FICTION Just About | OLIVIA CIACCI Small Fiery Bloom | ROSS MCMEEKIN I Am Not Who I Am | EURYDICE
GERTRUDE STEIN AWARD IN FICTION 1ST PLACE | A Song Died, ANDREW MCLINDEN 2ND PLACE | Insecticide, RACHEL HERMANS GOLDMAN 3RD PLACE | Song of the Amputee’s Mother | SHANEE STEPAKOFF
REGENDERED A Diverse Flora of Native and Introduced Species, Beautifully Adapted to Their Microenvironment | DON HUCKS Bomb Squad | JASON OLSEN Her Husband Leaves Her | STEPHEN DIXON Korean Bathhouse | JULIA KOLCHINSKY DASBACH The Nonsense Singers of the Red Forest | RICK MOODY from Something Wrong with Him: A Hybrid Memoir | CRIS MAZZA The Yellow Wallpaper (1899) | CHARLOTTE PERKINS GILMAN
POETRY Eating Children on a Fall Day | AMYE ARCHER Earthboy | NOAH BURTON Alligator Ecology | AARON APPS The God of Knickknacks | ROCHELLE SHAPIRO His Flaming Sister | LINDSAY VAUGHAN Scene Likely Needed (Frankenstein Machine) | MATTHEW HARRISON Undertow | MEG TUITE
FIN DE SIÈCLE The Talking Cure | VIPRA GHIMIRE On Alois Riegl and Miley Cyrus’s Intervention: A Prospective, Postmodern Critique | RANDY LEONARD Ernst Gombrich: Art Historican in Debate and Dialogue with Scientists | RICHARD PERKINS Oskar Kokoschka and the Search for the True Self(ie) | DANIELLE DAY Sixty Thousand Truths | J. R. WILLIAMS The Password to Postmodernism Is Denmark | PETER J. GOODMAN To Arthur Schnitzler | EMILY TURNER What Photography Did | BARRY PALMER
NONFICTION A Supposedly Relaxing Thing That Gives Me a Really Serious Case of the Heebie-Jeebies | BRETT SLEZAK Along the Path to Citizenship | MAYA KANWAL Angel | WILLIAM HILLYARD Average Ordinary Trainwreck | RUTH BERGER For the Greater Good | VIPRA GHIMIRE Fractals | RICHARD O’CONNELL I Live in a Town | CHELSEY CLAMMER Blue | HANNAH HEIMBACH Marginalia | ANNA MARIE JOHNSON Famous Writers Groups | JACQUELINE DOYLE Virginia Woolf, Illinois | TATIANA RYCKMAN We Are Woman | AMELIA NEIRENBERG An Open Letter to a Suicidal Friend, a Bulimic Friend, A Long Lost Aunt and Stephanie, My New LinkedIn Connection | RAE BRYANT
GALLERY Annie Terrazzo Kim Buck Zina Nedelcheva Rania Moudaress
Piracy is a sinking business. It was big business for a while, worth as much as $238 million annually, and the best market for that business was the Gulf of Aden off the eastern coast of lawless Somalia. But the formation of a multi-national security force in 2009 crippled the market. Big guns atop bigger warships deterred market participants—and the gangsters and warlords who backed them financially. Hijacking attempts dropped off drastically starting in 2012. And since the start of 2013, Somali pirates haven’t pulled off a single successful hijacking.
Yet roughly 50 seafarers, some the crews of commercial ships and others private yachters, remain in captivity, beached along coasts in a sort maritime purgatory. (“Piracy,” an international crime, is restricted to the high seas, which begins at 12 nautical miles from shore; inside those 12 miles, acts we would otherwise call piracy are merely domestic crimes.) In this purgatory they wait, captives and captors alike, the falling commodities and those holdouts who hold them, listing back and forth and back again on battered ships, surviving under siege of their own squalor, battling a more acute desperation. They wait, for someone to step in and pay. They wait, and with each day, the stakes only get higher.
One illustration of this phenomenon was the hijacking of MV Albedo, a Malaysian-flagged cargo ship with a crew of 23. She was hijacked in November 2010 and held for ransom for 31 months until the negotiations ended when the ship sank with pirates and some hostages still onboard. No records from inside the ship were ever recovered, but if they had been, they might have shown a daily logbook like those kept by the watch officer on any ship, a logbook like this:
Onboard MV Albedo, off the eastern coast of Somalia
13 November 2010 –
We have her. Yesterday we took her. We made our approach at night while she slept. Once she awoke, her crew fired water hoses but we maneuvered too fast. They fired flares at our skiff but they missed. They used their tools as weapons, throwing hammers, wrenches, and metal drums. But we hooked our ladder. Then they cried and begged. Then they cowered. We bound their hands and feet in the wheelhouse. All but the captain. I pushed my a-kay into his back. He spoke quickly and quietly to nobody. He drove. He beached her. Amad will negotiate from the beach and the mother ship and we will be paid. We have them secure. 23 of them. All male. Properly relieved by Nasi.
