doesn’t bother us about this type of writing?
      • Saying something more general about how revolutions happen
    • Pg. 111 top – takes a large phenomenon and reduces it to a single person, which makes it effective & powerful; but the person doesn’t necessarily exist
  • Is this a convincing description of what the Iranian Revolution was?

The Soccer War

  • Some of the same fact problems
  • Description of what happens when reporters approach the front line
  • Great portrait of fear and what journalists do
  • Homey metaphors
  • Kapuscinski at his best – but is it all true?

Ilan Pappe Presentation

  • Writes a lot about actual military battles or lack thereof between Israel and neighbors
  • Great amount of detail for something that happened before the author was born
    • Read a book by Carmeli Brigade book; dug through declassified IDF documents (only 2% of the documents about 1948 were released)
  • On the ground reporting was immensely important – filled in the gaps, clarified fabrications and manipulations, gave meat to document interpretation
  • Needed to reconcile Israeli and Palestinian narratives
  • Over 100 massacres happened in 1948 that were documented, but there were probably many more based on witness testimony and no documents
    • When Pappe wrote about a massacre that only had witness testimony, he clarified he couldn’t find documentation on it
  • Example of an arc of the story that was changed by the narrative that was written/published at the time
  • National historical myth still influences how Israel is treated/sees itself today

April 9 – Dexter Filkins, The Forever War (Vintage, 2009). Suggested Reading: “Iraq: The War of Imagination” by Mark Danner.

Annabell Brockhues presented on journalist Verena Hoelzl & covering the Rohingya crisis.

Class Recording

Class Notes

  • There is a difference between sectarian cleansing and ethnic cleansing
    • Sunnis and Shia are not different ethnicities, but are different sects
  • Iraq has become a client state of Iran ? US invaded and put on a fairly independent election – Shia took control (despite population being largely Sunni) so now Iraq is sympathetic to Iran
  • Bashar al-Assad is the leader – Shia is the ruling regime, but population is largely Sunni
  • History of the last 30 years is coming to the front in Syria

The Forever War

  • What’s familiar in this book?
    • Normalcy in which people return to their everyday lives amidst bombings
    • Michael Herr voice in the book – attitude of soldiers & rhythm of paragraphs; but also spends a fair amount of time articulating the Iraqi POV (Herr doesn’t really do this)
  • Similarity to Vietnam? – both hopeless situations
    • The war was a liberal cause – they thought they had to free people
  • Dexter Filkins
    • Wrote the book as a Nieman Fellow @ Harvard
    • Starts w/ chaos and then moves back to provide context (not unlike Kapuscinski) – purpose: to hook reader and create suspense
    • Quote a personal book/a personal development boo
    • Main question: how did we/I get here?
    • Image that sticks – running
    • Execution in the soccer field – getting us ready for brutality in Iraq?
    • Filkins personally thought the American invasion was a catastrophe
  • Book is about the futility of Americans’ attempts to understand Iraq
    • Nobody knew Arabic & the situation was bad from the beginning
    • A lot of the book shows him trying to cope with Iraqi rejection of American “generosity,” the American invasion & it’s futility
    • Are second-hand stories worth telling in this book?
    • Pg. 210 – being implicated with a death for the first time; about his fucked up obsession with the war
  • Pearland section – about what being a reporter like this does to you
    • Most of this book is about himself
    • Embodiment of relationship w/ soldiers & marines because journalists are a burden to them because they are not armed
  • Nathan Sassaman
    • Military career gets tanked after tossing two Iraqis in Tigris River
    • Originally an NYT piece that was popular
    • Portrait of best & brightest officer
    • Why is this in the book? – creating more insurgents
    • Critique of American strategy and showing how ineffective it is
    • Strategy of microcosm – what US soldiers are doing in a specific place and why it’s wrong
    • Does this story succeed? Do we learn anything about the Iraq War from this story?

