tv C.J. Chivers The Fighters CSPAN September 8, 2018 8:30pm-9:31pm EDT
book 2.7 million americans have served in afghanistan or iraq near the 7000 tens of thousands and in the fighters with these ongoing ill-fated with the conflicts and to tell the story not from the advantage of generals or policymakers but from the perspective of those who have done the both of the fighting. and he focuses on six individuals that belong to a different military service that their tumors occurred at different times and different places.
with a significant portion of those who fought. so with this intense compelling account of americans more with the persian gulf war and nearly 20 years now found the new york times and if you are familiar with this reporting with the authority and eye for detail and the clarity and punch. much of chris's reporting occurred overseas a correspondence in afghanistan. and israel the palestinian territories. with a wide range of assignments.
to be is to see pulitzer's. but to have that feature writing. and of the afghan war veteran without traumatic stress disorder. also author the previous book and the published eight years ago with automatic weapons with mass distribution seen through the development of the ak-47. some said that the book provides a dark and honest reckoning of u.s. military involvement since the 911 attacks. and calls the fighters a classic of war reporting with the most and powerful indictment yet.
after this talk we will go for pizza i will be here for a bit after for anybody once tuesday we don't want to stay here all night. so i will say a few remarks i will read a few paragraphs only if you have trouble reading the book not writing it but reading it out loud when i was going through the editing process one thing a lot of riders do is read our passages out loud to untangle the syntax to find the right rhythm that i had to stop in my house because my family could not take it. the book is pretty raw. i will read a couple of paragraphs. people with personal connections to the book have shown up so we have a lot to
talk about so the q&a is even more interesting. and with that declaration and point of view. but the history of war in my view to much general not enough sergeants. the book we are discussing tonight the officers and specialist the private first class attendance and the like and it covers them with a very simple idea that they are human and the human experiences what they did and suffered those that have been
waged for more than 15 years with no clear end in site if you know me you know my position. if you don't know me i will be clear. i am a skeptic. the wars have achieved almost nothing like what was promised. or the commanding general. it is failed by their own measures production of terrorism, islamic state is a consequence of iraq. protection populations we can argue about numbers but those conservative estimates are civilians killed. development of afghan and iraqi security forces stand at a fraction of those we put into the uniforms. the replacement of opium poppy as the alternative crop it was
even more the years of occupation then we arrived. i will stop now. i just thought it was important you hear my skeptical views you understand the book you are about to read an active public honesty i will not be wishy-washy about what i think. because this work in the book is about people and that is urgent and necessary because it is separate from his fighting class and there is reasons for this then it came the end of the population that you gave the statistics already less than 1% of the
country has shown up much of that have shown up for both of the worst not all of that that has been immediately affected extending that out to be immediate family i will not do the demography but the proportion is very small if we span those numbers the country has had no familial take and for many only a few years but the people who fight for us are not known to us this book tries to remedy some of that
maybe he will take an interest in the war with a fuller discussion about the wars and where they are headed and why what could be done differently and people ask me what do i think we should do? my only answer i don't pretend to know there are many better minds than mine on these questions i am not a strategist or the policies better or recommender i just recommend discussion of what we are doing that might become engaged i will read a brief section the book is very
graphic and raw is in place and felt it was necessary for you to understand what those characters experience so i will read the section about the burdens of doubt in the oral freight people can carry and combat. but the navy's version of the army medic. and the trauma care to the marine and he just saved his former roommate life jotted ahead. they loaded smith onto a pole and lifted him and rushed to the aircraft it was a gunship
not the medevac he was still breathing when they laid him inside. he had to hand over his friend. then he shouted life leaving steps. and then ran clear it blew the red smoke away to use here -- to have it blow over the field to gain elevation suddenly there was nothing for me to do he went back to the company began moving someone said a car had better way he sat in the front seat his hands wet with his friends blood he held his helmet and turned it over
to look at where the bullet passed through. it was an armor piercing then to lift that out. but it kept it shape. and where sniper may have hidden adt to and he stayed in his seat trembling with an energy that could not be contained with tears down his face steering at his buddy where he had cradled his head and shook uncontrollably rocking back and forth in the
seat never before had he save a life. instead he felt guilty and saw the entrance and the torn brain matter and had a sense of what was missing. some of that was inside the helmet. he could visualize the path of the bullet through his friends school. he survived the trip to the first hospital if you made it through the transfer to germany in surgery what kind of life would he expect? he acted in the moment holding emotions in check to do his job now his emotions broke free. he had a chance to think by the second by second sequence he was not sure what saving a life mentor. did i do that for me?
