Focus on Community/Arts
Pulitzer Prize-winning author visits Chesapeake College

Posted on Thursday, April 01, 2010

WYE MILLS – Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Finkel told a Chesapeake College class Wednesday afternoon that the observations of Iraqi War veterans provided him with the most important validations of his book on the Bush Administration´s "surge" strategy

"After the book (The Good Soldiers) came out, I received hundreds of emails from veterans of the war," said Finkel, whose book was an eye-witness account of the surge resulting from his time with Battalion 2-16 in Baghdad. "Soldiers wrote, ´I was there. I read your book. When people ask me questions about the war that I just don´t want to answer, I tell them to go read your book.´ When I received the first email, I thought, ´That was nice.´ Receiving hundreds that said the same thing makes me feel, ´Yeah, I got it right.´ "

Finkel made his remarks while visiting a course section of The Nature of Knowledge (IDC 201), team-taught by Chesapeake College President Barbara Viniar and Associate Professor Gail Bounds.

Dr. Viniar said she secured the author´s appearance simply by inviting him to the college.

"I Googled ´David Finkel at Washington Post,´ found his address, told him this was a required book for our class and asked him if he would like to come and speak," said Dr. Viniar. "I didn´t get referred to an agent, publicist or website. Within an hour he said ´yes.´ "

Finkel told the class of mostly traditional-age students – who are in the same age group as most of the soldiers he wrote about – that he was pleased to be at Chesapeake for three major reasons.

"I´m glad to be here partly because I like community colleges, and partly because this sounds like an interesting course that I´d like to take," he said. "I´m also here partly because this is your war and you´re going to be dealing with the effects of it for years to come."

Finkel said he saw a transformation in the soldiers from the time they left training in Kansas to the end of the 14-month period covered by the book.

"When they left Kansas, they were eager to get to this war. . . . At first, they thought they were invincible because they were such highly trained soldiers," recalled Finkel. "Then the first guy died, and the second guy died, and then June came and four more died. I guess it´s no surprise that war changes you."

The soldiers´ view of war wasn´t the only change that took place. Their perception of Finkel also evolved over time.

"In the beginning . . . there was a lot of mistrust of me," Finkel told the class. "Some thought I was there to show they were either war criminals or baby killers because that´s what the ´liberal media´ did. I think that changed for two reasons: I stuck it out, and when bad things started to happen, I didn´t become a problem for the soldiers. I behaved as a professional and trust developed."

Finkel said another reason trust developed was he "wasn´t trying to write a book with an agenda . . . or a first-person account. I wanted to see what happened to these soldiers."

One student asked whether Finkel – who was exposed to danger and violence throughout his stay – suffered at all from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He said he didn´t, which he credited to several things.

"I had a few luxuries that the soldiers didn´t have. I was there to observe . . . I didn´t have to shoot anybody, and I got to take breaks,´ said Finkel, who would take short trips home or to the Washington Post´s Baghdad bureau. "And the writing was really cathartic. I´m fine, but many of the soldiers aren´t."

IDC 201 is the college´s capstone course that compares the acquisition of knowledge in the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences. It is a college requirement across all degree fields.

Finkel, the national enterprise editor of The Washington Post, joined the Post in 1990 and has worked for the paper´s national, foreign and magazine staffs. Awarded the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for his series on U.S.-funded democracy efforts in Yemen, he has also been a Pulitzer finalist on three other occasions.

Finkel lives in Silver Spring with his wife and two daughters.


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