This winter, National Geographic asked me to interview my friend, photographer Jim Nachtwey for their series on explorers and risk takers. It was an unusual fit—and the magazine published a *very* condensed excerpt of our conversation. So here I’ve posted more. He’s the kind you could always listen to a little longer.
Dispatch from Iraq: How Long Does Identity Last?
The young men looked at each other for a moment, then back at me, eyes flitting, smiles shy. They were deciding how to avoid my question.
“We don’t talk about that stuff here,” said the larger student, shifting on his feet.
His companion nodded. “Yes, we leave those things.”
Dispatches from Afghanistan
The American Scholar is featuring a series of my dispatches from Afghanistan, called “Snapshots of a Fading War.” These short, impressionistic pieces attempt to fill in some blank spaces in our view of the war, describing what happens behind and between the lines. The series began in December 2012 and ran for 14 weeks.
The Afghanistan effect, or: Making Taliban
The soldiers around me were barely visible, but I could smell them. They had not washed for days, and a sharp musk of sweat and sleeplessness, tobacco and chemically mummified food, wove through the fields and orchards. It was after midnight, moonless, the stars brilliant but unhelpful. The soldiers wore night-vision goggles, but I did not, so I stumbled after their scent along the remote edge of a fading war, envisioning things I could not see.
Stumbling Towards Victory in Iraq
Second Lieutenant Dave Hagner was tall and smooth-faced, and like many other marines he carried himself in a way that brought his toughness into uncomfortable contrast with his youth. He was twenty-seven, older than the men in the platoon he commanded. During the day he worked out and joked around and daydreamed of the boat he would buy when he left the Marine Corps. It was long and sleek, and probably it would be white. It would whisk him light and free above Hawaiian reefs, chasing marlin, sailfish, sharks. He intended, in retirement, to be an old man by the sea.