Skip to main content

'Naked in Baghdad'

NPR's Senior Foreign Correspondent Anne Garrels was one of the few journalists still in Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq. Often she reported from her room at the Palestine Hotel as bombs flew overhead. In her new book, Naked in Baghdad, she writes about the war and its aftermath. The book also contains the e-mails that her husband Vint Lawrence sent to friends keeping them informed of her daily life in Baghdad. Garrels has also reported from the former Soviet republics, China, Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Israel, and is the recipient of the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University award and the Overseas press Club award.

44:29

Other segments from the episode on September 11, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 11, 2003: Interview with Vint Lawrence and Anne Garrels; Commentary on 9/11.

Transcript

DATE September 11, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Vint Lawrence and his wife, Anne Garrels, discuss
Garrels' reporting from Baghdad during the war
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

During the war in Iraq, many NPR listeners tuned in to hear Anne Garrels
report from Baghdad, not just to hear the latest news, but to hear how she
was. Garrels was one of 16 US reporters who stayed in Baghdad during the
bombing. In recognition of her work, she was given the Courage in Journalism
Award from the International Women's Media Foundation. Now she's written a
memoir about her experiences covering the war called "Naked in Baghdad." The
book also includes e-mails that her husband, Vint Lawrence, wrote while she
was away, keeping friends and family informed on how she was doing. Lawrence
is also with us.

Anne Garrels has reported from Afghanistan, the Middle East, Chechnya and
Bosnia. Before joining NPR in 1988, she was NBC's State Department
correspondent. I asked Anne Garrels why she decided to stay in Baghdad when
many news organizations were pulling out.

ANNE GARRELS (Author, "Naked in Baghdad"): Well, first of all I don't think
any of realized so many journalists would leave. There were about 500
journalists in Baghdad until just a few days before the--President Bush's
deadline, and it wasn't really until the last minute that we turned around and
looked at each other and went `Oh, my God, there are only 16 Americans left.'

But there was no question in my own mind that I should stay. I'd been there
on and off from--since last October, and my gut instinct told me that I was
going to be OK. I knew a lot of Iraqis and I had an extraordinary Iraqi
driver-fixer-translator, whatever you want to call him, who, while there were
no guarantees of safety, I thought might be able to help me if things really
got bad.

GROSS: I am one of your many, many listeners who thought `Oh, my God, she's
going to stay during the bombing. That's got to be dangerous. I'm worried.'
Were you not worried?

GARRELS: I was too--of course I was worried, and there were moments--and I
was terrified--but I was too busy for the most part to be really scared. I
had to file morning, noon and night. A lot of what I was dealing with was
logistics, you know, hiding my SAT phone from, you know, Saddam's thugs who
were prowling the hotel, trying to get information. So, you know, curiously,
you know, by the end of the day instead of, you know, being terrified, I would
just fall asleep from dialing fatigue or just exhaustion, and slept like a
baby through a lot of the bombing.

GROSS: I just want to introduce your husband, Vint Lawrence, and your e-mails
to friends and family are reprinted in Anne's book, and we'll talk a little
bit more later, Vint, but right now I'd really like to know what was your
reaction when your wife wanted to stay in Baghdad for the war, during the
bombing? Did you want to convince her to come home?

Mr. VINT LAWRENCE (Garrels' Husband): No. You have to understand Annie has
done this for 25 years. Her gut has never let her down. Her basic instincts
have always been accurate. And we married as adults, if you will. I knew
what she was about; she knew what I was about. And when the issue came up, I
talked at length with her editor, who's a wonderful man, and we had both been
in Southeast Asia together, in one form or another. We both concurred that it
was always scarier on the outside of a situation than on the inside of a
situation. And he said, `What do you think?' And I said, `Look, you--if
you're lucky in life you get to do what you want for 25 years. If you're
really lucky in life, you get one time when you can show just how good you
are.' And this was Annie's time. And far be it for me to ask her to come
home.

GROSS: So you've been in war zones, too?

Mr. LAWRENCE: Yes.

GROSS: As a cartoonist or reporter?

Mr. LAWRENCE: No, I was--spent an early part of my life as--in the CIA and I
spent four years in the mountains of Laos in the early '60s, so that I sort
of know what it's like to be in a rather dicey situation. And I kept telling
people then that I was OK and Annie was doing the same thing now.

