In Praise of John F. Burns

Tue, 21 Oct 2008 17:40:07 +0000

Today, Dartmouth welcomes John F. Burns as a Montgomery Fellow. He will present a lecture this afternoon, "Five Years in Iraq: Which Way Home?" He is currently the London bureau chief for The New York Times, but had previously worked five years as a journalist in Iraq. I tip my hat to reporters who have gone into the field to provide the direct accounts and cogent analyses of what has been happening in the Middle East.

From the similarity of the titles and a preview of the talk I got this morning in an informal breakfast with faculty, I think this article on the fifth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq is a good description of what he's learned from his experiences. An excerpt that I liked:

In time, those who launched the war will answer in history, as much as they will claim the credit if America ultimately finds a way home with honor, and without destroying all it went to Iraq to achieve. But reporters, too, may wish to make an accounting. If we accurately depicted the horrors of Saddam’s Iraq in the run-up to the war, with its charnel houses and mass graves, we have to acknowledge that we were less effective, then, in probing beneath the carapace of terror to uncover other facets of Iraq’s culture and history that would have a determining impact on the American project to build a Western-style democracy, or at least the basics of a civil society.

It was not easy, with a reporter’s every move scrutinized by Saddam Hussein’s lugubrious minders, to undertake that kind of in-depth reporting. But from the exhaustive reporting in the years since, Americans now know how deeply traumatized Iraqis were by the brutality of Saddam, and how deep was the poison of fear and distrust. They also know, in detail, through the protracted trials of Mr. Hussein and his senior henchmen, of the inner workings of the merciless machinery that transported victims to the torture chambers and mass graves.

Read the whole thing. And if you are in Hanover this afternoon, be sure to attend the talk.

UPDATE: Here's the report on his talk from The Dartmouth.