Graham Smith, a senior producer for NPR’s All Things Considered, had a lot to share with the students who attended Monday’s Master’s Tea in Calhoun College. Instead of summarizing the talk, I’m going to follow Smith’s own method for putting together an episode of the show:
“It’s called All Things Considered but we don’t really consider all things,” Smith said. “We’re going to consider the most interesting stuff today, and the really important stuff, and a couple of things that made us laugh.”
Let’s begin with the most interesting and really important stuff.
In one section of his presentation, Smith talked about a particular experience he had as an embedded reporter with a particular group of soldiers in Afghanistan. His report, published Nov. 12, 2009, details the destruction of a Stryker armored vehicle by an IED. During the Master’s Tea, Smith also read excerpts of his personal blog and shared photographs, some of which are on NPR website.
Something horrifyingly beautiful is encapsulated in Smith’s photographs. A smoldering Stryker armored vehicle sits in a field that, lacking the destruction, would resemble the kind of picaresque rural landscape you see in America. The afternoon has set in, and the sun casts a golden light on the grass over which the soldiers are running. Some houses, obscured by trees whose colors are beginning to change in the early November, are visible in the background. Breathtaking mountains loom over the scene – purple mountain majesties towering over what look like amber waves of grain.
We don’t often see this side of the war. We see the grim faces of soldiers, or tanks rolling through the desert, or wounded men being loaded into helicopters. We seldom see, with the exception of the poppy fields, the beauty of the country being ravaged by the war. But this beauty stands in stark contrast to the soldiers’ raw emotions and fear — they understand the importance of building relationships with the Afghan people. The troops genuinely want to help the people. But the difficulty of measuring success and the inability to rely on the locals for accurate information — as many fear reprisal by the terrorists — frustrates.
Something that made me laugh:
Smith said that when he was in Baghdad, the NPR building was right across the street from the Fox News building.
“We got together all the time and played ping-pong, and had parties, and it was great,” Smith said.