Verena Hoelzl Presentation

  • Hoelzl freelances from Burma about the Rohingya crisis
  • German journalist who went to J-school in France
  • As a school project, went to Myanmar – returned after school to become a freelancer
  • Lesson: don’t give up – figure out ways to get stories into the paper
    • Shows a great deal of creativity
  • Hoelzl networked before arriving with journalists & activists in Myanmar
    • Facebook was the most powerful tool
  • Advantage: she was the only German journalist in Myanmar
  • Main problem: no access to Rakhine state, official narrative denies conflict
  • Practical problems – who will pay for the trip? How to enter Bangladesh without getting arrested?

April 16 — Sebastian Junger, War (Twelve, 2011)

Annabell Brockhues presented on journalist Christoph Reuter & covering ISIS.

Class Recording

Class Notes

  • Current structure of syllabus – addressing wars in Iraq & Afghanistan, and then circling back to the Pentagon

The Forever War Part II

  • Filkins – dealing w/ the Iraq War & his bewilderment/futility that results in the destruction of Iraq & the countless Iraqis that have died
    • Conservative estimate: 200,000
    • Iraq War had some altruistic intent behind it – Filkins uses intent as a point of discourse: why did it go south?
    • A very personal book
    • Theme: bewilderment at post-war – 1st three weeks: rush to Baghdad (Pg. 73-74, 75)
    • Author lived there 4-5 years, went running in the streets – dealt with Iraqis everyday
    • Trying to deal with conundrum of why they hate Americans & the revolution – doesn’t really get to it though
    • Tries to cope with is psychologically – is it successful?
    • Problem: such a complicated war to write about
    • Author not concerned about chronologically reporting the war – this book gives a more narrative war than a historic war
    • Tells you what it’s like to be a reporter there
    • Describes modern combat really well – what it’s like to be in the middle of a city controlled by insurgents, etc; experience of being surrounded when you’re an American journalist
    • Attitude of continual conspiracy is part of Iraqi politics – it is a group of people who would have a reason to be mistrustful of an institution
    • Two-thirds of this book was at a time when you couldn’t go out by yourself as a reporter
      • Many journalists were kidnapped & beheaded; represents a new phase we have now seen in Syria – far worse for Iraqi/Syrian-born reporters
    • Mogadishu chapter (pg. 186)
      • Between two long, weighty chapters; this is a reported scene
      • Sets up going to Fallujah, what they expected, and how it didn’t turn out to be so
      • Shows what the military tells the soldiers; no commentary/editorializing
      • There was a huge number of civilians killed in Mogadishu – special forces w/ automatic weapons gunned people down
      • International law forbids the use of disproportionate force – but legal to kill civilians – a gray area
      • American forces killed a substantial number of people at checkpoints; American POV: checkpoints were a daily weapon of war by insurgents; Airaqi POV: constantly being yelled at and don’t know what’s going on
      • Armies exist to kill people, but there are distinctions between different armies – US army in Iraqi killed far less people than the Soviet Army killed in Afghanistan; but US army still kills civilians
    • Running: theme through the book – insane to run along Tigris in Baghdad because someone could shoot him (Pg. 216)
    • Filkins’ POV of Iraqis is he is an outsider – what is his gaze as a writer?

War by Junger

  • Came to Korengal Valley 5 times between June 2007-June 2008
  • Author’s note regarding scenes he was present/not present for – the transparency is good in an unintrusive way
  • Was with a photographer, Tim Hetherington – created Restrepo and Korengal documentaries from it
  • Had a particular project in mind as a magazine writer – magazine journalist, the publication can pay his travels back and forth
  • Interested in the American soldier and their lives in Korengal Valley
  • Telling you something about the way soldiers think about the broad view (not at all)
  • Notion of heroism versus cowardice in studying the soldiers – to let the reader understand why the soldiers do what they do
  • A successful book-length profile – not necessarily about the subject but something much larger through the subject
  • Managed to get to an area that was the most desirable to journalists
  • Also had to be in good shape to keep up with the soldiers
  • Trying to give the reader a picture of 18-23 year old men – beginning with what they look like (Pg. 22)
  • Pg. 71 bottom – what fear does, you try to rationalize it out
  • Violence between soldiers at the outpost – response to escape that pattern of thinking
  • Pg. 34 – engaging exposition; the scientific exposition doesn’t slow down the narrative but moves it forward
  • Similar to memoir sections – perhaps this is what was missing from Herr’s Dispatches
  • Writing style: very clear writer & creative use of verbs; not very figurative but when he does utilize this, it’s very apt; not a showy writer, but a very good writer
  • Character development: details were so precise that you cared about these people later if they died

