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.

Rodolfo Walsh and the Struggle for Argentina, Stephen Phelan, Boston Review

In today’s Argentina, Rodolfo Walsh, a journalist and activist who was killed during the country’s right wing ascent, has become a symbol for a movement that fell far short of what it promised.

When I started a course on “new journalism,” I assigned all the big names who made an art of narrative reporting in the 1960s: Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, Truman Capote. The native Spanish speakers in the class were quick to remind me that Walsh’s Operación Masacre had been the first great “nonfiction novel,” written in 1957, almost ten years before Capote coined that term for his own true crime story In Cold Blood.

I had heard this claim made before in local literary circles, with the same defensive note of national pride that tinged the more common and less credible assertion that Argentina invented soccer, or that Buenos Aires had the world’s first public buses. But I hadn’t read Walsh’s book myself, because my Spanish still wasn’t good enough, and I’d never seen a copy in English. As it turns out, there had never been one before the brand-new translation published in September in the United States by Seven Stories Press.

Operation Massacre, to use its essentially unchanged English title, recounts a half-botched atrocity committed by Buenos Aires police under an earlier military government. On the night of June 9, 1956-in the midst of a short-lived uprising by soldiers and citizens loyal to the recently deposed president Juan Perón-a group of friends and neighbors were rounded up from a house in the working-class barrio of Florida, where they had gathered to listen to a boxing match on the radio.


The Penitent Warlord: Atoning for 20,000 War Crimes, by Jonathan Stock, Der Spiegel

Joshua Milton Blahyi, better known as General Butt Naked, was one of Liberia’s most feared warlords. Then he became a pastor.

Blahyi had a reputation for being more brutal than other military leaders. Everyone knows his nom de guerre, which he says he will never lose: General Butt Naked. He was a cannibal who preferred to sacrifice babies, because he believed that their death promised the greatest amount of protection. He went into battle naked, wearing only sneakers and carrying a machete, because he believed that it made him invulnerable — and he was in fact never hit by a bullet. His soldiers would make bets on whether a pregnant woman was carrying a boy or a girl, and then they would slit open her belly to see who was right.

Blahyi is now a priest who goes to chess club on Saturdays.

When asked about his victims, he turned his head to the side and wiped his neck. He had only learned to speak English a few years earlier, and he chose his words carefully. He had shaved his cheeks and his massive head, and sweat was running down his forehead. In the end, he said: “I don’t know the entire… the entire… the entire number… but if I… if I… were to calculate it… everything I have done… it would be… it shouldn’t be fewer than 20,000.”

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

A Culture of Bidding: Forging an Art Market in China, by David Barboza, Graham Bowley, and Amanda Cox, the New York Times

In China’s growing art market, outsize auction results often overshadow false sales data and forged art.

Fraud is certainly no stranger to the international art world, but experts warn that the market here is particularly vulnerable because, like many industries in China, it has expanded too fast for regulators to keep pace.

In fact, few areas of business offer as revealing a view of this socialist society’s lurch toward capitalism as the art market. Like many luxury businesses in China, the explosion of buyers for art here has been fueled by the pent-up consumerism of the newly rich. The demand is so great that last year, in a country that barely had an art market two decades ago, reported auction revenues were up 900 percent over 2003 – to $8.9 billion. (The United States auction market for 2012 was $8.1 billion.)


Afghanistan United, by May Jeong, Roads and Kingdoms

A dispatch from the first soccer match between Afghanistan and Pakistan in 37 years.

The story of soccer in Afghanistan is the story of holding on to small articles of faith, despite circumstances. In 1922-just three years after independence-one of the first actions of the autonomous Afghan state was the creation of a football federation. That year, King Amanullah, the country’s great modernizer, built the Ghazi stadium. The first soccer club was founded in 1934, and the country’s first international match was with Iran in 1941. Afghanistan joined FIFA in 1948, and that year, participated in the London Olympics. The sport continued to grow popular through the 60s and 70s, but under the Soviet occupation and in the civil war that followed, everything was reduced to rubble. The Taliban never had a fatwa, but Mullah Omar forbade public matches during prayer time, and the spirit of the game gradually died.

In the past few years, soccer has been making a comeback in Afghanistan. Today, much of the country is cleaved along lines of club loyalty. Are you a Real Madrid or an FC Barcelona? My Dari language tutor keeps me updated on bets he makes with his friends. The loser pays his debts with watermelon.

Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images

So Crazy It Just Might Work, by Elias Groll, Foreign Policy

Swashbuckling journalist Robert Young Pelton is crowdfunding a mission to hunt down Joseph Kony. Is it genius or folly?

The United States has deployed Special Forces troops to the region with the ostensible purpose of helping to capture Kony, and while those troops have in recent weeks intensified their effort to find the warlord, he remains conspicuously at large. But their failure, Pelton says, should come as no surprise. The real reason for the presence of U.S. troops, he says, has as much to do with the rise of Islamic extremism in the region as it does Kony. Deploying Special Forces to capture Kony is merely an effective cover story. As for Invisible Children, the group behind Kony 2012, it remains based in Uganda, a country Kony has long left behind. Hopelessly limited by geographic boundaries, the group has become limited by its own infrastructure and its simplistic argument that Kony’s capture will suddenly solve all Uganda’s serious problems, critics say. (Nevermind the fact that the group has raised millions of dollars off Kony’s back for an organization with deep ties to anti-gay, creationist groups and was co-founded by a man whose celebrity took on a life of its own after he suffered a breakdown and paraded naked through the streets of San Diego.)

Pelton’s message to these groups is that it’s time to put up or shut up — and by finding Kony he’s aiming to point out the essential phoniness of those who have so far failed to locate him. For a similar reason, Pelton is crowdfunding the trip. (You can find his IndieGogo page here.) “The reason I’m using crowdfunding is to see whether the world gives a shit. Do you really want to get rid of Kony? Give me five bucks,” Pelton says. “So it’s almost like a very Shakespearean play, you know. We are going to see who’s more evil — the people who want to get rid of Kony and do nothing about it or Kony himself.”

Courtesy of Robert Young Pelton