A veteran journalist drops into the highest hotspots across the globe for a sobering account of why mountainous regions often engender violence.
“From Kentucky to Kashmir,” Matloff (Conflict Reporting/Columbia School of Journalism; Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block, 2009, etc.) finds that mountainous regions—with their tendency toward insularity and suspicion regarding outsiders—disproportionately make up the most warlike zones on the planet. The author, who has visited many of these fraught elevations over the years, presents nine journalistic accounts from the front lines: Albania’s northern Dinaric Alps, the Sierra Madre of southern Mexico; Colombia’s Andes, Nepal’s Himalayas, the Northern Caucasus of Chechnya and Dagestan, Kashmir, Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush; Norway’s Lyngen Alps, and the Pyrenees and Swiss Alps. In the final chapter, which covers the Swiss Alps, Matloff offers a kind of reality check of the efficacy of the lofty Swiss in keeping peace and unity for hundreds of years—namely, a loose confederation of self-governing cantons. Long-running disputes between clans can start legendary strife, such as in Albania, where blood feuds endure for generations. The Zapatistas of the Sierre Madre, descendants of the ancient Maya, have been battling the central government for centuries over land rights and equal treatment. The indigenous Rai, only 2.8 percent of Nepal’s population and who live in the highest mountains in the world, are fighting the damming of their precious glacial waters, which, writes the author, also supply “Asian rivers on which billions of people depend.” Matloff interviewed many inhabitants of these highlands, recording their hardscrabble ways of life and the deep reverence they hold for the mountains. Moreover, she observed the American military training at the Army’s Mountain Warfare School in Jericho, Vermont, as they prepared for the harsh conditions in Afghanistan as well as Norway’s Arctic Allied Training Center, “where NATO trains its most hardened men for the high cold.”
A tightly focused study of mountain societies that hints at future conflicts.