Last year, retired war correspondent Patrick Graham was listening to news of the Libyan revolution over the radio. He ended up mocking the guy on the radio, saying, “For fuck’s sake, at least get to Benghazi!” His wife responded with, “Well, why don’t you go?” A few days later, he did.
The Man Who Went to War, published under the auspices of Hazlitt, Random House’s new digital platform, is a 57-page eyewitness account of the Libyan revolution from its heart in Benghazi. We recently caught up with Graham and talked about returning to Benghazi, war correspondence on YouTube and one reporter very particular about his Prada jacket.
Are you tempted to return to Benghazi?
Oh, yeah. I love Libya. I almost took my wife there after the last time; we wanted to visit Cyrene, because we’re both classicists. We ended up in Egypt, though.
Benghazi’s a pretty cool town — what happened to [ambassador] Chris Steven is so un-Libya. The fact that he felt comfortable just walking around there suggests how different it is; US embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan look like military bunkers. The odd thing about the jihadists who attacked the US embassy is that they helped hold Benghazi against Gaddafi’s tanks. I kind of owe my life to them.
How about Damascus? Any plans to head there?
My wife and I are discussing Syria at the moment. She understands.
Damascus is just magical — it’s a really interesting place. Syrians are known for being extremely nice people. Syria is kind of like the Saskatchewan of the Middle East.
Has war reporting changed much since you started?
Absolutely. I keep an eye on YouTube because there are a lot of great English-speaking Syrian reporters posting videos. In fact, the best piece on Syria I’ve seen is some cell phone footage on Al Jazeera. It’s hard for a Western writer to really add value when there are local English-speaking alternatives. That being the case, the job becomes translating one culture into another.
What equipment do you carry with you, aside from Scotch to bribe photographers?
A flak jacket and helmet. You feel silly for having it, but also silly for not having it. In fact, my flak jacket nearly got me killed once. The car I was riding was stopped in Fallujah and the guys manning the roadblock saw my jacket in the trunk and thought I was CIA. Fortunately the US Marines attacked the roadblock and we drove away. They took my flak jacket, though, and one of them had it on while they fought the Marines.
In Libya, I was working on an iPad and keyboard. I wish the iPad had existed for the Iraq war. Everyone had laptops for that one — it really was the Macintosh war.
How did you get hooked up with Hazlitt?
I know some editors with Random House, and they wanted to know if I was working on a book. The Man Who Went to War is a very specific kind of memoir. The ebook format is great for this kind of journalism. Not everyone wants to read an entire book about Libya; a long-ish article is enough for a lot of people.
Is Prada common amongst war reporters trekking out to the desert?
No, it’s just that one guy. Most of us dress like grad students.
The Man Who Went to War is available online in a variety of eBook formats for $2.99, via Hazlitt.