Longform’s Picks of the Week

Longform’s Picks of the Week

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

Confessions of a Drone Warrior, by Matthew Power, GQ

Meet the 21st-century American killing machine, who’s still utterly, terrifyingly human.

Despite President Obama’s avowal earlier this year that he will curtail their use, drone strikes have continued apace in Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan. With enormous potential growth and expenditures, drones will be a center of our policy for the foreseeable future. (By 2025, drones will be an $82 billion business, employing an additional 100,000 workers.) Most Americans-61 percent in the latest Pew survey-support the idea of military drones, a projection of American power that won’t risk American lives.

And yet the very idea of drones unsettles. They’re too easy a placeholder or avatar for all of our technological anxieties-the creeping sense that screens and cameras have taken some piece of our souls, that we’ve slipped into a dystopia of disconnection. Maybe it’s too soon to know what drones mean, what unconsidered moral and ethical burdens they carry. Even their shape is sinister: the blunt and featureless nose cone, like some eyeless creature that has evolved in darkness.

For Bryant, talking about them has become a sort of confessional catharsis, a means of processing the things he saw and did during his six years in the Air Force as an experimental test subject in an utterly new form of warfare.

John Moore/Getty Images

Enduring Exile, by Alia Malek, Guernica

A family’s journey from Armenia to Syria and back again.

But by September, six months into the uprising and crackdown, no one could avoid a certain vulgar calculus: Anto was marked, a Syrian-Armenian Christian in a Syria of looming sectarianism.

Aleppo was home to tens of thousands of other Syrian Armenians, but in these hills, Anto was alone. “You’re like an Arab in Tel Aviv,” a man from Idlib told him.

Idlib and the surrounding area were becoming strongholds for opposition fighters, both secularists and jihadists. In the growing chaos, religion and ethnicity had become a congenital liability: the wrong belief or background, at the wrong moment, could be fatal. Guilt had become collective; one individual could be traded for another of the same sect or community in escalating cycles of brutality and vengeance.

To the more conservative people in the hills, Anto was already an affront, with the alcohol serving, singing, and gender-mixing in his restaurant. For the more ignorant, his being neither Muslim nor Arab-despite his being Syrian-made him fair game as a scapegoat for a regime that claimed to be supported by minorities. It also made him an easy target for kidnappers hoping to net a pretty ransom without the risk of angering a much more numerous or powerful community. For those who, in their fervor, believed a better Syria required that everyone be the same, there would be little room for him. Pragmatic Syrians reasoned that the casualties would be many before anyone would stop to consider or even question the hell that they had just meted upon each other.


The War of Rape, by Stephanie Mencimer, the Washington Monthly

What happened to Jamie Leigh Jones in Iraq?

And yet there’s a strange paradox about sexual assault. The crime is massively underreported to law enforcement, but at the same time, a fair number of people lie about it. The best official estimates suggest that between 8 percent and 10 percent of all rape claims are false. And unfortunately, sometimes when people lie about rape, they lie spectacularly. Crystal Mangum did so in 2006 when she brought charges against members of the Duke University lacrosse team. Tawana Brawley did so in 1987 when, as a teenager, she nearly sparked race wars in New York by falsely accusing six white men, including police officers and a prosecutor, of raping her.

As told in the media, Jones’s story neatly fit the feminist rape scenario. Brushed off by law enforcement, she sought justice with a civil case, only to be victimized again by defense lawyers using her sexual history to try to discredit her. Her story was both haunting and familiar. Even so, there were some glaring departures from the standard narrative: law enforcement did not, in fact, brush off Jones’s case, a fact that reporters glossed over in the early coverage of her story.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images


Why Have Young People in Japan Stopped Having Sex?, by Abigail Haworth, the Guardian

What happens to a country when its young people stop having sex? Japan is finding out…

Is Japan providing a glimpse of all our futures? Many of the shifts there are occurring in other advanced nations, too. Across urban Asia, Europe and America, people are marrying later or not at all, birth rates are falling, single-occupant households are on the rise and, in countries where economic recession is worst, young people are living at home. But demographer Nicholas Eberstadt argues that a distinctive set of factors is accelerating these trends in Japan. These factors include the lack of a religious authority that ordains marriage and family, the country’s precarious earthquake-prone ecology that engenders feelings of futility, and the high cost of living and raising children.

“Gradually but relentlessly, Japan is evolving into a type of society whose contours and workings have only been contemplated in science fiction,” Eberstadt wrote last year. With a vast army of older people and an ever-dwindling younger generation, Japan may become a “pioneer people” where individuals who never marry exist in significant numbers, he said.


The Price of War, by Letta Tayler, Foreign Policy

A new report details the civilian costs of U.S. drone strikes — and failures to compensate the families of victims. 

The Obama administration acknowledges the program’s existence but, with rare exceptions, refuses to publicly confirm individual strikes, including the six that I investigated during two trips to Yemen.  Among the details that the United States will not reveal are how many people it has killed, including civilians. It also refuses to detail the full legal framework under which it carries out the killings, or what actions it takes, if any, when attacks go awry.

In Yemen, it’s an open secret that the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command have carried out an estimated 80 targeted killings in the country since 2009, killing more than 470 people, most with drone-launched missiles. Yet the United States has only formally acknowledged the two strikes that killed three American citizens: the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, whom U.S. officials described as chief of foreign operations for AQAP; Samir Khan, the editor of AQAP’s English-language magazine, Inspire; and Awlaki’s teenage son Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in an attack that targeted someone else.

It’s as if the hundreds of Yemenis also killed in U.S. strikes — including dozens of civilians — never existed. “We Yemenis are the ones who pay the price of the ‘war on terror,'” said Faisal Jaber, a relative of the two Jaber cousins killed in Khashamir. “We are caught between a drone on one side and al Qaeda on the other.” 

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