GROSS: Are you both fatalists about these kinds of things?

Mr. LAWRENCE: Define your term, please.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That you have a certain amount of control and other things, if it
happens, it happens, and you do your best, and you accept what happens?

Mr. LAWRENCE: Yes.

GARRELS: Yeah, absolutely.

Mr. LAWRENCE: Yeah.

GROSS: I don't know if that's the dictionary definition...

Mr. LAWRENCE: Yeah, but it's pretty good.

GROSS: That's why I ask it--yeah.

Mr. LAWRENCE: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

GARRELS: And...

Mr. LAWRENCE: I mean--and why--I didn't want you to say--I don't think Annie
has any desire to risk life and limb.

GROSS: No, no, no. Right. Right.

Mr. LAWRENCE: That's why--I just wanted to be clear.

GROSS: Right.

GARRELS: And, you know, looking back--I mean, of course, it's very easy to
look back, the bombing was incredibly accurate, and we had already seen that
in '91. I was never, in fact, scared of the bombing. I had seen in '91,
again in '98, just how accurate it was. I was scared of being taken hostage
by the Iraqis. That was a very real and palpable threat. But I figured there
were other American and foreign journalists who were much more high-profile
than I, correctly, or incorrectly, I don't know. But certainly the networks,
The New York Times, Washington Post--working for NPR, I'd sort of fallen
beneath the radar a little bit. The Iraqis didn't really give radio much
importance. I was not entirely correct, I have since learned. I did not fall
as much below the radio as I thought I had.

GROSS: Really? What did you find out?

GARRELS: Well, I found out from the man I call Amor, who was my Iraqi driver,
that, in fact, the Iraqi Information Ministry was coming to him a great deal
at the end. They thought that I was CIA. I also since found--and he would
sort of go `Oh, she's just a lady. She's just a dumb broad.' You know? `Oh,
God, no.' You know? `And, what's more, you know, an old one. She's not
doing anything.' You know? Right. I mean, just playing on every sort of
Iraqi prejudice. And then I went to see somebody who had been sort of head of
operations at the Information Ministry on a daily basis when I was just back
in Iraq, and I asked him, you know, if I had been Pollyannaish about how much
I was below the radar, and he said, yes, I had been a little bit.

I had had trouble getting into Iraq at the very beginning of March. He said
he would help me get a visa. I never got that visa. In the end, I bought a
visa from the Iraqi ambassador in Amman for $1,000. It was a valid visa. Of
that, there's no question. However, it did not have the imprimatur of the
Information Ministry back in Baghdad. When I arrived, this particular man,
Kaddam, looked at me--and I mention it in the book--looked at me in shock, how
had I gotten in. He then told me that he hid my file. He did not send it, as
he was supposed to, upstairs. So certain people were not apprised of my
presence in Baghdad.

GROSS: Anne Garrels is my guest, and she reports for NPR. She reported from
Baghdad during the war. Her new book is a memoir about covering the war.
It's called "Naked in Baghdad: The Iraq war as seen by NPR's correspondent."
Also with us is her husband, Vint Lawrence, whose e-mails to friends and
family during the war are included in the book.

Anne, when you decided to stay in Iraq during the actual bombing, knowing that
most of the journalists were leaving, did you feel like an even greater
responsibility, a special responsibility, to do the most thorough reporting
that you could because there were so few journalistic voices that were going
to be able to report from the war?

GARRELS: Yes, and no. I had always felt a responsibility from October on not
to pull my punches. Some journalists were deliberately not reporting certain
things in order to stay on. I figured that was stupid. So I had seen my job
from the very beginning as simply to try and document what Iraqis thought
about their own situation, from as many different perspectives as possible.
You know, all of us covering the war had but a tiny window. My window was in
Baghdad. None of us had a picture of the entire war. I did not fully
appreciate how, if you will, important my reports were. At one point, I'd
said to my boss, `You know, I really don't have anything new to say today.'
And he said, `Annie, you don't understand. First of all, if you're not on the
air, people will think you're dead. Second of all, you know...'

GROSS: That's true. People would be scared. I mean, as a listener, I could
vouch for that.

