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 Ghosts of Fukushima” by Steve Featherstone, New Republic
It’s been five years since the meltdown forced them to abandon their village. Now they’re going home. Can a town devastated by nuclear disaster be brought back to life?’
Naraha still has the outward appearance of a sleepy farming community, with tidy neighborhoods separated by rice paddies, fruit orchards, and two rivers tumbling to the sea from the nearby Abukuma Mountains. Since decontamination began about 18 months after the disaster, thousands of workers equipped with little more than garden tools have cut down trees, power-washed streets, and peeled off a two-inch layer of radioactive soil in a 65-foot perimeter around every structure in town. Vast fields and mountainsides have been left largely untouched, save for large burial mounds of black plastic bags filled with low-level radioactive waste that metastasized across the landscape as the work progressed.
There’s no blueprint for remediating a radioactive town and then moving people back into it. After the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, the Soviet Union simplyabandoned scores of towns. But in a country as densely populated as Japan, abandoning an area the size of Connecticut wasn’t an option. In a concerted push to resettle all but the most severely contaminated areas, the government has spent $31 billion on the cleanup effort, and a staggering $58 billion in compensation payments to evacuees.
“The Shadow Doctors” by Ben Taub, The New Yorker
The underground race to spread medical knowledge as the Syrian regime erases it.
Thousands of physicians once worked in Aleppo, formerly Syria’s most populous city, but the assault has resulted in an exodus of ninety-five per cent of them to neighboring countries and to Europe. Across Syria, millions of civilians have no access to care for chronic illnesses, and the health ministry routinely prevents U.N. convoys from delivering medicines and surgical supplies to besieged areas. In meetings, the U.N. Security Council “strongly condemns” such violations of international humanitarian law. In practice, however, four of its five permanent members support coalitions that attack hospitals in Syria, Yemen, and Sudan. The conditions in Syria have led to a growing sense among medical workers in other conflict zones that they, too, may be targeted.
Despite the onslaught, doctors and international N.G.O.s have forged an elaborate network of underground hospitals throughout Syria. They have installed cameras in intensive-care units, so that doctors abroad can monitor patients by Skype and direct technicians to administer proper treatment. In besieged areas, they have adapted hospitals to run on fuel from animal waste. Nott, for his part, trained almost every trauma surgeon on the opposition side of Aleppo, as part of a daring effort to spread medical knowledge as the government strives to eradicate it.
“The Mystifying Triumph of Hope Hicks, Donald Trump’s Right-Hand Woman” by Olivia Nuzzi, GQ
One day you’re just a smiley PR lackey; the next, you’re a major operative in the nuttiest campaign in decades. Such is the strange year in the life of Hope Hicks, the 27-year-old accidental press secretary for Donald Trump. How did she get here? And how much longer can she last?
I wanted Hicks to help me understand just how all this had come to pass, how a person who’d never worked in politics had nonetheless become the most improbably important operative in this election. But she declined my request to talk. Instead, she arranged something more surreal: I could talk about her with Donald Trump, in front of her.
Trump, of course, has little experience with subjects other than Trump, which he made clear when I asked him about Hicks’s quick ascent to his inner circle. “Bill O’Reilly last night said it is the greatest political event in his lifetime,” Trump said, exaggerating O’Reilly’s point. “The most incredible political event in his lifetime! That’s pretty big. You know, who knew this was going to happen? So…” He pivoted, reluctantly, to the topic at hand. “Hope’s been involved from the beginning, and she has been absolutely terrific.”
“The Prosecutor and the President” by James Verini, The New York Times Magazine
The International Criminal Court embodied the hope of bringing warlords and demagogues to justice. Then Luis Moreno-Ocampo took on the heir to Kenya’s most powerful political dynasty.
During his tenure at the I.C.C., which ended in 2012, Moreno-Ocampo examined atrocities in a dozen countries and brought cases in seven. But the Kenyatta case has come to define the court and, many would say, has permanently discredited it. Moreno-Ocampo accused Kenyatta of suborning the Mungiki to kill innocent Kenyans, but he also believed Kenyatta’s crimes emerged from a tradition of impunity in Africa, one that would continue unless he stepped in. He saw prosecuting Kenyatta as a way to change not just a country but an entire continent and, in some small measure, the world. “These were not just crimes against innocent Kenyans,” Moreno-Ocampo said at the time. “They were crimes against humanity as a whole.”
Kenyatta, now Kenya’s president, not only denied the charges against him but also called the I.C.C. “the toy of declining imperial powers.” It’s a view other African leaders increasingly claim to share. Today Kenyatta is leading a push at the African Union to abandon the court. In April, an African Union committee considered a plan to demand that heads of state be immune from I.C.C. prosecution, among other potentially crippling measures. At a summit conference next month in Rwanda, it will continue a discussion about collectively withdrawing from the court. With all but one of its open cases related to crimes in Africa, this would almost certainly relegate the I.C.C. to permanent irrelevance.
“Venezuela’s Season of Starvation” by Peter Wilson, Foreign Policy
Amid sky-high inflation, dangerous shortages, and political unrest, Nicolás Maduro’s regime is on the verge of collapse.
When morning arrives, William and his friend stand in line under the piercing sun, enduring temperatures of up to 95 degrees. At noon, they finally pass through a cordon of police and National Guardsmen to enter the supermarket and claim their prize for 18 hours of hell: the right to purchase two kilograms of cornmeal and one kilogram of pasta. “I am doing this because I have children,” William says. In the old days, he always voted for President Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro. “How can this be happening? We have the world’s largest oil reserves, but we don’t have food.”
Many Venezuelans are asking those very same questions. The food shortage, precipitated by Chávez’s economic policies and a precipitous drop in oil revenue, is the worst in the country’s history. It has led the government to limit purchases of basic foodstuffs and set their prices. Nonetheless, basic goods such as coffee, sugar, rice, milk, pasta, toilet paper, hand soap, and detergent remain impossible to find. According to Datanalisis, the country’s leading polling agency, over 80 percent of regulated foodstuffs have vanishedfrom store shelves. As a result, many Venezuelans now make do with a single meal a day, or resort to rustling through garbage bins to find food. Others have begun hunting pigeons, dogs, and cats, as Ramón Muchacho, the mayor of the Chacao borough in Caracas tweeted.
Photo credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images; ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/GettyImages; Brooks Kraft/ Getty Images; Mario Tama/Getty Images