and did not know if he was even alive. he could die on the way. if he had done what he most wanted to do and was trying not to vomit. i will jump ahead and he survived and is still alive. and they all remain friends. and for about a week or more kirby was basically an insomniac walking in zombie fashion waiting for word on smith and his neurology and there was a moment later in the book he gets a phone call from smith father who basically says as long as i'm alive you will have a father
in ohio. that is the outcome of that scene. brad asked me to talk about process. it provides an opportunity for that. a lot of book serves as an anti-memoir. i am not in it except the preface. but in many of the scenes was present including diet it played out next to me. but i found being present is never enough. what you see and hear are what you thank you see or hear isn't enough to make that helped over the last six years going back and to download their brain they are primary characters of their own and
they will tell you tell you i have a pain in the. many long nights would be talking and i would take hours of note that a time. and once i thought had downloaded the brain that i can make a more coherent account i would make a map of the people around him like the social map, family members, friends, others that were later connected to the scene. and to aircraft to get a fellow pilot who was shot and have to go through a draft of
the chapter together and to fact check cannot write a draft without writing errors especially with multiple people's accounts. some facts are easy to check with their e-mail records or journals and with the military sendoff so there was official records with a powerpoint presentation with the storyboards or diaries. then to read through every passage with the secondary characters. if my publisher is watching they know i am three years late with this book.
they were they when is your deadline? i would say today. every day. it was a year ago or two years ago. but we finally finished what turned out to be an immersive process by the time we published all the people in the book they know they participated fully to say we need to make it. >> so who wants to ask questions? or do you want to go get pizza?
>> not only are you a fantastic reporter and writer but also for brian denton by nephew in god's son came out as a young photographer can you talk about how you manage risk and how you decide where you will go to see this the that you captured? >> though risk mitigation is about self-management and one of the weaknesses is they tend to be excitable and competitive and people often get into circumstances very
hastily but when i was first working with brian and he had some experience and worked in afghanistan at the beginning of the arab spring and makes it easier to work with someone when they have but we have had a reputation going pretty far forward to have a reason for everything you do. taking risks is but it has to be a journalistic game. we are here for the reader so anything we take on purpose and inform the gift to the readers looking at those
articulate the reason for that last step you took before you get hit. i would build the breaks to people's heads. it is still the blood clot review everything right does that answer your question? given four options to the middle east and with iraq specifically with me to redefine them at of mass distraction when it is look
age-old universal perspective that disconnected between the policymakers and those who do the grunt work and there is a tendency to take it vantage with their sense of glory with their financial situation may not feel comfortable with if this is a species problem and to use force of that nature how has humanity to take greater responsibility from the top and not in a
kaleidoscope of cuvée that is around when i joined the marine corps in the 80s i signed up after the beirut bombing. and in 93 freshman in college that killed 241 marines not an attraction for the weekend and a few years later in the tree and coolly drinking has an all volunteer force and to serve back then or before or even an inscription military but there were lots of draftees that stuck around and they told us
to things why the marine corps was so much better because all the young people volunteered and the other was they had the drugs control. they were not anymore as they were for a number of years. but the marine corps right now. it has this experience from vietnam. and they fed us wine about how great we were. that can do attitude also a curse. . . . .
next? >> recognize some of the characters in the book from your previous writing and was wondering the you could talk about the process or the decision to write a book. was it something that you had previous to meeting these individuals or something you felt needed to be done after interacting with them. >> so it was after. so let me back your question up to talk about character selection. so i selected six primary characters but you could say it was seven or you could add eight because there's a mom who is the protagonist of the last chapter. so six, seven, eight characters. i chose them to operate kind of like an ensemble, each one is playing a different instrument, if you will, to make, together, something more complete. so they're from different phases
and places and times in the war. they're from different doctrines or periods of organization in the wars, they have different periods of equipment, different enemies. the enemies changed. you could compare the intelligence threats that, you know, a marine in 2003 had to, say, a soldier in 2006. they're completely different foes that they were fighting. and then i wanted, within that -- they call it moss in the marine corps. different jobs. so you've got the rotary wing pilot, the strike pilot. i wanted to show how the fighter pilot's careers have changed. they show up thinking they're going to dog fight and almost all of them in my enterolith have been in zero dog fights. and they're involved in -- they're essentially attack aircraft now.
