"In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars"
2009 Summer Reading Assignment
WHY and HOW did the College choose In the Hot Zone, by Kevin Sites?
A group of staff, faculty, and students served as the selection committee for the Common Summer Reading of 2009. Our choice, In the Hot Zone, by Kevin Sites, presents a highly-controversial look at one man's journey through several war zones and conflict areas around the globe. Despite its tone and tenor, the group found the book to have such merit that we recommend it to the entire community. Indeed, the student members of the group were undeniably enthusiastic about the prospect of assigning this book. Sites' journey to the 20 war zones provides a clear and compelling view of war, its combatants, and its collateral casualties. We believe that it is important that our students understand the nature of that which pervades the lives of so many citizens of the world. Our student readers found that the book motivated them for change, and while they were shocked by the explicit descriptions of the brutality of war, they found Sites's descriptions haunting and memorable. It is our hope that the book's depictions of war will make students recognize that they need to know about what is going on in the world as the world is, and not how they want it to be.
The book is arranged in small chapters with multiple sections, and it is accompanied by Sites' startling DVD documentary that includes footage from some of the war zones about which he writes. The book's format and its accompanying visual material is thus an expansion of the sound bites to which many readers are now accustomed. At the same time, the book is not a collection of disconnected pieces of information. There is a logical order to the dispatches, and each brings up and/or further addresses issues that Sites carries throughout his book. The sequence of events are easy to follow, and information about politics, history, and culture is blended into the narrative of Sites' journey. While accessible, there is a lot of information in the background narrative that will challenge you, and the book and its concomitant issues will lend itself to year-long common discussions and experiences. Part of the learning process includes critical dialogue and debate in carefully-reasoned academic and endorsing environments.
HOW will we use In the Hot Zone this coming year?
You will begin your discussion of the book during Orientation, during which time you, your classmates, your student ALPHAs, and your First-Year Seminar professor will examine the themes and content of the book. You are expected to have completed the book by your arrival on campus in August. Then, members of the community will speak to you at an evening lecture scheduled for August 25th. The panelists at this event (termed BookRevue) are not yet selected, but they will probably include both a journalist and a veteran US Army Officer. Over the course of the fall semester, you will be invited to join a roundtable dinner discussion that will include members of the staff, faculty, and the Salisbury community as they discuss the book (and its larger themes of global issues) in a more intimate setting.
This book will also be read by several hundred people in the Rowan-Salisbury community, as it is one part of the annual Rowan Reading Challenge. During the challenge, Salisbury residents from all walks of life — farmers, merchants, doctors, teachers, retirees, attorneys, students — read several books and hear talks about each in a large public venue. This year's Reading Challenge event will be in October, and interested Catawba students may attend. Because so many members of the College and local community will be reading this book you will have many opportunities on campus (in class, during extra curriculars) and off (in casual conversation with members of the community) to see multiple perspectives on the issues that Sites's work brings to us.
Sites' Visit to Catawba (11/14/09)
Study and Reading Guide
How to get started: As you read, you may wish to keep in mind several large, over-arching themes. Additionally, important information gleaned from each section may address smaller questions. A guide to each of these (large themes, smaller questions) is given here. When you receive your welcome letter from your First-Year Seminar advisor in July, she or he may provide more specific or more focused questions for your seminar specifically.
Please first read "What did I learn?" beginning on page 293, and then the prologue.
- Who is Kevin Sites, and what is his ethos?
- What is Sites's style in writing? For whom did Sites intend both the book and the reporting that led to it? Is he a "traditional" reporter?
- How is the manner in which we get news being transformed by Internet reporters and bloggers? How is Sites different from a blogger?
- Sites comments that traditional news organizations would not have funded a project such as his because "The idea of covering the faceless and the voiceless in the world's most obscure places doesn't make financial sense….this is journalism at its core—public service" (p 123) In what ways do (or should) journalists and news sources serve the public?
- Why does Sites choose to compare the Blacksburg, VA, shooting with aspects of war (in the prologue)? What does he hope to accomplish with his readers when he draws that connection?
- Sites notes that "we have unparalleled access to information, yet on the most important matters of our responsibility as global citizens we live in information poverty. America is a third-world nation in its per capita knowledge of the people, issues, and events outside its borders" (p. 285) Before reading this book, would you have agreed? Would you agree after reading it?
- What does Sites mean when he sums his experiences up by saying "war poses as combat, but is really collateral damage"?
Section-by-Section Reading Guides:
Part I: The Revelation Will Not be Televised
- Some important "back story" to the incident in Falluja, provided by Adjunct History Professor Dr. Dane Hartgrove, who also added information passed along by a Marine major who was a battalion XO during the fighting:
On May 1, 2003, after landing on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, then-President George W. Bush congratulated the U.S. military on having accomplished its assigned mission in Iraq. In reality, the seeming pacification of Iraq was a temporary paralysis of that country's body politic associated with the "shock and awe" campaign that had won the United States and its "Coalition of the Willing" a relatively easy victory. Within months of the President's speech, serious resistance to the occupation forces was being mounted by both Sunni and Shi'ite elements. The city of Fallujah was a hotbed of Sunni resistance. In April 2004, the American military undertook a major effort to pacify the city. A substantial percentage of the population was successfully evacuated before serious fighting began, but best estimates put civilian casualties at several hundred in the ensuing action. A key element in the tactical situation was the defection of units of the Iraqi National Guard that had been fighting alongside U.S. Marine units, as a result of which the Marines took relatively heavy casualties. It is worth noting that after the pacification of Fallujah, Marine units that had been deployed there suffered significantly higher levels of disciplinary problems, an indication of frustration of the men at "the sharp end" with the conditions they had faced, the decisions made by their superiors, and the revision of their original mission.