GARRELS: And second of all, he said, `People just want to hear what it looks
like and feels like and smells like.' You know? If there's nothing new, just
say that, but, you know, you will be on the air every cycle.' At that point,
I think I then realized how important it was. And it--but it really wasn't
until I got home--because I was in a cocoon for the, you know, two months,
really. I was in Baghdad with access only by satellite phone--that I--you
know, the outpouring from listeners and their comments about what the
broadcasts had meant. And that's, in some ways, why I ended up writing the
book, just to explain what it had really been like, because so much of what
was going on I could not report because I would have hurt Iraqis; I would have
hurt Amor, I would have put his life in jeopardy. So a lot of it was
explaining, you know, how people had helped and what the process was.

GROSS: What's an example of something you can say now that you couldn't say
when it was actually happening because it would have put somebody in jeopardy?

GARRELS: Well, very clearly, the way Amor worked with me. He told me things
that...

GROSS: This is your translator and driver.

GARRELS: Yes. I mean, from the very beginning, the first day he worked with
me in October, we were driving out of the city, and we suddenly saw this
massive crowd of people, hundreds and hundreds of people standing silently.
You know, I had been in Baghdad 12 hours. I looked at him and sort of said,
`What's going on?' And this was a test, our first test of a relationship to
see, you know, what--how we would deal with each other. And he said,
`Political prisoners.' This was, you know, a group of the families of
political prisoners looking for people who had not been released from prison
when Saddam allegedly let everybody go. I mean, that was a remarkably brave
comment to make at that point. And from then on, he helped me, and he would
tell me when he couldn't help me.

During the war, when I was being watched very carefully and could not go out
on the streets freely because the city was blanketed with security, even more
than had been before the war, Amor would go out and look around. He would
come back and tell me, you know, what was happening. On one occasion, we went
to a bomb site or what had been--Iraqis said was a bomb site. I picked up
some of the shell casings from the debris from the whatever the explosive
device was. Amor looked at me and he said, `That is not an American bomb.
That is an Iraqi anti-aircraft shell.' I mean, that sort of thing. I
certainly could not explain why I knew these things, how I was getting the
information, how I was getting access at the time because he would not have
survived.

GROSS: My guest is NPR foreign correspondent Anne Garrels. Her new book is
called "Naked in Baghdad." We'll talk more about covering the war after a
break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is NPR foreign correspondent Anne Garrels. Her new memoir,
"Naked in Baghdad," describes her experiences covering the war in Iraq.

You write in your book that the fact that there were few reporters who stayed
in Baghdad and that the absence of CNN and Fox and the other large American
networks created an intimacy and a lack of hysteria in the coverage. Do you
mean a lack of hysteria in what we were seeing in the United States or do you
also mean that there was a lack of hysteria in the journalist community in
Baghdad at the time?

GARRELS: Both, because there's no question that my bosses, everybody's
bosses, watch television. And often you're questioned. You know, `Hey, wait
a minute. I saw this on television.' And I think a key example of this is
that the networks and television had just arrived when--that famous moment
when the statue of Saddam was pulled down in Fidos Square, right outside the
Palestine Hotel, not coincidentally. And, you know, it--those pictures are
blazoned around the world as an example of, well, really, vindicating, if you
will, the Bush administration. You know, here the Iraqis were tearing
down--joyously tearing down a statue of Saddam Hussein. Well, I saw something
very different.

GROSS: What did you see?

GARRELS: Where I--I was standing on that square. I saw a few people joyously
pulling down a statue. I saw even more standing around in shock, fear, that
the world they knew had just been turned upside down. A man stood next to me,
and he said, `You realize the Americans are now going to have to take control
and take complete control, and we as Iraqis, unfortunately, will resent that
control.' And, of course, that's exactly what's happened, except the
Americans have not taken complete control, and the Iraqis do resent it, both,
you know, for taking control, and for not doing a good enough job. I mean, he
summed up exactly the future.

And when I went back to the hotel room minutes later, Amor came up and he had
been weeping. And he said, `This is not a good day for Iraq.' He wanted
Iraqis to overthrow Saddam. He wanted to know why they had not been able to.
He wanted to know why the Americans were there. He didn't trust their
intentions, even though he loathed Saddam and Saddam had hurt him and
his--thrown him out of the military, I mean, you know, destroyed his career.
It--you know, it was a far more complicated picture than the pictures showed.

