Note: about 2/3ds of this was deleted (I blame either WordPress, iPad, or myself). Will try to reconstruct the talk below. Also, there are minor edits.
I’m in NH at St. Anslem College, listening to Jake Tapper speak about his career as a war correspondent.
He describes “The Outpost” as the most intense professional project of his life, a way to help Americans understand the military and why the war in Afghanistan is so difficult. He wants readers to understand counter-insurgency: how Americans fight insurgents by driving them out of their villages, work with the villagers to help, and work with the families who may have insurgents in their families or as friends.
Tapper wants readers to understand this “Not just intellectually, but emotionally”; the fear, difficulties, and struggles of American soldiers.
“It is not for me to judge” the policies of the war, Tapper says. He believes that between three and seven thousand troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
The two small arguments made are that we need to equip our troops if we send them into harm’s way; the outpost did not have enough a equipment, including helicopters. Strategically, there were problems with sending provisions to the troops.
Tapper also said that there is an “inertia of Army thinking.”. Outpost Keating was too vulnerable and not accomplishing anything; due to some stubbornness (my words, not Mr. Tapper’s), the outpost remained in operation.
Question and Answer session (sorry, this was in the original post but is not in any Autosave versions, so it’s not complete and is to the best of my memory):
Q: How do you think that being in the military influences policy-makers?
A: Tapper never served, but learned a tremendous amount through his experiences in reporting on the wars in the Middle East. He cited several anti-war veterans, as well as hawkish non-veterans, to highlight how service does not always make one pro-war.
Q: What are your thoughts on caring for our military men and women?
A: The Rand Institute estimated that 20% of the 2 million men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD. Tapper thinks that estimate is low. He spoke of a soldier he met who turned to self-medicating through alcohol and drugs and died after taking an overdose; that soldier was getting mental health treatment for the trauma. Tapper stated that this is a huge public health issue and one that mental health treatment should be a priority for our country. Many soldiers feel ashamed to receive such treatment.
Q: How did writing this book change you?
A: “At one point, I turned to my wife and said, ‘I’m such a piece of s—.'” Tapper said that he learned a lot from the soldiers – some of whom were elite, highly educated men who decided to serve their country – about bravery, courage, and service.
Q: How did you get into your career?
A: Tapper was not a journalism major, but when he graduated, he realised that people will write about anything. He first wrote about Jason Shu, a Melrose Place actor, and then began writing about anything that other people weren’t writing about.
The American public does want to know more about the wars. One of the goals in writing the book was to show how brutal war is, e.g. what a rocket propelled grenade actually does to a human body, without being gratuitously violent or graphic.