in the role that we've used them. i chose people who were career service members who joined during the cold war period and then people who are compelled into the military after the 2001 attacks in washington and new york. so together i created a mix. from that i did chose a couple of characters who i already knew pretty well. i thought their stories were interesting and i wanted to follow them across time. in the case of doc kirby who is the one i read from here who you might be referring to, his mother really chewed me out one might. i mean she was harsh. gail is an amazing woman. and the people who have a chance surviving war or the afterward period and they come home usually have someone like gail in their life. and gail said, you know, you're a real hot shot going and doing
all of this stuff that you do. it's really cool and full of adrenaline. i hope it works for you. and she says, you're missing the whole story. the adrenaline ends, they come home, they're not in their units anymore and that's when the real shit starts and you don't know anything about it. she was not exactly right. she was listening and she backed that up. but she was almost exactly right. i knew very little about that. ain't didn't hit me until i stopped going out and came home and suddenly felt completely maladjusted for civilian life. i was with -- i had -- the remarks i wrote about 15 minutes before i showed up. when i was with matt, the pilot in the back. matt, can i tell them what you said? you know, matt was talking about his own adjustment more than 2,000 hours flying back hawk han afghanistan and iraq.
and he said, i came home and i went from like 900 miles an hour to standing on a parking brake, you know. it's really hard. and over the years they was writing this book, i was trying to navigate my own feelings of coming home and learning a lot, often, from the veterans who i was working with. and so i chose characters who i thought might be good guides for readers for that experience as well. who is next? >> every platoon has a guy just like you. thank goodness. what did you find out from asking those that you spoke with about their feelings about what they did? in other words, the morality of the situation.
>> okay. >> -- and that sacrifice. >> so i don't know how many people i know who were veterans of these wars. i mean, it's uncountable, some. and obviously i know some much better than others. the characters in the book purposely represent a range of views about the wars and about their own actions. just like any squad, there are people who have different feelings about what they did. individually, as a unit, all the way up to the national level. and without telling you which character is which, one of them still believes the invasion of iraq was justified. another, i think, quite clearly beliefs we should not have invaded iraq. and they would have been better, everyone involved, the troops, iraqis, both countries,
governments, had we not done that. one is not disappointed. she'he's disgusted. absolutely disgusted. and there's another who didn't think at that level. he had squads to run. every day he ran his squads. he had marines to bring home and he didn't have the band withand also the inclination to think through another level of the puzzle. he stayed at his level. i think these are fairly common frameworks among this big population. but what i did not do was select six stock puppets who sound like each other, either a read state, blue state, like me, unlike me. i tried to present their views as those views. and they're a mix. and i'm i' not going to tell you
that i'm sitting on any sort of formal survey data and can speak for the entire class. i won't do it. it's a mix. i think sorrow and disappointment run thick through this cohort of our citizens but they're certainly not universally held feelings. oh, i'm sorry. you're next. yeah. >> you talked a little bit about the disconnect between the broader public and these wars that was created by the end of universal conscription. i think all of us have watched the networks and a lot of our favorite newspapers stopped staffing these conflicts. could you talk a little bit about the state of war journalism in america now and how that impacts our ability to make good decisions about each of these conflicts? >> how many hours you got? i mean, so before we would talk
about the state of war journalism we need to talk about the state of journalism. because 2001 was a very different financial market climate for newspapers and tv stations. that was pretty much pre-startup, right? the internet was around, but it had not done to damage to the business model. or if it had done it, people hadn't caught on to it yet. newspapers arrived at the wars. journalists, the big journalist organizations arrived at the wars with the energy of a nation that had been attacked but also thick with cash. and so after several years the business environment for journalism, fortunately print journalism has dramatically changed and we saw big declines in staff reporting on the ground in these wars.
