Arts & Life
9:58 pm
Wed October 9, 2013

Tina Brown's Must-Reads: On Heroism

Originally published on Thu October 10, 2013 2:39 am

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. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Tina Brown is with us once again. She joins us regularly for a series we call Word of Mouth. She tells us what she's been reading so we can get some reading recommendations. She is editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast. Tina, welcome once again.

TINA BROWN: Hello, hello, Steve.

INSKEEP: And I want to mention that you are also a sponsor of big conferences, including a heroes summit coming up. And you have sent us some heroes to read about here.

BROWN: Yes, indeed. Well, today we have a big event, the Hero Summit in Washington, D.C., where we're going to be talking about courage, character and national security. We open, actually, with a really interesting panel about 20 years later after "Black Hawk Down" and today I'm going to choose a piece that Danny Klaidman wrote for us on the Daily Beast today about "Black Hawk Down" and going back to interview many of the people who were involved.

INSKEEP: Can we just remind people that in the early 1990s, there was this military operation to capture some people in Somalia and one thing went wrong, another thing went wrong and it turned into a disastrous, very difficult firefight for some American troops.

BROWN: And, of course, it's now become a kind of mantra that we don't want to have, quote, "another Black Hawk Down" in our political culture when people talk about intervention or going into a very risky place to rescue people. I think that the most interesting thing really about Dan Klaidman's piece is that, in a sense, you know, we all saw the big hit movie that Ridley Scott directed that made Black Hawk Down such a famous mission.

And sort of 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. He's the guy that you fight for. He's the guy that you die for. But actually, you know, 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, why that people died. Why we were there at all. And, you know, was this mission in vain? It's a very haunting thing for the people who lived and survived almost with their survivor's guilt.

INSKEEP: Do they think they know why it was 20-some years later?

BROWN: Well, they're very mixed about it and their lives afterwards have reflected that. There are some who, you know, you moved on and stayed with the military, others who retired early. One of the people who was there, Command Sergeant Major Faris, you know, 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.

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. And he says, I thought the larger mission was just a bunch of BS. Everybody died for absolutely no reason. It was wasted lives, wasted blood and wasted treasure and I'm angry about it.

INSKEEP: So we have an article following up on this mission that's famous for many reasons, but one of them is that it became the subject of a best-selling book and then a hit movie. And a movie like that is the only connection that a lot of Americans have to the military these days.

BROWN: Well, that's absolutely right. And, you know, this is one of the great problems that we're seeing that really is reflected in Klaidman's piece and also in a book that I've been reading by Andrew Bacevich called "Breach of Trust," because 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 military.

The fact is that, you know, as Andrew Bacevich writes in this really fascinating and provocative book - 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.

There's a great disengagement now. We are disconnected from our military. It is they who go make the service, they who make the sacrifice, and we simply say thank you for your service and go shopping. He also 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.

That if, in fact, there was far more engagement, we wouldn't have had more than a decade of unwinable wars. Had we been sacrificing, we would have probably ended these wars way, way faster than they did.

INSKEEP: You have also sent us, Tina Brown, a reading about another guy who served his country, but it's a far darker story because the country he served was Syria under the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

BROWN: Yeah this is a wonderful piece. Also, I have to say, on the Daily Beast, by a reporter called Andrew Slater. And it's very interesting because it talks about how heroism really can also be simply about saying no. And this is an interview with a Syrian soldier who was arrested for refusing to shoot civilians.

He 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. And later that day, the five soldiers were arrested and taken away. They were tortured in prison for three days and one of them eventually confessed that it was our hero who had told them not to shoot and then they arrested him.

He was beaten. He was tortured. All of this stuff went on and finally, one of the other soldiers had a lawyer who helped to get him released, and he went and fled to Iraq. But really what it shows, I think, is that just by saying no you can be a hero. 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.

INSKEEP: Word of Mouth from Tina Brown. Tina, thanks for coming by.

BROWN: Thank you so much, Steve.

INSKEEP: And let's just mention her second annual Hero Summit takes place today in Washington. It's also live online at the Daily Beast. And you can find her recommended reading at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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