GROSS: You're still in touch with Amor, your translator and driver?

GARRELS: Yes, I was just back in Baghdad for six weeks and I saw him.

GROSS: How is he doing?

GARRELS: He is in despair, like many Iraqis. He's afraid of other Iraqis
because he doesn't know what their agenda is. He's afraid of the Americans.
He's afraid of the American military because it's a very blunt force. And,
unfortunately, in--you know, the troops are scared, with good reason, fighting
an invisible enemy, but the raids they've conducted have been large,
indiscriminate, and innocent civilians, innocent bystanders have been caught
too often.

GROSS: I think everybody was so worried about you when you were in Baghdad.
I know everybody was so worried about you when you were in Baghdad during the
bombing. When you returned to Baghdad this summer for six weeks, did you feel
that you were in more jeopardy in the chaos of postwar Baghdad than you were
during the actual bombing?

GARRELS: Absolutely. And that really started the day the bombing ended. The
bombing was phenomenally accurate, and after a couple of days, you really did
see that there was very little collateral damage. The targets were
predictable. Iraqis really weren't so mu--I mean, they were--it was noisy and
alarming, but they knew what the targets were and had moved away from them if
it--from Iraqi intelligence or milit--the day the bombing stopped and the
chaos began on the streets, it became much more dangerous and continues to be.

GROSS: NPR reporter Anne Garrels is my guest. She covered the war in Iraq.
She was one of the few journalists who stayed there during the war. She
returned for six weeks this summer to Iraq, and now she has a new book called
"Naked in Baghdad: The Iraq war as seen by NPR's correspondent."

Let's go back to the time of the bombing in Iraq. That first night of the,
quote, "shock and awe campaign," where were you? What did you experience?

GARRELS: The first night, I was actually in the Al-Rasheed Hotel. We had
been sort of moving around and were looking for safe places and were being
moved around by the Iraqi authorities. It was very confusing. And for, you
know, whatever reason, I ended up in the Al-Rasheed, which was--I knew was not
safe. There--we knew that there was a bunker underneath the hotel and that it
would--could quite possibly be a target. But there I sat. And the deadline
was--President Bush's deadline was 4 AM my time. I didn't sleep very well
that night, obviously; and 4 AM came, nothing. It was a foggy morning and the
Iraqis then suddenly began to light--the Iraqi troops lit fires all around the
city, and so these plumes of black smoke then created this--making--emerged
and covered the city, making it that harder to see anything. The bombing then
began at 5 AM, but I couldn't really see where it was from the hotel from any
of the windows at the hotel. And as my husband is quick to point out, I'm
also slightly sort of directionally challenged.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GARRELS: And so I got on the--I went on the air with Robert Siegel, and, you
know, tried to--you know, said that, you know, there's bombing. It
wasn't--but most of it was anti-aircraft fire at that point. And it was very
hard to distinguish what was what. And I couldn't really say what had been
hit. You know, it wasn't the most elucidating of reports I've ever given.
And so then I waited, and I was--then I was waiting to go back on the air when
I got a phone call from another reporter who was in the hotel, saying, `You've
got to get out now. We've just got a phone call from the Australian Ministry
of Defense, who says that hotel's going to be hit.' So I'm on the air with
Robert, and I said, `Robert, got to go.' I didn't explain exactly why. So,
you know, I gathered up my belongings and the SAT phone and hurtled out of the
hotel, and then went to the Palestine from where I continued to report for,
you know, the next six weeks.

GROSS: Anne Garrels. Her new memoir is called "Naked in Baghdad." We'll
talk more about covering the war and its aftermath for NPR in the second half
of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

GROSS: Americans don't usually refer to historic events by date, but 9/11 has
become the exception. Coming up, linguist Geoff Nunberg considers why. And
we continue our conversation with NPR's Anne Garrels about covering the war in
Iraq, and we talk with her husband, Vint Lawrence, about his concerns while
she was gone.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with NPR reporter Anne
Garrels. She reported from Iraq before, during and after the war. She was
one of only 16 American reporters who stayed in Baghdad during the bombing.
Her new memoir is called "Naked in Baghdad." A little later we'll talk more
with her husband, the artist Vint Lawrence. The e-mails he wrote to friends
and family during the war are reprinted in the book.

