Photograph by Ann Schertz
CBS News correspondent Lara Logan refused to live in the Green Zone in Baghdad, lived with Iraqis and has drunk vodka with the Taliban during her seven years cover war in the Middle East. She shared some of her experiences with Bloomington at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on Oct. 12.
CBS chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan's talk at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on Oct. 12, 2010, was a fascinating exploration of war reporting, as well as an intriguing insight into the possibilities of her future CBS News foreign affairs reportage.
Logan spoke to a full house and kept the audience rapt throughout. Her appearance was sponsored by the IU School of Journalism.
Bloomington activist David Keppel commended Logan on her personal, professional and political courage in covering war and asked, "How do you approach the challenge of making equally compelling television out of less obviously dramatic but equally important stories, including the underlying social and political problems, as well as progress in improving the situations in, say, Pakistan and globally?"
Logan said she produces material on a range of topics, including stories about those who are impacted by war, as well as the war itself.
"Great characters make great stories," she said, offering an anecdote about a young Afghan boy whose legs were blown off by a mine. He was taken to a hospital in the United States, "where he was given new legs" and returned home. "It is no fun dealing with prosthetics in Afghanistan," she said, noting that the boy later stated, "'Being hit by that mine was the best thing that ever happened to me.'"
While introducing Logan, journalism professor Steve Raymer said she was from the same mold as the great war correspondents Ernie Pyle and David Halberstam, among others.
Halberstam spoke at the Buskirk-Chumley a couple of years ago and concluded that the United States' wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were mistakes. "God bless the people who are standing on the corner out there who are demanding immediate withdrawal," he said.
Logan did not advocate immediate U.S. military withdrawal from that region of the world. However, she said the United States should never have invaded Iraq -- "We should have concentrated on Afghanistan" -- and that "you can't rebuild a country."
The United States' "biggest mistake in Afghanistan" was staying there, she said.
Logan began her lecture with a partial showing of her 60 Minutes report titled "Relentless Enemy," which included a firefight when her Humvee got stuck in the Afghan war zone. A U.S. commander twice refused to repeat, on the record, a story he told her of a recent incident in which Iranian-made armor-piercing bullets caused the deaths of four American soldiers patrolling in an armored Humvee. Logan said Iran is supplying weaponry that is killing troops, and she endorsed military action against Iran.
And unless the United States does something to eliminate the safe havens in Pakistan, "we are wasting our time" in Afghanistan, she said. She recommended aid and visa cutoffs unless Pakistan agrees to extradite wanted people to the United States on a continuing basis.
Logan also relayed the feelings of frustration and the futility of a war that has dragged on for nine years, quoting a U.S. commander who told her, "Even if we kill 30 of them in an attack, they will keep coming back the next day."
Logan is no chicken-hawk. During her seven years in the region she refused to live in the Green Zone while in Iraq, lived with Afghans and has drunk vodka with some of the Taliban.
An anecdote she provided brought together her motherhood and war reporting. She was "low-crawling" in the dirt, under fire, seven months pregnant, when her camera man said, "We have to go on camera now." She had her mouth crammed with peanuts. "Nothing will get in the way of a pregnant woman's urge for food," she said.
Referring to her physical beauty, Keppel said, "She defied some of the obvious reductive labels that might be applied to her." After the event, he added, "I went away with considerable respect for her."
IU School of Journalism student Susan Hu commented after the event, "I really appreciate her passion about her job."
Logan said Afghan insurgents are more committed to the fight than Americans and hoped that someday Americans would embody that zeal as well. "Someday we will get there," she said.
She said she felt the task in Afghanistan was not over and told the audience: "If you don't believe that they are planning another attack sometime. ..."
"I don't want to have to wear a Burqa," Logan asserted. "Do you know that in Saudi Arabia women aren't allowed to drive? ... That is not my idea of ideology."
Logan made it clear that she did not feel all Muslims wanted to destroy America.
Bloomington author James Alexander Thom identified himself as a Marine and offered Logan the greeting "Semper Fi," which means "Always Faithful" and is the motto and way of life for Marines.
"Some of us feel that the attack and aftermath of what has happened in Iraq is a war crime," he said. "Do you agree with that assessment?"
"No, I don't," she replied, arguing that nothing in international law says the U.S. attack and occupation of Iraq was a war crime.
Logan used the question as a way to discuss the difference between news media and what she referred to as "the bloggers."
"You can say it's a war crime, and you can go online and read the blogs and find 1,000 people who agree with you," she said. "However, when you go to the media and try to find anything on it, it's not there!"
Logan said newspapers are in decline, the "'evening news' is on its way out, and special reporting like 60 Minutes" is the way of the future. She is also a 60 Minutes correspondent.
Logan ended her presentation with a story.
A car, obviously carrying a bomb, was parked near a check point in Afghanistan. Rather than having the bomb squad neutralize the bomb, the Afghan commander said, "Let me show you how to take care of this," and fired a missile at the car.
Instead of hitting the car and detonating the bomb, the missile was deflected up into a tree, which was shading the car. It hit a Taliban in the tree, who fell in his white robe to the ground. He was wearing a suicide vest, and when he hit the ground, it exploded and activated the car bomb.
"You simply can't make this stuff up," Logan said, adding she "hated" the Academy Award-winning movie The Hurt Locker. "Nothing in that movie was realistic," she said. "... For example, you don't have fire fights in the desert. You identify where they are and call in an air strike to obliterate them."
David Stewart can be reached at email@example.com.