- After filming the shooting in the Mosque, Sites decides both to contact his supervisors at NBC and to push to ensure the video is released. He adds that as a journalist it is his goal to "seek and report the truth" but also to "minimize harm" (p. 15). What ethical dilemmas did Sites face in the mosque and later with his film? What obligations did he have to NBC? To the Marines? To the US public? To Iraq citizens?
- Using the notes in Appendix A as a reference, think about why Sites continued his correspondence about Falluja with the Devil Dogs of the 3.1 and why he once again addressed the incident and his role in its reporting in Coming Home, pp. 287-292.
- If you were Kevin Sites, what would you have done?
- In what ways do Sites's actions vary according to his career status?
- Why does he place his reporting of the Tsunami and his decision to become an Internet reporter after his discussion of Falluja and the ethical dilemmas of reporting what happened there?
Part II: Into the Arms of Mama Africa
- Why did Sites travel to Mogadishu, and what did he hope to learn while there? Does the US military continue to have a presence in Somalia?
- What is the social and political climate in Somalia? Describe Sites's mixed experiences of that climate in Mogadishu.
- Why did Sites choose to link with the International Rescue Committee in the DRC?
- Sites goes to the DRC to report on the effects of war more than on war itself. On whom and on what does Sites focus, and for what purposes? How do Sites's accounts mirror his saying that "war poses as combat, but is really collateral damage"?
- What are the points of his intermission and the "hammering rocks" analogy?
- What is the current socio-political state of Uganda, and what is the LRA? Why did Sites choose to write about Uganda and its Civil War? How are the economy and health of the people of this nation influenced by the ongoing Civil War?
- How does the army use Janjaweed to corral soldiers?
- What is the Sudan, and why does Sites take his intermission there?
Part III: Phantoms of Falluja, Brown Sugar Junkies, Martyrs' Moms and other Middle East Nightmares
- Sites spends a lot of text describing his return to Iraq, focusing on mostly mundane aspects of his travel. On pp. 112-114, however, he notes that he has attained some measure of resolve about reporting the Falluja shootings one year previously (top of p. 115: "I believe the same applies to citizens of a democracy…"). He then continues to describe an incident he terms "my struggle." What does "his struggle" have to do with doing the right thing, and why did he place this incident here in the narrative?
- What is Hezbollah, and why does Sites include that group's battles with Israel in this section of his narrative?
- Do you think that Sites was instrumental in getting Yahoo! to attend to the problems in China?
- How does Sites's choice to cover various aspects of life in Iran reflect the differences among the Iranian people? Why did Sites choose to present such a "mixed bag"?
- Syria, Israel, and the Gaza are discussed with a focus less on the political and more on the personal. Why did Sites choose to write these stories about these areas? Has the situation between Israel and the Gaza improved or gotten worse since Sites wrote this story?
Part IV: The Child Bride, Endless Grief, and Music to Disarm To
- Why does Sites mean by "art among the ruins" in Chechnya?
- How does Sites describe daily life in Afghanistan? Why does he once again focus on the daily aspects of most people's lives and their culture? Why tell the particular story of the child bride?
- Columbia and Haiti are described next; neither was technically a "war zone," and both are in different parts of the world. What sorts of problems exist in Columbia and Haiti, and to what does Sites implicitly attribute the unrest in both countries? What similarities exist between life in Haiti and life in Afghanistan?
- What is the art of survival?
Part V: My Asian Odyssey
- Does Sites provide enough history of the Nepal region for the common reader to understand why there is conflict there? What else does a reader have to know about the culture and history of Nepal to follow Sites?
- Where is the Kashmir, and to which country does it technically belong? How are the people of Kashmir like those of Nepal but unlike others in their own region? Why has Kashmir been (and why is it still) a Hot Zone?
- What does Sites mean when he notes that "…I don't want to forget that people are not just the sum of their misery"? (p. 215) How does that statement reflect Sites's own personal and professional dilemmas in his Hot Zone project?
- How does Sites link war to the inability of Sri Lanka to become a more developed and modern country? Does he blame the Tamil Tigers for keeping Sri Lanka a 3rd world country? What happened in May, 2009, which may change this particular hot zone?
- What is the Karen conflict and why is it considered to be the "oldest civil war in the world?" (p. 227) Who benefits from the continuance of a civil war in Burma?
- What was the Cambodian genocide? Who were the Khmer Rouge? How long do the effects of such a genocide continue to affect a country?
- Why did he travel to Vietnam, where there is currently no conflict or war?
- So, did Sites mangle the opportunity with the Dalai Lama?
Part VI: The Thirty-Four Day War
- Did Sites expect the negative personal reactions he received as an American? What general anti-American sentiment was noted, and by whom? What are the historical, cultural, geo-political and economic origins of such antagonism?
- Assad notes that "the people are only abstractions to them [the government]. But when you start a war, it's really the people that suffer" (p. 278) In what ways can Assad's statement reflect not only the lives of Israelis, but Gazans, Syrians, and Lebanese? Jews, Muslims, and Christians?
- Why might the boy have chosen not to throw his rock?
Part VII: My Third-World America
- Why does Sites's dream suggest to him about his time in the Hot Zone?
- Was Sites complicit in the death of Nidal? What did he do or fail to do as a reporter? What would you have done?
- Does war put us all in danger of losing our humanity?