Because the phones were out by some point during the bombing and you had to
file, I mean, you really needed your satellite phone. That was your
connection to the world and that was your reason for being there. Without
your satellite phone, there's no point in being there because you couldn't
file.

GARRELS: Exactly.

GROSS: And there were a couple of times when the phone dropped, or I should
say you dropped the phone or accidentally knocked it over. Did it ever go
completely dead? Did you ever completely break it and have nothing?

GARRELS: No, but only thanks to duct tape, is all I can say. I think by the
time I got home, I was completely wrapped in duct tape. I mean, the problem
was that we weren't allowed to have our phones at the hotel, but I was not
about to work at the Information Ministry, which was clearly a US target. And
that was where we were supposed to keep our equipment. So we had all smuggled
our phones out and brought them to the hotel. In addition to this, I had not
registered my phone when I came in the last time because I suspected that they
would be, you know, looking out for us and watching.

And so I spent most--I mean, an incredible amount of time, as I've said, you
know, dealing with logistics, putting up the satellite phone, taking down the
satellite phone, so that they couldn't see it. I had to put the antenna--it's
about the size of--you know, the phone itself when it's all folded up is about
the size of a laptop, but the panels for the antenna open up and you have to
put it on the balcony. And I didn't want the authorities, obviously, to see
it, so I would put it up, make the phone calls I needed to, to broadcast, and
then knock it down again. The real problem was late at night when I was
filing for "All Things Considered"...

GROSS: Which was 1 AM your time in Baghdad.

GARRELS: And the thugs used to go around the hallways at that time looking
for sat phones. And they'd look to see, you know, lights under the doors.
They'd knock. They didn't break in, as a rule. So, you know, hence, I'd
broadcast naked in the great hope that...

GROSS: You need to explain this story...

GARRELS: Right.

GROSS: ...in case our listeners haven't heard it; for anyone who hasn't heard
it.

GARRELS: Well, in a desperate attempt to buy time, I figured, OK, if I
broadcast in the dark, they didn't see the light under the door, and if I
didn't have any clothes on, they came and knocked, I could come, and
especially as a woman, say, `Oh, my God, I was asleep, you know, just let me
get some clothes.' And that might give me a few minutes to hide the phone. I
had a dress laid out that I could just, you know, put on over my head, in the
meantime sort of try and dismantle the phone.

However, in my efforts to--I mean, people would call and say, `They're coming
around, they're coming around,' and so I would, you know, grab the phone, try
and dismantle it, and in a couple of instances I tripped over cords because I
was in the dark. And on one occasion, the antenna smashed sickeningly onto
the cement floor of the balcony, one of the panels blew off. And I just
thought, `Oh, my God, how am I going to tell NPR that I can't file?' You
know, what am I going to do? And then I borrowed duct tape, put it back
together and, lo and behold, it worked.

GROSS: Now why couldn't you lie and say you were naked without actually being
naked?

GARRELS: Well, for starters, I wasn't sure they would understand English, so
I figured--I mean, the guards didn't. So I would have to open the door a
crack, you know, poke my head out and at least have a bare shoulder to
reinforce the image. And, you know, the things you do. It was, you know,
clearly a feeble attempt at trying to hide the phone.

GROSS: Oh, I think it's brilliant.

GARRELS: I couldn't think of anything else at the time, I can tell you.

GROSS: I think it's brilliant. You write in your book that, `Being an older
woman, over 50, men generally deal with me as a sexless professional while
women open up in ways they would not with a man.' And you're talking about
being a foreign correspondent here. So you think that being an older woman
actually worked in your favor.

GARRELS: Absolutely. There's no question, you know, whether it was in--I
mean, since 9/11, whether it was Afghanistan where I spent many months,
Pakistan, Iraq, no question.

GROSS: It worked in your favor in a very weird situation. You were getting
10-day visas when you initially got to Iraq, and the first time you had to
leave, you were told you had to take a mandatory AIDS test at a cost of $200
in order to get out of the country.