some of that was financial. some of it was also fatigue. you know, as we became more digital -- i mean, i'm not a click counter and my peers will vouch for that. i haven't looked at the clicks on one of my stories. i wasn't taught how until this spring. and for about a week i kind of looked at a few stories and i haven't looked since. but i hear from the people who count the clicks that, you know, you write an informed, exclusive, interesting story about syria, you get almost no traffic. right? i mean, newspapers, i think, should serve you your vegetables. so i don't really care about the traffic. but i know we have to care at some level. it can't be all vegetables. we have to have other stuff there to survive. but the war coverage is, in part, market driven. and you the market -- no
personally you. you're hear to pay some respect to a war book or you wouldn't be in the room. but the larger public doesn't give a damn, right? i hear we can see it in the data, you know, the entertainment stories will get way more attention than the stories about the wars. so the state of war journalism i think is pretty grim. it's also especially morally frightening. because as we've cut back staffs, there still exists enough interest that many organizations are running war stories and we run them with freelancers who might not have the experience or the safety net. i work for a legit employer. i have health care. i have retirement. i have mental health counseling a phone call away if i want it. i have a support network of coworkers who have worked in all
sorts of dramatic situations here in the united states and abroad. we really, at the "the new york times," i think, have things in place to mostly look out for the well-being of our staff. a freelancer has almost none of that. some have little more than a facebook group or a drinking circle and there's not much worse in my view for someone dealing with war than a drinking circle. just about the worst thing you can have. and yet these are a number of the people providing a significant fraction of the war coverage. and they are a number of the people who were captured in syria and passed -- either captured by isis or passed often to isis and who paid with their lives. i would like to see different models. but remember, i'm the guy who covers the bottom, not the top. i'm not going to tell you what the model is. at a minimum, you know, i salute people like sebastian younger who, when he lost his friend,
did more than grieve. he took steps to provide training to freelancers, basic first-aid live-saving training and simple equipment that can minutes to a life because tim died -- i mean, i don't have a map in front of me so don't hold me to the distance. if i had the map i could tell you exactly. but a few minute drive from a vascular surgeon who would have been able to put clamps on him and perhaps, like i said, would have saved his life. but we'll never know because many of the people at the scene didn't have the life-saving steps or the life-saving skills to safe him. and sebastian has been working on that and i think many of the employers now are being much more careful about giving assignment to people who are going to hop a fence, cross a border and show up at a war and think they're going to dash back and write a story for $400.
i can tell you that's not worth it. that's not a good model and it's, in some ways it's my industry's betrayal on the good heart and good intentions of many people who want to cover real stories and do real things. >> hi. it's my feeling that there will be no significant change in what we've been doing unless there's significant pushback by the enlisted side of the mass of young people we've treated like this. and the officers that you're talking about who now lead our services have always grown up in the all volunteer environment. they've never had to answer to
communities in any significant way. it's my feeling that the only way that they would have to answer those kinds of questions -- there's been no after-actions. just like in vietnam, there's been no after-action about how this happened. just from a military standpoint. you don't have to talk about th. >> can i take two things you said and answer back at you? >> go ahead. >> the first thing you said, the enlisted have to push back. i would agree with that. it's not the military rank and file job to guide the military, at least not much above the patrol level. that's our job. >> i'm talking about the enlisted veterans. >> oh, veterans. yes. the citizens. absolutely. i would see a number of veterans in the room who are trying to do exactly that, but they're small in number. the second thing i would do is agree with you on your other point about the leadership now
has never had to answer for it. and i have like a quip for that, which i will say is this. if we had a draft, it would not be enough for jim maddox to make chuck norris lines and call it a national strategy, right? i mean, you wouldn't get away with that if these wars were connected to what i say often, you know, a male lottery that determined who was going to have to go fight them. you're right. there is not -- i called it uninformed consent. >> so do you feel that -- i know you've outlined your objectives. do you feel that the way you presented these young men -- and i haven't gotten into your book yet. i will. -- what happened to them, do you think that that is capable of supporting the organization to push back. >> no. >> all right.
>> no. i'm very big about managing expectations. every now and then i write something and there's some outcome that people would say objectively is good. i've been writing, you know, most of my adult life. it's happened a handful of times. i'm not -- i don't sit here and say that we're going to have any impact, that there will be much change. yeah, i'm a pessimist. are we done? >> i don't have any more. >> this is if the point where if you were in a platoon, you would be stealing chow. or fuel. [laughter] >> you made a comment about how some guy guys have the band wito look at the big picture and some are running their squad. i'm only a few chapters in so
maybe it's later on in the book. are there any advice, ramblings that you would want to give to the junior officers that are there with them. >> you? >> we'll see what happens next week in north korea. >> so, it's often hard to know what's the right thing to do but you usually know what's the wrong thing. that's sort of a baseline thing that took me a long time in my life to figure out. like 50 years. you usually know what's the wrong thing to do. that's probably the thing to avoid. there's often a lot of pretty good options and you don't know whether it's going to work out until after you've tried it. that's just the nature of life around violence. i mean, the main thing i would say to any officer, young officer, is serve your ideals, not your commander. and listen to your ncos.