23 December 2010 –
4 attempted escape this morning. They jumped from the deck. One hit the water strangely, drowned. The others swam to shore. Hanif fired at them, but we need them alive. We watched them swim. We called to Amad and reported their location. They made land, ran, collapsed. Amad’s men recovered them. 22 remain, secure. They have nowhere to go. Their countrymen have no choice. We will be paid. Amad negotiates terms. Properly relieved by Nasi.
26 February 2011 –
Captives remain in wheelhouse. One has infection in leg. It is green and brown and white. Others cough. We took pictures. Amad will use them in negotiations and we will get paid. Then we will go home. Properly relieved by Nasi.
4 May 2011 –
Water provisions low. Captives weakening. Infected man afflicted by maggots. He cried in the night. We must get paid soon or the man will die. Properly relieved by Nasi.
29 July 2012 –
Amad reports that payment is coming. Less than what we demanded so we will release only some. The others will stay. They need water. We need water. Properly relieved by Nasi.
5 August 2012 –
We released seven captives. We pointed our rifles at their heads until they stood under their own strength. One man collapsed so we replaced him.
We kept the captain, but let him send a letter. Abdullah translated it first. “Please save us,” it said. “If you are not able to do so we will die automatically. We are malnourished, we are drinking contaminated water and don’t have anything proper to wear. Many of us are getting sick….”
Instructions are to keep them strong enough to walk, but no stronger. Provisions are low. Properly relieved by Nasi.
12 August 2012 –
Amad received payment, 1.1 million U.S. dollars. He must first pay our creditors, then the police, then his staff. He must purchase fuel, provisions. Her hull is taking on water. We are sitting deeper in the water, leaning portside, to the empty sea. He must purchase supplies to make repairs, to keep us afloat. Then he will pay us. Relieved by Nasi.
2 September 2012 –
Infected man died. We threw the body overboard. They complain of difficulty breathing in the wheelhouse. We enter only when necessary. Relieved by Nasi.
23 December 2012 –
Two more have died. Their bodies were white. More white than I remember. No more can die. We have few provisions. Amad reports that payment will come. It must. She is sitting deeper in the water and Nasi fears she might sink soon. He relieves me.
31 January 2012 –
No more provisions. We are weak. We fish for food. We trap water. We must feed captives to keep them alive. We keep them alive to get paid. They are trapped here. So are we. Relieved by Nasi.
30 June 2013 –
We list badly to the port side, to the ocean side. We can no longer see the land. Only ocean. She is taking on water. We used hoses to redirect the flow overboard but it is too fast. We tried to patch the hull but the flow is too strong. We cannot stop it. God help us. The captives cannot fight the boat’s tilt. They lie on top of each other as one. Abdullah and Hanif and Nasi and the others are in the hull fighting the water. I remain with the captives, but we need relief immediately. We need relief.
7 July 2013 –
She is gone. She took Abdullah, and Hanif, and Kooshin. She took Assadullah, Samir, Wardi. She took Nasi. They are dead. My friend Nasi is dead. Captives are missing. We have others, but they are near death. I grabbed the youngest, who still had strength to walk. I took the logbook. I will take it home with me. Amad has vanished. Without him, we will never get paid. I will just go home. Relieved.
Four hostages drowned with MV Albedoon July 6, 2013; Seven pirates died as well, none of their bodies recovered, all of them swallowed whole by a cruel sea. Eleven more are still missing. Still more, from other ships along other coastlines, are missing, too. But the world has moved on, on to other international stories, on to more compelling mysteries—like that of a disappearing Malaysian airliner and its 239 passengers. Many fear that they, too, were swallowed by the sea. I fear that their stories, like those of MV Albedo‘s crew, were swallowed with them, that in their place we’ll be left to speculate about them, to make up their stories for them, so that we, too, can move on.
Randy Leonard is an Afghanistan war veteran and a professor of military law. His writings have appeared in the Military Law Review, The Baltimore Sun,Stars and Stripes,Proceedings Magazine, and The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. He’s at work on his first novel.He lives in Capitol Hill with his wife Hadley and their dog Lincoln, an Afghan emigre.
