War correspondent Hastings vividly recounts his explosive 2010 Rolling Stone article that got Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal drummed out of Afghanistan.
McChrystal’s unchecked remarks caused his firing, but things might have gone down differently if the general had taken a lesson from Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. It happened in the spring of 2010 during a European trip the general made to bolster sagging support for the war. Hastings was invited along. The premise of the movie—a promising band experiences their downfall after the Rolling Stone reporter they accept into their circle writes an unflattering (though accurate) story about them—perfectly mirrors the situation in which McChrystal and his entourage would become embroiled. Like Almost Famous, Hastings’ astute war memoir is pitch-perfect in demonstrating the challenges that all diligent journalists face. If someone isn’t actively working hard to shut you down, they’re busy trying to co-opt you. In this case, a certified war hero and his hotshot staff were too confident in their ability to woo a puff piece out of a young writer. The author’s frank discussion of these subtler forms of coercion, continuously employed to undermine accurate reporting, is undoubtedly courageous. According to Hastings, McChrystal and his highly accomplished cadre of elite military men operated in a bubble so thick, they foolishly believed they could mold not only a magazine profile to their liking, but also an entire country. As the situation in Afghanistan grows increasingly muddy, the author’s disciplined adherence to solid journalistic practices and his acute eye for sharp scene setting makes much of the chaos comprehensible. Hastings has definitely taken up the traditional banner of the intrepid war correspondent, but he’s simultaneously shot it through with iconoclastic holes; the effect is illuminating on many levels.
An exciting and enlightening exposé of the war in Afghanistan, the dangers of concentrated power and the public’s need to know.