i mean, really listen to your ncos. sometimes the best thing you can say is nothing. >> a later follow-up might be, do you get paid for you likeness in dogs of war? >> no. that's a whole other story. i haven't seen the movie but i heard i'm in it. >> i have a question about talk around the idea that we should privatize the war in afghanistan. and i would like to hear what you think about that as a way of dealing with what seems to be an unwillingness to maybe walk away. >> so i'm careful to talk about things i haven't really studied so i can only give you a general answer without talking about the specifics that have been in the news the last couple of days, roughly. anything that takes the wars -- let me back up.
wars are a public act. they're waged by our government with our uninformed consent and our money and our credibility and our blood. as public acts, i think they should be publicly understood. anything that removes them further from the public eyes i think is a grave risk that the wars risk becoming more immoral and less effective. that's not to speak to the specifics of whatever is on the table at the moment. but i'm for more transparency, more discourse, more thoughtful, careful examination of any violent aspects organized urn our foreign policy. and if we make it more private, we make it less visible. so i think i would show up, you know, capital s, capital k, skeptical.
capitals all the way across. and probably more than skeptical. >> unbelievable what you described, nothing comparison. so let me ask you a question. why did you join the marines? so frued says all actions are modified. i you up in a dumpy town and wanted to get out of town and the marine corps was a way to do that. i was more than startled by the attack in 1983 on the marine barracks and thought that there was a new war on and i was curious about it. and i thought the only way to be
curious is to get close and perhaps participate. i believed then and i believe now, even though i consider myself a humanitarian, almost a passivist but not quite. i believe this. i'm going to look you in the eye when i say it. i think there's people in this world who do need to be shot. the problem with wars, i've come to learn, is we shoot the wrong ones the bulk of the time. so what i just said i've come to learn came to me later. i didn't know these things whinnies was 18 or 1wheni was 1o go. >> was it economics or peer pressure? >> there was no peer pressure. my dad was a vietnam vet and pleaded with me not to join the marine corps. made me want to go more.
>> [inaudible] >> i didn't hear you. >> the main thing is the approval. >> i didn't hear you. >> most terrible thing. nothing to interview. >> who is next? we're done, brad? >> so nothing is more humbling for a reporter to go back and took a book treatment on a beat that he or she has been covering for years. it's humbling because you realize how much deeper -- how much maybe you missed in the pressures of daily journalism. i wonder what you learned about your beat, the military beat. i know you write about many
other things as well. and how going forward -- i mean i assume you intend to continue to report on these wars. and so what will you be doing differently? how will the experience of writing the book now influence the kind of stories or how you go about doing these stories? >> so one of the many reasons i have for writing the book is i thought it would be cathartic and be a release for some of my anger. just made me more angry. didn't work. that's what i learned. i learned it was worse than i knew. bigger than i knew. uglier than i knew. had far more victims than i could count, that the rings of people around the immediately affected were far more extensive than i had even imagined. what i'll do differently, well i don't know how much of that is
related to the book. i might have phased my career or my life where -- i mean, there's probably a few people here who used to read me pretty regularly because i was in the paper all of the time. that's not me knew. i work for the magazine. i've been involved in a number of long, slow-developing projects. and that's what i'm going to keep doing. we have a number of them on the list that are in various stages of incubation. we have more that we're going to add soon. i'm working with other reporters, including two veterans who are in this room, some alone that i'll do. but i intend to keep doing sort of long form, deep dives, slow build journalism and i've got to find some place to put this anger beside twitter, right? so that's where it will go.
>> you want to sign some books? >> sure. [applause] >> so the copies of chris' book are available at the checkout desk at the front. he'll be up here signing. please form a line to the right of the table and please fold up your chairs. thank you. this year book tv marks our 20th year of bringing you the country's top nonfiction authors and their latest books. find us every weekend on c-span 2 or online at booktv. or.org. here's a look at the counter best selling nonfiction books.