The 2014 winter movie season kicked off with the much-hyped, Mark Wahlberg-produced blockbuster “The Lone Survivor,” the true story of four Navy SEALs sent on a disastrous reconnaissance mission of Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. The film’s release met a flurry of commentary, but much of it wasn’t your standard movie-review fare, such as cinematography comparisons, acting chops observations, or musings on Wahlberg’s rendition of his character’s South Texas vernacular. No, most reviews couldn’t resist the kind of charged political debate only a war movie can generate. Some, for example, practically eulogized the film as a beautiful expression of selfless heroism. Others rejected the training montages and the use of pre-mission love letters as a cheap ploy to simplify and endear our doomed protagonists. Still others rejected the endearment itself as unworthy given the (in)justice of the American SEALs’ very presence on that ridge in southern Afghanistan. This brand of appraisal is unique to the war movie review.
Of course, since few endeavors inflame such passions as the state-sanctioned taking of human life, the range of reactions to a film like “The Lone Survivor” can be understood. What is hard to understand, though, is how so many reviews missed a critical element of the film—an element on which “The Lone Survivor”-is-just-a-film viewpoint and the political commentary both hinge—that Wahlberg’s Marcus Luttrell, the lone survivor, wasn’t alone at all. There were other survivors, in fact, Afghan ones, and they were devastated to see him leave.
And here’s where the reviews miss the mark: “The Lone Survivor”presents the passion of Navy SEALs to American viewers precisely because Marcus Luttrell isn’t anonymous. For one, he came home to recount his harrowing story. Moreover, he was able to do so because friendly Afghan villagers made their own dangerous sacrifice—to give him sanctuary. Their anonymity is the movie’s failure. That just about every movie review failed to recognize this—well, that is our failure.
Director Peter Berg gives short shrift to the film’s Afghan allies and their difficult choice to defend Marcus Luttrell. He chalks up their sacrifice to Pashtunwali, a code of honor among Afghans of Pashtun ethnicity, one tenet of which is Nanawatai—meaning asylum. While my own experience confirms that such a code does exist, by presenting it as inviolate Berg does so at the expense of these Afghans’ conscious humanity. This is like a westerner saying, “Well I want to kill you, and I would. But I gave it up for Lent. Want to come in for some tea?”
In the film’s last scene, as Luttrell is taken away by American rescuers, he struggles to embrace a boy he had befriended in the village. The boy is in tears. But the question the film ignores is why, exactly, he cries. Was the boy really able to develop such a strong bond with a foreign-speaking stranger over the course of two days? Did his adherence to Pashtunwali demand such a response?
“The Lone Survivor” is ultimately about friendships—and their implications. While the boy was lonely, he didn’t cling to Marcus Luttrell because he wanted his friend to stay; he clung because he feared what might come after the American left. Marcus Luttrell and the boy are both lonely. Marcus Luttrell feels the sting of that loneliness as he is separated from his friends—his fellow SEALs. The boy’s loneliness is realized as it becomes apparent that he began to consider Marcus Luttrell his friend. His tears in the last scene show his belief in such a bond—whether that’s with an individual person or, more broadly, with American military presence.
My experience reflects this. I, too, made friends with Afghans (pictured above). Pir Mohamad, who bunked in the jailhouse we managed together in order to avoid a perilous commute, told me almost daily that we couldn’t leave his country. His deputy, Assadullah, half-joked over chai and cigarettes one night, “When you leave, I leave for Pakistan.” And their elder assistant, Saifullah, who slept atop the jail each night under the dark sky keeping vigil against potential intruders, felt the same. While I left Afghanistan in late 2011, Pir Mohammad and Assadullah and Saifullah, as far as I know, still live there. Because of this, they despair.
As thousands of families flee Fallujah, Iraq amid an Al-Qaeda resurgence, and while the Pentagon proposes plans to remove combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, I don’t think about geopolitics or justice, and I didn’t expect “The Lone Survivor” to do so, either. I think about the individuals—my friend sleeping alone on the dark roof. And while I don’t know him, that boy in tears. All I can do is I wonder. What will become of them? That, to me, is the question that should have been explored in “The Lone Survivor,” as well as the subsequent debates.
 While I have served as a member of the armed forces in Afghanistan, I am not a Navy SEAL. Not even close. My own commentary is not meant to diminish the loss, despair, and indeed loneliness that Marcus Luttrell endured as he fought for his life. In fact, my observations of Navy SEALs (of which I have a few, here and abroad) have reflected a passion—for a dangerous, largely anonymous vocation—that few of us have about anything.
Randy Leonard is a writing student at Johns Hopkins. He is an Afghanistan war veteran and a professor of military law. His writings have appeared in the Military Law Review, Stars and Stripes, The Baltimore Sun, Proceedings Magazine, and The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. His first novel, Tranche, is on the hunt for a publisher.He lives in Capitol Hill with his wife Hadley and their dog Lincoln, an Afghan emigre.