Monthly Archives: June 2008

Darfur and the International Criminal Court

Alex de Waal and Julie Flint had an op-ed in Saturday’s Washington Post questioning the wisdom of ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo going after a senior Sudanese official for war crimes in Darfur. They fear it could hurt prospects for peace.   For a completely different view, read Eric Reeves’s blistering response.


African leaders want Mugabe to negotiate with the opposition 

The United States wants more sanctions on Mugabe’s regime.

I did a story today on foreign investment in Zimbabwe and the possibility of business sanctions. They’re not on the table yet but there’s a sense that if the crisis drags on they could be.  Here’s the link.

And here’s a related piece from IRIN.


War Crimes

Heard this chilling essay by the BBC’s Nick Thorpe as I was driving from Charlottesville to Richmond in the pre-dawn darkness yesterday to catch an early flight home to  Boston. Just found it on-line and thought it worth posting. 


Forgot to say Ed Ayers is also one of the three “American History Guys” on the new radio show/podcast BackStory. He says it’s like “Car Talk” for history buffs. Check it out.


The McLean House where Lee surrendered to Grant in 1865.

So, surprise, surprise, none of these wars I’m looking at have clear or clean endings. I interviewed the historian Ed Ayers today (Thursday). He’s now the President of the University of Richmond.  His name came up when I first started digging around for my how-wars-end project last fall. A couple of people mentioned an essay he’d published in 2005 drawing parallels between Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War and the U.S. adventure in Iraq. The essay, “Exporting Reconstruction” in his collection What Caused the Civil War? was also adapted into a piece for the New York Times Magazine called “The First Occupation.”  Anyway, I looked up the essay and the magazine piece and thought, I have to talk to this guy. Today I got my chance. We talked a bit about the ideas in that essay, but more about historical memory. I asked him about Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House and its meaning as the official ending of the Civil War. Here’s a taste of what Ayers had to say:

We love the story of Appomattox, because it’s the closest we come to a clean ending. A gentlemanly handshake between the two great generals, stack the guns and walk home and why don’t you just take your mule or horse with you and put your crops in the ground. We just love that story, not thinking about really, days after that Abraham Lincoln’s assassinated, and then two years after that military reconstruction begins, and then a decade after that reconstruction finally comes to an end. Because in many ways, I think Americans are most uncomfortable with the period of reconstruction of anything else in our history. Because it’s not a story, it doesn’t have any kind of  shape to it, it just kind of explodes.

We like (Appomattox) because that’s the story of the soldiers. It’s the soldiers acting the way we like them acting, which is very civilized, and clean, and playing by the rules. It’s almost like the end of a ball game. You know, OK, wrap it up, go home. Hey, good game. It’s dangerous for us to lose sight of what was at stake in the war, really how raggedly brutal the war was, what a waste it was, how uncertainly it came to be about slavery, how tenaciously the white South fought for generations to erase as much as they could of what the war had decided. People may think well that’s being morose or politically correct or whatever but it’s just an analytical fact that if you think of the war as being something other than just the battles on the battlefield, but what caused it, what it was for, what its consequences were, then it took a very long time for the Civil War to come to anything like an end.


Obviously there are other views on this. But you can see why it’s so interesting to me as I explore how the war ended, when exactly it ended, what sort of peace followed…



After the interview I drove down Monument Avenue toward downtown Richmond past the towering statues of Confederate heroes (that’s Robert E. Lee above), and, rather incongruously, tennis star Arthur Ashe.






Here’s an update from Reuters on the wrangling at the International Criminal Court over whether or not to go ahead with the Thomas Lubanga case. 



Eric Reeves: Darfur’s Perfect Storm in the The Guardian (on-line)

Joint Statement by UN agencies on “increasingly precarious situation” in Darfur.


I’m not the only one at PRI’s The World obsessing about WWI. My colleague Carol Hills has launched a blog called World War 1: American Soldier’s Letters Home.  It’s based on her grandfather’s letters home from France nine decades ago. Here’s a taste from October 8, 1917:

Since I wrote you last saying how wonderful the weather was it hasn’t stopped raining for a minute and we are living and working in a perfect sea of mud and have no chance to get dry or warm unless you go to bed which isn’t all that it might be as the tents are rather fragile and the only other accommodations are under ground.We have too, for the last few days been working rather hard so you can imagine our state, just walking, shivering cakes of mud.

I recently found out that my own (British) grandfather served on the Western Front and at Gallipoli. But as far as we know there’s no trove of letters. Thanks for this Carol. I look forward to diving in.


Just back from another reporting trip for how wars end—this time to Washington for interviews about the 1991 Gulf War, the Bosnian War and the current Iraq War. This coming week I’ll be in Virginia researching the end of the Civil War. I have suddenly reached the point in the project where I can begin to imagine and hear the final segments. For a while there I was simply lost in a fog of trying to do too much at once: read up on the conflicts themselves, plan travel and interviews, execute said travel and interviews, and stay abreast of my other responsibilities for the show. Until one starts collecting and amassing the material one needs for something like this the whole ideas feels tenuous. I am happy to report that it no longer does so.  I remember hitting a similar moment in doing other longer-term projects, including my history of Iraq and my history of US-Iranian relations. 

On another topic, I have made a page for links to my stories about sexual violence in conflict, including last week’s breakthrough at the U.N. Security Council. I realized it was time to start gathering them in one place as I think about what angles to pursue next. 

More on Darfur

Washington Post piece today: “A Wide-Open Battle for Power in Darfur.”