[Note for TomDispatch Readers: The newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse's riveting reportorial trip into a war-crimes zone, Next Time They'll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan, is now officially out. I can't tell you how proud I am that we're publishing such a personal and unsettling work. It's powerful and -- believe me -- unforgettable. Noam Chomsky writes of it: "A vivid, gripping account of inhuman cruelty, laced with rays of hope and courage and dignity amidst the horrors." Adam Hochschild calls it "searing reporting." I simply call it moving and horrifying. As always, with Nick's books, for a contribution of $100 or more ($125 if you live outside the U.S.), you can get a signed, personalized copy and in the process help ensure that more Dispatch Books appear in the world. Check our donation page for the details. Above all, I urge every TomDispatch reader to buy a copy, if not for yourself, then for someone else (maybe that college student you know who might someday be the next great investigative reporter). Help make the latest Dispatch Book a genuine success.
With that in mind, I've asked Haymarket Books, the fantastic publisher of our imprint, to offer TD readers a discount on it. Here's all you have to do: click on this link, which will take you to the Haymarket website. Then click "add to cart," select the number of books you want, and click on "checkout." After you've filled out your shipping and billing information, you will be asked to enter a "coupon code." To purchase one book, enter TURSE25 and you'll get 25% off the cover price; for five or more books, enter TURSE40 and you'll get 40% off. Tom]
Every now and then, I teach a class to young would-be journalists and one of the first things I talk about is why I consider writing an act of generosity. As they are usually just beginning to stretch their writerly wings, their task, as I see it, is to enter the world we're already in (it's generally the only place they can afford to go) and somehow decode it for us, make us see it in a new way. And who can deny that doing so is indeed an act of generosity? But for the foreign correspondent, especially in war zones, the generosity lies in the very act of entering a world filled with dangers, a world that the rest of us might not be capable of entering, or for that matter brave enough to enter, and somehow bringing us along with them.
I thought about this recently when I had in my hands the first copy of Nick Turse's new Dispatch Book, Next Time They'll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan, and flipped it open to its memorable initial paragraph, one I already new well, and began to read it all over again:
"Their voices, sharp and angry, shook me from my slumber. I didn't know the language but I instantly knew the translation. So I groped for the opening in the mosquito net, shuffled from my downy white bed to the window, threw back the stained tan curtain, and squinted into the light of a new day breaking in South Sudan. Below, in front of my guest house, one man was getting his ass kicked by another. A flurry of blows connected with his face and suddenly he was on the ground. Three or four men were watching."
Nick, TomDispatch's managing editor and a superb historian as well as reporter, spent years in a war-crimes zone of the past to produce his award-winning book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. It was a harrowing historical journey for which he traveled to small villages on the back roads of Vietnam to talk to those who had experienced horrific crimes decades earlier. In 2015, however, on his second trip to South Sudan, a country the U.S. helped bring into existence, he found himself in an almost unimaginable place where the same kinds of war crimes were being committed right then and there in a commonplace way, where violence was the coin of the realm, and horrors of various sorts were almost guaranteed to be around the next corner. In his new book, he brings us with him into such a world in a way that is deeply memorable. Ann Jones, author of They Were Soldiers, calls him "the wandering scribe of war crimes." And she adds, "Reading Turse will turn your view of war upside down... There's no glory here in Turse's pages, but the clear voices of people caught up in this fruitless cruelty, speaking for themselves."
Next Time They'll Come to Count the Dead is, I think, the definition of an act of generosity. Nick has just returned from his latest trip to South Sudan and today's post gives you a sense of the ongoing brutalities and incongruities of life there (and here as well). Tom
Donald Trump in South Sudan
What Trumps the Horrors of a Hellscape? The Donald!
By Nick Turse
LEER, South Sudan -- I'm sitting in the dark, sweating. The blinding white sun has long since set, but it's still in the high 90s, which is a relief since it was above 110 earlier. Slumped in a blue plastic chair, I'm thinking back on the day, trying to process everything I saw, the people I spoke with: the woman whose home was burned down, the woman whose teenage daughter was shot and killed, the woman with 10 mouths to feed and no money, the glassy-eyed soldier with the AK-47.
Then there were the scorched ruins: the wrecked houses, the traditional wattle-and-daub tukuls without roofs, the spectral footprints of homes set aflame by armed raiders who swept through in successive waves, the remnants of a town that has ceased to exist.
And, of course, there were the human remains: a field of scattered skulls and femurs and ribs and pelvises and spinal columns.
And I'm sitting here -- spent, sweaty, stinking -- trying to make sense of it all about 10 feet from a sandbagged bunker I'm supposed to jump into if the shooting starts again. "It's one of the worse places in the world," someone had assured me before I left South Sudan's capital, Juba, for this hellscape of burnt-out buildings and unburied bones that goes by the name of Leer.
A lantern on a nearby table casts a dim glow on an approaching aid worker, an African with a deep knowledge of this place. He's come to fetch his dinner. I'm hoping to corral him and pick his brain about the men who torched this town, burned people alive, beat and murdered civilians, abducted, raped, and enslaved women and children, looted and pillaged and stole.
Before I can say a word, he beats me to the punch with his own set of rapid-fire questions: "This man called Trump -- what's going on with him? Who's voting for him? Are you voting for him?" He then proceeds to tell me everything he's heard about the Republican frontrunner -- how Trump is tarnishing America's global image, how he can't believe the things Trump says about women and immigrants.
Here, where catastrophic food insecurity may tip into starvation at any time, where armed men still arrive in the night to steal and rape. ("They could come any night. You might even hear them tonight. You'll hear the women screaming," another aid worker told me earlier in the day.) Here, where horrors abound, this man wants -- seemingly needs -- to know if Donald Trump could actually be elected president of the United States. "I'm really afraid," he says of the prospect without a hint of irony.