Longform’s Picks of the Week
The best stories from around the world.
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.
“The Avenger,” by Patrick Radden Keefe, The New Yorker
Ken Dornstein’s older brother died when a bomb exploded on Pan Am Flight 103. For the past three decades, he’s been obsessed with identifying who’s really responsible.
When terrorists strike today, they often claim credit on social media. But Lockerbie, Dornstein told me recently, was a “murder mystery.” Flight 103 had left London for New York on December 21st, with David assigned to Row 40 of the economy section. After the plane ascended to thirty thousand feet, an electronic timer activated an explosive device hidden inside a Toshiba radio in the luggage hold, and a lump of Semtex detonated, shearing open the fuselage. The plane broke apart in midair, six miles above the earth. Many of the victims remained alive until the moment they hit the ground. But who built the bomb? Who placed it in the radio? Who put it on the plane?
For years, Dornstein said little to his friends or family about Lockerbie or about his brother. But he began applying the same quiet compulsiveness that he had channelled into the Dave Archives to the larger riddle of the bombing. He clipped articles, pored over archival footage, and sought out people who had known David. One day, at Penn Station in Manhattan, he spotted Kathryn Geismar, who had dated David for two years. They ended up on the same train, stayed in touch, and eventually fell in love. Initially, Ken hid the romance from his family, fearful that they might consider it an “unholy way to grieve.” But the relationship didn’t revolve around David; part of what comforted Ken about being with Geismar was that he didn’t need to talk with her about his loss. She already knew.
“A New Front“, by E.B. Boyd, California Sunday Magazine
The growing – and uneasy – alliances between the military and Silicon Valley.
Tony Sanchez, director of special projects for a San Francisco tech company called Osterhout Design Group, holds up what looks like a place mat covered in zebra stripes. He’s standing in a Stanford University conference room, addressing a collection of people not usually seen in Silicon Valley: Some are undergraduates and technologists from area startups, but many are active-duty soldiers and veterans enrolled in the business school.
Sanchez hands out a set of smart glasses. When the people around the table put them on and look at the sheet, Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad hide-out comes to life. It looks like something out of a 3-D video game. Turn the sheet, and the tan low-rise buildings rotate. Pull the sheet in, and the buildings get closer. Push it out, and they shrink away.
One of the soldiers takes a look. “Can you imagine?” he asks. “Our snipers would love that.”
“The Good Soldier,” by Janet Reitman, Rolling Stone
Struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide, Army officer Lawrence Franks went AWOL. Five years later, he reappeared as Christopher Flaherty, a member of the French Foreign Legion who served three tours in Africa. Then he was court-martialed.
Franks was consumed by what he was about to do: He was going to fuck over his unit, abandon his post, unfulfill his duty, shame his family, his friends, West Point, the Army, the country, God. He was deserting. Franks was 22, with the square-jawed good looks and chiseled physique that reminded at least a few of his friends of a gladiator. A meteorically high-achiever all his life, he’d graduated near the top of his West Point class of 2008, and now, less than three months into his first official posting, Franks was considered to be one of the best young lieutenants in the 2-22 Infantry Battalion, known as “Triple Deuce.” All his life he’d been able to hold it together.
But it was a lie. Finishing his drink, Franks waited until he heard Carney turn on the shower, and then picked up the phone and ordered a taxi for 4 a.m. He set three alarms. He didn’t want to pull a “Bay of Pigs,” as he called it, by snoozing through his wake-up call.
“In Unit Stalked by Suicide, Veterans Try to Save One Another,” by Dave Philipps, The New York Times
Members of a Marine battalion that served in a restive region in Afghanistan have been devastated by the deaths of comrades and frustrated by the V.A.
Almost seven years after the deployment, suicide is spreading through the old unit like a virus. Of about 1,200 Marines who deployed with the 2/7 in 2008, at least 13 have killed themselves, two while on active duty, the rest after they left the military. The resulting suicide rate for the group is nearly four times the rate for young male veterans as a whole and 14 times that for all Americans.
The deaths started a few months after the Marines returned from the war in Afghanistan. A corporal put on his dress uniform and shot himself in his driveway. A former sergeant shot himself in front of his girlfriend and mother. An ex-sniper who pushed others to seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder shot himself while alone in his apartment.
“Close Your Eyes and Pretend to Be Dead,” by Tristan McConnell, Foreign Policy
What really happened two years ago in the bloody attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall.
On Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, the Somali militant group al-Shabab carried out an assault on Kenya’s Westgate Mall in one of the worst terrorist attacks in the country’s history. A group of young gunmen stalked the halls and stores of the upscale Nairobi shopping center, and methodically murdered at least 67 people. News of the attack seized the world’s attention, dominating international media coverage for days.
But much of that reporting was confused and contradictory, mirroring the litany of false and misleading statements made by Kenyan authorities. There were between 10 and 15 gunmen, the interior minister said. Two or three of them were Americans, said another cabinet minister. Together they took hostages, used heavy explosives, and pulled off a three-day siege, according to other government sources. Except none of these things were true.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; Lucas Jackson-Pool/Getty Images; Matt Cardy – WPA Pool/Getty Images; REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic; AFP/Getty Images