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Updated 11:00 AM November 1, 2004
 

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  The New Yorker College Tour
Hersh traces journalistic path from My Lai to Abu Ghraib

Seymour Hersh, an investigative reporter for The New Yorker, has written about wartime incidents from the 1968 My Lai massacre to Abu Ghraib. After all those years, one of the things that haunts him most is a comment made by a mother of one of the soldiers involved in My Lai.
Much of the information in [Hersh's] stories comes from people within the federal bureaucracy who don't like some of the actions taken by the government.

"She said, 'I sent them a good boy, and they sent back a murderer,'" Hersh recalled during a visit to campus Oct. 26.

Hersh spoke at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre as part of The New Yorker College Tour, presented by the University Activities Center's Speaker Initiative. Hersh and New Yorker Editor David Remnick shared the stage for a discussion about journalistic ethics, war, the presidential election and more.

Hersh said the main difference between the Vietnam conflict and the current war is that American security was not at risk during the Vietnam era. "We have a strategic crisis right now," he said.

The torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was especially shameful for the victims because of the standards of Iraqi culture. What soldiers did to the prisoners, he said, created a "moral problem" for the United States because Arabs look at the incident and ask, "Who would do something like this?"

In a modern replay of the story about the soldier involved in My Lai, Hersh told about a woman whose daughter was a soldier in Iraq. The woman called Hersh and told him her daughter had become despondent, had left her family and had covered her body with tattoos. The woman looked on her daughter's computer for clues as to what had gone wrong and discovered photos of dogs attacking a man in Iraq, Hersh said.

When discussing actions he believes the United States should take in Iraq, Hersh noted that American officers were talking to members of the insurgency in summer 2003, and he said they should do that again. "I think we have to talk to the [people leading] the insurgency," he said.

Much of the information in his stories comes from people within the federal bureaucracy who don't like some of the actions taken by the government, he said. There are people in the FBI and CIA, he said, "who care as much about the Constitution as anybody here." He said it is important to use unnamed sources on occasion to protect workers or soldiers who could be punished for their comments.

The long-term effects on the soldiers fighting in the war could be devastating, he said. "We can look forward to many billions of dollars in long-term care," as well as a strong emotional drain, he said.

"The question you have to ask is, 'What for?'" he said.

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