Christoph Reuter Presentation

  • Der Spiegel correspondent; foreign correspondent since late 1980s
  • Was only German correspondent in Afghanistan; been covering Syria since 2011 for Spiegel magazine
  • Being a reporter in the Middle East is about understanding, not experiencing
  • Overall challenges: break the dominant narrative; ISIS was not taken seriouslt enough – it’s not about content and infromation but about dramatic scenes and actions
  • Had never seen an organization which was able to control such a big area in such a short time
  • Difficult to get unbiased information about ISIS
  • Everything is open source – a lot of information, photos, videos; but also a lot of fake and alternative facts – high need of verification and good research
  • Has gone to Syria 22 since 2011 – entered with a visa until 2012; then he entered via Iraq, Lebanon, but mostly Turkey
  • In 2015, reported on how ISIS and other rebel groups cross the Turkish border – Turks didn’t like this, arrested him and his team on a trip from Aleppo – forbidden to enter the country & couldn’t even step foot in the airport
  • Embedded with Al-Nusra (had freedom of reporting, didn’t care about communicating a certain narrative) & Kurdish groups (controlling of narrative like the Syrian regime)
    • Reuter tried to get other sources aside from those presented by the Kurdish – they don’t like it if he changes their narrative, but they let him to it because they know it’s bad for them if their exclude Der Spiegel
  • Utilized investigators from Syria & Iraq – main task was to stay in contact with people they met & follow them to figure out if they can be trusted and then figure out safe ways to contact sources (about 1,000 people and connections)
  • Both ISIS and Syrian regime hunt foreign journalists – don’t go to known media centers, high change they have moles there
  • Article about ISIS files:
    • Took one year to do this story
    • ISIS had to abandon headquarters and burned their files, but there were too many and not all the files were burned – Rebels rescued the files and sold them to Der Spiegel
    • Reuter quotes two sets of files
    • Content: infiltration & surveillance of all groups, personal files on fighters, applications from foreign fighters to join ISIS, plans on marrying into influential families, attack in Tall Rifaat
    • Difference to Rukmini Callimachi – she was actively looking for files; after she found Al-Qaeda files in mali – looked in trash, buildings related to ISIS

April 23 – Janine di Giovanni, The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches from Syria (Liveright, 2017)

Stefanie Le presented on journalist May Jeong. Wired – The Final, Terrible Voyage of the Nautilus, The Intercept – Losing Sight, The Intercept – Death from the Sky

Class Recording

Class Notes

Syrian Civil War

  • Syrian regime used many of the same techniques in counter-insurgency
    • Clearing certain areas
    • Terror made widespread to achieve getting certain people out of certain areas
  • Began as a series of political demonstrations in Daraa – graffiti appeared on the walls one morning (broader international situation – Arab Spring)
    • Security forces arrested a group of high school kids and tortured them – parents asked for them to be released and were refused – demonstrations started – troops began shooting them
  • Regime: Alawite, Ba’athist secular regime – key figures all belong to minority Shia sect; majority of the country is Sunni
  • Large numbers of people are becoming refugees at this time – Iraqi refugees from the the Iraq War came to Syria – beginning of “refugee problem”