GARRELS: And what's more, they were going to give us the AIDS test. I mean,
it wasn't just, you know, pay for it. I mean, these guys were very
enthusiastic that particular day or they figured they'd get a lot more money
out of us if they appeared with a dirty needle. And I sat there going, `Oh,
my God,' you know, `I do not wish to be punctured by a dirty needle.' And I
was so sick of having to pay out, you know, masses of money to corrupt
officials.

And I was looking at the board in front of me where in broken English it sort
of said, `Dear passengers, women over the age of 50 do not have to have the
AIDS test. Men over the age of 60 are exempt.' Now why, you may say, the
difference in ages? But at which point I raised my hand and said to the
officials, `Excuse me, but, you know, but I'm over 50. Check the passport.'
I was then traveling with a male colleague who was 45 and who had to pay up.
And he was furious.

GROSS: So he paid up but didn't take the test?

GARRELS: Yes, we managed in the end.

GROSS: This is basically just like another bribery scam.

GARRELS: Yes. And it has always been interesting to me as to why you have to
have an AIDS test when you leave the country. But anyway, that's another
issue.

GROSS: So you had to do a lot in the way of bribing. Who pays for the
bribes? Do you, like, expense that to NPR when you get home?

GARRELS: Yes. Unfortunately, you don't get receipts...

GROSS: Right.

GARRELS: ...for much of this. But you just try to--I would say that NPR paid
less than most news organizations.

GROSS: Oh, right. Does NPR give you guidelines like, you know, a bribe to
avoid an AIDS test is worth $300. A bribe to...

GARRELS: No, but maybe I should suggest. We'll have this--you know, a tally
sheet. No, you just fly by the seat of your pants. And, you know, every
situation is different and the needs and demands are different. Getting--you
know, I mean, NPR believed me when I said that I paid, you know, the Iraqi
ambassador--although I did have a witness, in fact, an outsider, when I paid
the Iraqi ambassador a thousand bucks for my visa.

GROSS: This is a good reason why I think journalists might be a target for
theft, because if you're walking around with enough money to be able to bribe
officials, it means you've got cash.

GARRELS: Yeah. And this is a real issue and something we're all--especially
as soon as the bombing was over and the chaos started on the streets. And, I
mean, I came down one morning and suddenly all the Iraqi security is gone, the
Information Ministry is gone. You know, all of Saddam's people have just
evaporated. And, you know, my initial feeling was, `Yes!' And then I
thought, `Oh, my God, we're targets,' because everybody knew we had thousands
and thousands of dollars on us. And, in fact, many journalists were robbed,
are robbed up to this day going in and out through the western desert from
Amman, Jordan.

And, you know, I warned my colleagues--I mean, we all sort of do it the same
way, that we keep $500, you know, right out there, ready to give the robbers.
Luckily nobody has been killed so far. They're just after the cash. And you
hide the rest of it in, you know, various places in the car and hope that, you
know, a significant but not a--you know, God forbid, NPR donors are thinking
they're paying--you know, a significant but not overly...

GROSS: Pledge now. We have to bribe authorities. That's a good pitch.

My guest is NPR foreign correspondent Anne Garrels. Her new book is called
"Naked in Baghdad." We'll talk more about covering the war after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is NPR foreign correspondent Anne Garrels. Her new memoir,
"Naked in Baghdad," describes her experiences covering the war in Iraq.

Could you describe what you consider to be the emotional high point and low
point for you during the war as a reporter and as a human being, being there?

GARRELS: I think a curious high point was in the weeks afterwards when I
realized that all the months of staying there had really been worth it because
Iraqis had so accurately predicted what was going to happen. Iraqis knew
themselves and they made it all very clear. So in a perverse kind of way, I
guess that was a high point, that I was astonished at how ill-prepared the
Bush administration was for the aftermath from the very beginning. And that
continues to this day.

I was just there for six weeks. You know, troops are stretched incredibly
thin. The civil administration is very thin. I mean, not only have they now
been forced to work behind, you know, coils of barbed wire and walls of
sandbags, but there are almost no experts on the region in Paul Bremer's
administration. Most people are staying a month, maybe two, at the most.
They're--as soon as...

