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Newsweek Middle East editor Janine di Giovanni, reading from her new book, 'Dispatches from Syria: The Morning They Came for Us,' at Griffin in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Horror stories: War correspondent’s ‘Dispatches from Syria’

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By Friday, Dec 30, 2016 Arts & Entertainment 3

Great Barrington — She’s been dragged from a car at gunpoint, marched into the woods and threatened with rape. Some of her friends and colleagues have been kidnapped, others, beheaded.

But award-winning war reporter Janine di Giovanni keeps going back into war zones to make sure the stories get told. And when she leaves, she worries about the safety of the sources she leaves behind, and takes all measures to protect them. She spent two decades covering the Middle East, then Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, and more recently Syria.

In her book The Morning They Came for Us, Dispatches from Syria she describes what is “a terrible fever” that propelled her back to Bosnia, for instance, to trace the movements of war criminals, to keep these stories alive because “I wanted people never to forget.”

She said she wanted her fever to break, “but it never did” as war criminals “went unpunished.”

Di Giovanni knows war well, with its extremes of atrocities, heartbreak and “boredom.” In Dispatches, the Paris-based Middle East editor of Newsweek has written about it from the civilian perspective. She gave a reading at Griffin in Great Barrington on Wednesday (December 28), and talked about the “proxy wars” that have torn Syria apart and the unimaginable violence that has destroyed so many lives there and spawned a massive refugee crisis.

Di Giovanni described what war is really like.

“War means endless waiting, endless boredom. There is no electricity, so no television. You can’t read. You can’t see friends. You grow depressed but there is no treatment for it and it makes no sense to complain – everyone is as badly off as you. It’s hard to fall in love, or rather hard to stay in love. If you are a teenager, you seem halted in time.”

Janine di Giovanni, in Syria in 2013. Photo: Peter Nicholls

Janine di Giovanni, in Syria in 2013. Photo: Peter Nicholls

And that is the very least of it.

“After a city falls is the most dangerous time for human rights.” She said the fall of Aleppo was “the worst — there were no protections.”

In Dispatches she tells stories of rape and torture. Stories of little girls offering Syrian soldiers money to not kill them during a family massacre, or to spare a baby brother.

“I was for Obama until Syria,” di Giovanni said in response to a question at the reading. “If you want to be the world’s policeman, you have to step up…there should have been a simple message in 2013, ‘you will not commit another genocide on our watch.’ ”

'The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria.' By Janine di Giovanni. Liverright Publishers, N.Y. Imprint of W.W. Norton & Company. 2016. $25.95. 206 pages.

‘The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria.’ By Janine di Giovanni. Liverright Publishers, N.Y. Imprint of W.W. Norton & Company. 2016. $25.95. 206 pages.

Russia, she said, “Pummeled the city of Aleppo, turned it into a parking lot…the big target, hospitals and schools.” This, she said, gave Russia a “foothold into a very prosperous region.”

She said Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has also “done horrific things to his own people,” and to make alliances with him is like “cozying up to Stalin.”

As for President-elect Donald Trump: “I have yet to work out what Trump’s foreign policy is.”

She explained the complexity of how this happened in Syria, and said that the “dismemberment of Iraq” was the original trigger for all of it.

Someone in the audience said, “We’re not going to see an end to this war in a very long time.”

“No, we’re not,” di Giovanni said. “We’re not.”

And as for all the shattered lives, she lays blame on the United States. “Obama checked out morally in 2013.”

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3 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Elie Katzman says:

    Excellent article about the horror of war, but why does it report about the “dismemberment of Iraq” being the original trigger of the war in Syria, and then puts blame on President Obama, when this “dismemberment” took place under the administration of Bush and Cheney?

    1. Don says:

      Bush & Cheney led us into two disastrous wars but Iraq was largely intact when Obama took office but he checked-out after 2011 and the rest is history. Great presidents of the past, FDR, Reagan, led us into both war and peace successfully. Oh, for their wisdom and leadership in the 21st century.

  2. Stephen L. Cohen says:

    Is it her opinion that Obama should have committed American ground troops to fight in combat formations in Syria, or does she believe a no-fly zone should have been attempted? The studies I have seen from the military show that a no-fly zone would have required a large American military presence also, and would have been politically difficult because of the Turkish/Kurdish situation. Additionally, it seems impossible to ascertain which rebel groups are not in some way associated with groups hostile to the US.
    Perhaps the author should think about the use of a multi-national force such as NATO or the UN; or preferably a middle eastern coalition of Muslim nations. Certainly a “Crusader” army helped dramatically the rise of Isis and other anti-western groups after Bush administrations invasions. While the Syrian bloodbath is horrible, it would be very difficult, and politically impossible, for the US to bring in the tens of thousands of troops needed to establish order in a civil war which also has involved the combat forces of Russia, Turkey and Hezbollah.
    I would be curious to hear what her opinion is concerning possible actions by the United States.

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