The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria

  • Powerful, difficult, wrenching read
  • Di Giovanni approaches the Syrian civil war with the background of covering other conflicts
  • Reporting of book takes place in 2012 (5-6 years ago)
  • Period: transformation of a non-violent protest full of hope to an armed rebellion faced w/ severe counter-insurgency techniques
    • Arbitrary detention, rape, torture, barrel bombs dropped on civilian neighborhoods (to make people afraid to participate in insurgency), and clear out certain neighborhoods
    • Use of widespread terror to suppress a rebellion – taking areas that are known to be rebel-held
  • At time the book was written – millions of Syrians fled and ended up in Lebanon, Turkey & Europe
  • This book attempts to connect all these things together
  • Book is about the effect of war on everyday Syrians
    • It is a showcase of voices, not an analysis of war
    • Not interested in telling the details about how the war progressed
  • Compressed reporting time covered – gap of 3 years from reporting to book being published
  • Listens to people supporting Assad & regime and are afraid of what will happen when regime falls – very rare & hard to do now; this is largely not the narrative seen today
    • Partly because Syria has been rejecting visas to journalists/most journalists are talking to those who have been negatively affected by the regime and not the wealthy/comfortable in Syria
  • Structure
    • Disjointed anecdotes from different times and places – vignettes
    • Through line: her career covering the conflict; autobiographical
    • She’s a reporter but also works as an investigator for human rights organizations (UNHCR, HRW)
    • Author questions a lot in the book about what she’s doing and whether it’s worthwhile because the world has done nothing despite be told what’s happening in conflict zones
    • Journalist ideology: expose horror and terror and hope that something will be done about it – Di Giovanni looks back on her career and finds out that it isn’t true – this comes across in the desperation of the book
    • Thinking you’ll make a difference isn’t a good criteria to judge your journalism career by – though this does diminish Di Giovanni
      • Can’t judge yourself on whether you end wars, only by how well you tell the story
  • Propaganda from Syria
    • Reports on the opposition competition which is good/enlightening in the book
    • Robert Fisk outs out propaganda supported by regime – he’s the only one embedded w/ Assad regime for years; went in with the Syrian Army
    • For the purpose of the government, there must not be a moderate opposition because the moderate opposition could politically win – they need a crazed, jihadist opposition
      • Cold war strategy: kill the moderates; isolate the boogeyman (in this case, ISIS)
  • Style – not a good writer, many grammar mistakes, long-winded sentence structure
    • Powerful writer, but not the most precise – needed a better editor (good reporter, bad writer)
    • Book is written in a style the way someone would speak – but doesn’t work in this case, too superfluous to read, often tries to do too much in a sentence
    • Problems with time sequence as well
  • Interviews w/ women who had been raped
    • Conducts some interviews as an investigator for UNHCR and as a journalist, but doesn’t specify which – this can be ethically ambiguous
    • Reminiscent of Bosnia where rape was used as a weapon – was rape section in the book too long? – it was very visceral and readers needed to take a break
  • Pg. 131-134: about her experience experiencing war, not just about Syria
  • Aleppo is the strongest chapter in the book
  • Di Giovanni is damaged and fatigued in the book
    • Really wanted to tell the rape stories but perhaps didn’t execute well