GROSS: You mean because they want to get out afterwards?

GARRELS: They--for whatever reason. And so there is no continuity. As soon
as somebody understands the problems of electricity, they're gone.

GROSS: So a high point for you as a reporter was feeling that the time you
spent there was worthy of the time because you learned that all these
things...

GARRELS: It was worth it.

GROSS: ...could have been planned for, could have been expected. You
understood that. What about the low point, the point where you felt most
despairing?

GARRELS: Well, the low point was realizing from the very beginning how
ill-prepared the US was. And I guess the low point was the minute I got to
Amman and I was just exhausted. I didn't realize how exhausted. And the low
point, too, was when I got home how much I put Vint through. I mean, he's
wonderful about saying that I should have done it, and, indeed, later in the
summer when I said, `Should I go back?' he said, `You'd better. You need some
new stories.' He was getting a little sick of the old ones. But it had been
really hard on him this time.

GROSS: Well, this is a good time to reintroduce your husband, Vint Lawrence,
who's with us in the studio. And he's a contributor to your book, "Naked in
Baghdad," and he has reprinted some of the e-mails he sent out to friends and
family about your whereabouts and your state of mind...

GARRELS: Yes.

GROSS: ...and health during the war. Vint Lawrence is an artist, and has
also done a lot of cartoons for The New Republic.

Vint, in your e-mails that you sent...

Mr. LAWRENCE: Yes.

GROSS: ...in one of them you make it seem like your wife, Anne Garrels, is
very different when she's not functioning in her capacity as reporter. You
say that at home she's slightly muddled, directionally challenged and
technologically inept. Would you describe a little bit of the difference you
perceive in her when she's kind of on duty and when she's off?

Mr. LAWRENCE: Yeah. Annie's got...

GROSS: This could be embarrassing, Anne.

Mr. LAWRENCE: No, no, no.

GROSS: OK.

Mr. LAWRENCE: She knows it anyway. Annie's got two gears.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. LAWRENCE: She's in a resting gear or she's in battle mode. And when she
comes home, she flips gears. We live two miles outside of a small New England
town. There's really only one road between our house and the town. For you
to make a mistake is really hard. However, comma, I have gotten a telephone
call from Annie an hour after she left to go into town and this little voice
comes on the phone and she says, `Well, I think I'm in Torrington,' and
Torrington is in the opposite direction and about 30 miles away--15 miles
away. So the sense that she really doesn't quite know--she doesn't carry a
map inside her brain or it gets shut off when she's at home, that's one thing.

And the other parts of Annie are that technologically she's got work to do.
And this is one of the things which we love about her, but it is fascinating
to see the transformation what happens when she starts gearing up to go back
out, and all of a sudden, all of that ineptitude, if you want to call it,
drops away and Annie becomes an enormously competent, steel-backed reporter.
But they are two different people.

GROSS: Anne, how do you perceive that difference?

GARRELS: There are two different people in some ways. I mean, when I'm
overseas, I'm alone and it's 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When I come
home, you know, I become very domestic. I mean, I can rely on Vint, finally,
for things. I mean, he's great at--it's a classic marriage. He's great at
certain things, and many things, most things, in fact. But I can--you know, I
go into, you know--first thing I do when I get home, I start moving all the
furniture, touching everything in the house, clean the floors. You know,
everything I don't do for months on end on the road. You know? I mean, I go
from a completely lack of domestic, you know, life...

GROSS: Uh-huh.

GARRELS: ...to, you know, just being at home and cooking. But he gets really
a rough end of it because I come home, and for the first week, I'm usually, I
mean, literally dead. I'm just exhausted. You know, I work up to the final
ounce of energy that I've got. And, you know, frankly, as I get older, that
gets harder.

GROSS: Right.

GARRELS: I mean, I get tired faster than I used to. And, you know, thank God
the worst didn't happen in Baghdad. But, you know, you were constantly sort
of braced for if it did happen and what you would do and how you would deal
with it.

GROSS: How do you cross that threshold between the Anne Garrels who's at home
and is directionally challenged and can get lost easily to the Anne Garrels
who's going to Iraq for the first time to report on the war, where you have to
be, you know, incredibly self-sufficient and get around and have instincts? I
know you have a driver there, but still you need instincts. And that sense of
anticipation when you're crossing the threshold from home to foreign
correspondent...

