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Tina Brown’s Must-Reads: On Heroism

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
October 10, 2013

Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast, joins NPR’s Steve Inskeep again for a recurring feature Morning Edition likes to call Word of Mouth. This month her suggestions are all about heroes — whether being heroic means doing something, or not doing something.

Revisiting Black Hawk Down

Brown’s first selection is a Daniel Klaidman piece from The Daily Beast today, looking at a fateful U.S. military operation in Somalia from the vantage point of 20 years later. Eighteen American soldiers were killed in the Battle of Mogadishu when a rescue mission — one that was later dramatized in the Ridley Scott film Black Hawk Down — went terribly wrong.

“Of course it’s now become a kind of mantra, that we don’t want to have ‘another Black Hawk Down’ … when people talk about intervention or going into a very risky place to rescue people.”

In “Black Hawk Down’s Long Shadow,” Klaidman interviews many of the people who were part of the mission, drawing somewhat different conclusions than were arrived at in the movie inspired by the incident.

“The mantra of that movie, at the end, was ‘It’s not about politics, it’s not about a mission, in the end it’s about the man standing next to you,’” Brown says. “He’s the guy that you fight for, he’s the guy that you die for.

“But 20 years later, when Dan Klaidman goes back to interview many of the people who were part of it, it’s more complicated than that. Yes, it was about their colleagues. But they do also want questions answered.”

“They really want to know whether this was worth it,” Brown continues. “Why [it was] that people died. Why we were there at all. And was this mission in vain? It’s a very haunting thing for the people who lived and survived.”

The article also looks at how the operation has affected the lives of the soldiers who were there.

“One of the people who was there, [Chris] Faris, he says that he vows that he’d never send a man or woman into battle unless he could tell their mother or father their child didn’t die in vain,” Brown says. “And he speaks with a great deal of conviction about never sending people into battle without a clear, attainable objective, and without fully considering the consequences of those actions — something that he says wasn’t done before he and his brothers fast-roped down into the streets of Mogadishu.”

The Heroes Of The Military

“The whole question now is whether or not we have now become far too dislocated from the ethos, from the values and from the sacrifice of our military,” Brown says, talking about her second selection. It’s Breach of Trust, a book by Andrew Bacevich about the public’s relationship with the military.

“He himself is a vet and his son died Iraq. And he talks about how we all stand up and have patriotic moments at the start of ball games — we all sort of salute and say thank you for your service — but then we really move on,” she says. “There’s a great disengagement now. We are disconnected from our military. It is they who go make the sacrifice, and we simply say ‘thank you for your service’ and go shopping.”

The book also looks at how this disconnect may have changed how and when we go to war.

“[Bacevich] thinks that this dislocation between civilian life and military life has allowed our military leaders far too long a rope to send us into reckless wars,” Brown says. “That if, in fact, there was far more engagement, we wouldn’t have had more than a decade of unwinnable wars. Had we been sacrificing, we would have probably ended these wars way, way faster than they did.”

When Heroism Means Saying ‘No’

Brown’s final pick is yet another Daily Beast article, this time reported by Andrew Slater.

“Former Syrian Soldier Describes Life in the Army at the Start of War” is a two-part article focusing on a man in the Syrian army under Bashar al-Assad, who showed his heroism when he refused to kill civilians.

“It talks about how heroism really can also be simply about saying ‘No,’” Brown says. “[The soldier] was given the instruction to shoot a group of 30 men coming out of a mosque, and when the order came to fire, he told the five guys with him to shoot over them, not at them.”

The five soldiers were arrested for not following orders.

“They were tortured in prison for three days,” Brown says. “And one of them eventually confessed that it was our hero who had told them not to shoot” — and then he was arrested.

Finally, a lawyer for one of the five soldiers helped to get him released, after which he fled to Iraq.

“What it shows, I think, is that just by saying ‘No’ you can be a hero,” Brown says. “Here is a guy who is willing to go through torture, beatings, humiliation and terror, simply because he knew it was the wrong thing to shoot people that he’d been told to shoot. He refused to follow orders, he’s an unsung hero and I’m so thrilled, in a way, that we’ve given him his voice with this piece.” [Copyright 2013 NPR]

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