Stefanie Presentation – May Jeong

  • Jeong is a magazine writer & investigative journalist
  • Spent most of her career so far based in Kabul, Afghanistan (4 years)
  • Currently a visiting scholar at NYU’s Carter Journalism Institute & Logan Nonfiction Fellow at Carey Institute for Global Good
  • Writing has appeared in The Intercept, New York Times, London Review of Books, Harper’s and Financial Times
  • MSF Kunduz hospital bombing story on her the 2017 South Asian Journalist Association’s Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding Reporting on South Asia
  • Jeong attended the University of Toronto – studied humanities, but always know she’d be a writer in some form
  • Moved to Kabul right after college in 2013 because she was looking for a place to freelance
  • “I came of age in the 9/11 generation–I learned about war through 9/11. I felt like 9/11 was the first time when history started happening on my watch. There were things that were unfolding in real time, and I think that was compelling for most people. To this day, it’s completely unfathomable that we have gone to war in Afghanistan and Iraq for the dubiest of reasons and there is nothing to show for it–I’m genuinely baffled by this. I think the human mind is attracted to mystery, so I’m confronted with what in the actual fuck happened? There was just a natural inclination towards inquiry there.”
  • Kabul is far away enough that I felt like America was a fictitious place. “I was really able to grow as a reporter and a writer on my own terms and that has been the greatest gift. It allowed me to come of age without any peer pressures. I can’t imagine being a 22 year old writer in New York–the competition would have been the end of me. “
  • When she arrived in 2013, she said “It wasn’t as competitive it had used to be and that helped me a lot.” Lesser competition = easier.
  • Her work is funded & supported by grants with the Nation Investigative Fund, the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the International Reporting Project,  the International Women’s Media Foundation, United Nations Foundation, the Daniel Pearl Investigative Journalism Initiative, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
  • “I love talking about this because I think it’s terrible that we don’t talk about it. Not to talk about it is a great lie. It’s really problematic. The drone strike story took two and a half year–obviously I wasn’t working on it full time because that would be a financial catastrophe. I live pretty cheaply–I don’t have an expensive coke habit. I keep costs quite low and whatever I make goes straight back into working.”
  • “We’re going back to the model of having Patrons of the Arts, which I have greatly benefited from.  Without that, it just would not have been an option for me. Magazine journalism still has low rates, but at least it can sustain you for a longer period of time.”
  • If you’re going to be a freelancer, it makes sense to do longer projects and get paid higher rates for it–if you want to be smart about it.
  • “To even have the wherewithal to decide that you’re going to spend 6 months or 2.5 years on an investigation, means you’re already coming from a certain socioeconomic background. That is undeniable.  If I was actually poor, not broke poor. If I had a family to support, if I had dependents–I obviously could not be doing what I’m doing. It’s a disservice to peddle this fiction that if you try hard, it doesn’t matter who you are–you can do whatever you want. It’s true but it’s going to be much more difficult for you and I feel like that is not really acknowledged when people talk about being a freelancer or being a journalist. Class is a massive component of this work.”
  • Doesn’t speak Pashto. Speaks a little bit of Dari, which is helpful; can arrange an interview, but can’t talk about complicated stuff.
  • She has fixers and translators – “These are people that at this point I’ve worked with for almost half a decade–they’re like family to me. Having the right people is usually the most important thing.  If you don’t know the country at all, that dictates everything–that dictates access, the kinds of stories you end up doing–everything.”
  • There are some stories that are obvious (Kunduz hospital bombing story) and there are some stories you find out by going to dinners and talking to people
  • “I think the best trait is being curious. If you have the conviction of following your nose, I think you will be richly rewarded. As I’ve done this more, I’ve become more confident and trusting of myself that if I think something is interesting than chances are someone else will think it’s interesting too.”
  • Threw dinner parties every week and would have 40-50 people over – “You just build up good will–that’s what you do as a reporter.”
  • “In Kabul, there are no restaurants. Whenever you go out, we would bring back nice wine & champagne–stuff that you can’t get in Kabul. Alcohol, chocolate, and pork products to be honest are basically commodities. So no joke, you lure your sources over with promises of these things and then you talk to them. it’s less about that and more about building genuine connections with people and they actually become your friends.  And then when a story becomes relevant or they know something, then they come to you because they trust you because they’ve been drinking with you for the past two years.”
  • Kunduz bombing story – “I really called in all the favors for that story–I mean, every single person I knew as a friend I called up. I could do that because I had spent the prior two years getting to know people.”
  • She says “I don’t do anything else really. If you do a good job of that, the reporting and writing part isn’t that hard because the building trust part is the most important part. If you’ve already one that then everything else becomes much easier.”
  • Losing Sight – Must have traveled 5 or 6 times to where the family lived. Going there is legit dangerous–can’t go there anymore. “So everytime I showed up, they know that I’ve literally risked my life to come see them. And so you’re not going to just turn people away when they keep coming back to you like that. I think they eventually realized that I wasn’t going to go away so they might as well talk to me.”
  • Being a female journalist – must always have a chaperone in Afghanistan
  • “What I get irked by is when male reporters say ‘Oh it must be so easy for you, you can throw on a burqa and just go places.’ Or ‘oh it must be so easy for you because you can talk to women.’ But with places like Afghanistan–it’s less about gender, it’s more about the fact that you’re the other. My gender doesn’t make it easier necessarily.”
  • “I think Afghanistan is a super unique place just because they place a premium on honor. It’s very rare for there to be rape–it just doesn’t happen. It’s not in the culture. I imagine in different parts of the world, that is definitely a concern.”
  • “The thing that I’m thinking about now is just how fucking hot it is under the burqa–nevermind, security… That’s the only thing I remember being obsessive about.”
  • Kim Wall piece in Wired – “It’s was the absolute worst reporting experience. I’m doing a story right now that is pretty sensitive and I feel pretty unfazed by it. I have a reference point of how terrible it can be and it’s not yet there, and so it’s made me a tougher reporter.”
  • “The idea came from her boyfriend.  I thought it would be unfathomable to write something, but in the early days we were all looking for her, and trying to understand him and what might have happened. That process resembles reporting remarkably so. I think I just realized at some point that I was reporting without realizing it. It happened pretty organically.”
  • Advice:
    • Learn the language–it will save you tens of thousands of dollars. But also you can’t really understand anything unless you know the language.
    • Do things for the right reasons.  You can’t do it for the glory. It’s just a slog–only people who are totally obsessed would do it because otherwise why would you subject yourself to this?

April 30 — Rosa Brooks, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon (Simon & Schuster, 2017)

Reis Thebault presented on Rukmini Callimachi’s reporting. NYT – The ISIS Files; AP – $0.60 for cake: Al-Qaida records every expense; AP – In Timbuktu, al-Qaida left behind a manifesto; AP – AP reporter’s quest to find bodies ends in the desert; NYT – ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape; Caliphate podcast

Class Recording

Class Notes

How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything

  • This book is a culmination of a number of discussions this semester – plunges into the issues that under line conflicts & the Pentagon
  • We are currently shaped by a permanent state of low level conflict
  • Laws of war were created in a time when war & peace were separate, now it is a mix – as a result, the current laws of war and institutions are made for separate war and peace
    • Doesn’t account for type of warfare happening today – not accountability
  • International humanitarian law (Geneva Convention, Hague Convention, Lieber Code, etc) is different from human rights law (human beings have certain unalienable rights by virtue of being human beings) – IHL is a separate stream of law relating to conflict, is a subset of human rights law
  • Do drones violate IHL? – it kills civilians, BUT the number of civilians killed by drones is less than the number of civilians killed by other methods of war – is this disproportionate?
  • It is unclear where intel on people killed by drones is coming from – how is it decided who is to be killed?
  • Due process is a foreign concept in war (when killing on the battlefield) except for court martials & military law
  • Re: killing of Americans by their government without due process – this government process is secret & there is no appeal for it
  • War hasn’t been formally declared by Congress since WWII – but since then there have been other legislation for subsequent conflicts (Vietnam, Korea, etc)
  • Countries can claim self defense without approval from Congress – Obama administration seemed to use this a lot
  • Biggest difference – who you can kill under each circumstance:
    • Self defense: can only kill those who are threatening to attack/acting in a hostile way
    • Under law of war: can kill anyone in an enemy uniform, even the cooks
  • We tend to think of a division between war and peace – this is an out of date attitude
  • Done strikes & new warfare is bleeding into civilian life
  • A state of war allows the government to do different things – be secretive, kill people without consequence, etc
  • All the bodies of accountability are US-based – what if another country wanted to kill an American in the State with a drone?
  • After the Vietnam War & Cold War – US was non-interventionist – Bosnia and Rwanda happened – what does the US do? sometimes intervention saves lives
    • Libya example didn’t work
  • The current tools of international law regarding conflict is not working because terrorism & drones are not accounted for in these laws
  • Authoritarian regimes always say they are in a constant state of emergency
    • Egypt: domestic oppression
    • US: drone warfare is outside the US – people aren’t protesting this/don’t care about it happening
  • How do you cover drone warfare?
    • Cover the victims
    • Through social media networks/satellite footage
  • Brooks’ point: these things are outside the laws of war we have grown up with and need to try to think creatively about it
  • If you’re going to cover modern warfare, it will take dogged reporting and new ways to tell the story
  • Public secrecy – when something isn’t really secret, but secrecy is used as an umbrella term against access – a way to close down and control information flows
    • This is against a free press – need to become more resourceful as a reporter to find access
  • Drones are a horrible development in war but we are stuck with them
  • Brooks’ life – growing up with anti-war parents and then came face to face with Bosnia & Rwanda situations and realized that international community (including the US) should intervene

Themes in Class

  • Structure – how to structure longform writing – put scenes, interviews, etc together
    • Lesson – there is no set format; can organize around images, internal thoughts, etc

Rukmini Callimachi Presentation

  • Born in Bucharest, family fled the Ceausescu regime in 1978
  • Moved to Switzerland, then to Ojai, CA
  • Arrived in the States peaking only Romanian and French
  • At Dartmouth, balanced English classes w/ pre-med coursework – a summer class on Ezra Pound’s poetry changed her mind about med school
  • Studied poetry at Oxford and wanted to become a poet
  • Began journalism career in New Delhi, freelancing for Time and other publications – moved to the AP in Portland & New Orleans
  • Moved to West Africa and covered 20 countries for the AP – became West Africa Bureau Chief for AP
  • Mali Papers & ISIS files – unusual & creative reporting; people don’t understand it if you don’t explain it to them
    • ISIS Files critique – working against a misconception that the news media itself created – “gee whiz, they don’t just kill people–they are actually a bureaucracy”
  • Re: being a female journalist in conflict zones – feels sexism most in her offices in NYC when a man talks over her in meetings or take her ideas or when women are generally underestimated in the field
    • When she is reporting in the Middle East, people see her as a representative of a prestigious newsroom and respect her
  • Sourcing ISIS – follows them online, via Telegram, tries to meet them in person (in prisons), talks to people who are one degree removed – people who have been attacked/raped by them, people who interact with them, etc
    • Doesn’t talk to active ISIS members anymore because she has become known to them – they don’t talk to her
  • Reports on the efficiency of ISIS as a governing force – they cleaned up trash; there were thing they did that were popular (same with the Taliban in Afghanistan)

Required Texts

Rosa Brooks, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon (Simon & Schuster, 2017)

Marie Colvin, On the Front Line: The Collected Journalism of Marie Colvin (HarperPress, 2012)

Paul Controy, Under the Wire: Marie Colvin’s Final Assignment (Hachette, 2013)

Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War (Vintage, 1994)

Mark Danner, Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War (Nation Books, 2009)

Dexter Filkins, The Forever War (Vintage, 2009)

Martha Gellhorn, The Face of War (Atlantic, 1994 [1959])

Janine di Giovanni, The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches from Syria (Liveright, 2017)

Michael Herr, Dispatches (Vintage, 1991 [1977])

Sebastian Junger, War (Twelve, 2011)

Ryszard Kapuscinski, Shah of Shahs (Vintage, 1992 [1982])

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (Harcourt, 1980 [1938])

John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World (Penguin, 2007 [1919])

Anjan Sundaram, Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo (Anchor, 2014)

Clint Willis (ed.), Writing War: The Best Contemporary Journalism About Warfare and Conflict from Around the World (Thunder’s Mouth, 2003)

Books That Nearly Made It

Matt Martin, Predator: The Remote-Control Air War over Iraq and Afghanistan: A Pilot’s Story  

Scott Shane, Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone

Jeremy Scahill, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield

Edward N. Luttwak, Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook

Olga Rodriguez, El Hombre Mojado No Teme La LLuvia: Voces De Oriente Medio

Oscar Martinez, Los Migrantes Que No Importan

Jonathan Schell, The Real War: The Classic Reporting on The Vietnam War

Jonathan Schell, The Jonathan Schell Reader

Library of America, Reporting Vietnam, Parts I and II: American Journalism

John Hersey, Hiroshima

Boa Ninh, The Sorrow of War

Mark Mazetti, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth

Svetlana Alexievich, Zinky Boys

Joby Warrick, Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS

Jean Hartzfeld, Machete Season

Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men

Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds

Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

Jack Fairweather, The Good War

Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That

Artyom Borovik, The Hidden War

Ryszard Kapuscinski, Another Day of Life

Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Soccer War

Naipaul, Among the Believers

Naipaul, The Return of Eva Peron

Michela Wrong, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz

William Finnegan, A Complicated War

Harold Moore, We Were Soldiers Once and Young

Lawrence Durrell, Bitter Lemons

David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest

Peter Carey (ed.), The Faber Book of Reporting

Jonathan Schell, The Real War

Clint Willis (ed.), Writing War

Recommended Films/Documentaries

Hearts and Minds

Apocalypse Now

Full Metal Jacket

Battle of Algiers

Only the Dead

Gunner Palace



Under Fire


No Man’s Land

The Gatekeepers


The Law in These Parts

Waltz with Bashir