GARRELS: Oh, I get scared every time I go on an assignment, I mean, scared
that I won't do it as well as I want to. I mean, there's always just this
incredible surge of adrenaline. And, boy, if that adrenaline goes one day, I
don't--but, you know, that I'm not going to get it as right as I might be able
to. And I don't write easily. I mean, still it's a painful, torturous
process for me to--I'm not a natural writer.

GROSS: We're broadcasting this interview on September 11th, and, you know,
the cliche that is so true, that the world has changed since then, your lives
have changed since then, Anne Garrels, your assignments have changed since
then.

GARRELS: Completely.

GROSS: Yeah. How have your assignments changed?

GARRELS: I mean, I think before 9/11, I was anticipating that I would start
doing sort of projects. I mean, I had begun to do something on water issues
around the world. I was going to be standing back and looking more at sort
of, you know, bigger ideas. Well, forget that. You know, I spent months in
Afghanistan, then Pakistan, West Bank, now almost a year on and off in Iraq.
I could never have imagined that before. And, you know, NPR doesn't have a
lot of reporters, and you can't say, `I'm sorry, I don't do windows.' And my
instinct is also to want to be sort of, you know, part of the team.

GROSS: Do you think that the war in Iraq has finally helped diminish the
threat of terrorism or do you think it is increasing the threat of terrorism?

GARRELS: I fear that it could well increase the threat of terrorism against
Americans. We have unleashed new political demons in the country, and we
could, if we're not careful, transform what was a potential threat into a very
concrete one. I think the administration is finally beginning to realize how
complicated the situation there is, although it's been very slow to do so.

GROSS: Thank you both so much, and congratulations on the book.

GARRELS: Oh, thank you, sweetie.

GROSS: And, Anne, thank you for that extraordinary reporting from Iraq.

GARRELS: Well...

GROSS: Anne Garrels is a foreign correspondent for NPR. Her new memoir is
called "Naked in Baghdad." The book includes e-mails about Garrels that her
husband, Vint Lawrence, wrote to friends and family during the war.

Coming up, linguist Geoff Nunberg on why we refer to today as the anniversary
of 9/11.

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Commentary: Why the attacks of September 11th, 2001, are referred
to as 9/11
TERRY GROSS, host:

Today is the second anniversary of what we now refer to as September 11th, or
9/11. Our linguist Geoff Nunberg says it's unusual for Americans to
memorialize an event by its date.

GEOFF NUNBERG:

Back in 1979 when I was living in Rome, the singer Francesco De Gregori had an
odd hit with a kind of alternative national anthem called "Viva L'Italia,"
which has since become a classic. The song is laced with an ironic affection
for Italy with all its faults. The tone is more like "My Funny Valentine"
than the love-it-or-leave-it swagger of our patriotic country songs or the
angry repudiations of our protest music.

(Soundbite of "Viva L'Italia")

Mr. FRANCESCO DE GREGORI: (Singing in Italian)

NUNBERG: `Viva L'Italia,' it went, `plundered and betrayed, half garden and
half jail, Italy with its eyes shut in the dark night, Italy unafraid.' The
last verse went, `Viva L'Italia, Italy of the 12th of December, Italy draped
in flags and Italy naked as always, Italy with its eyes open in the sad night,
Italy that resists.'

I had to ask an Italian friend about that reference to the 12th of December.
It turned out to be the day in 1969 when neofascists set off bombs in Milan
and Rome that killed 16 people and wounded more than a hundred, setting off a
long period of violence and instability.

The Italians are always using dates to refer to important events. In Rome
alone, there are streets named after May 24th, September 8th, September 20th,
February 8th, October 25th and November 4th, all of them commemorating various
events of national significance.

The Italians aren't alone in this. The French still refer to major
developments of the French Revolution by dates like the 9th of Thermidor and
the 18th of Brumaire, using the names of the months in the Revolutionary
calendar. And they've kept up the practice in modern times. A recent article
in Le Monde asks whether the socialists were heading for a new 21st of April,
the date of the 2002 presidential elections when the party was eliminated by
the far-right party of Jean-Marie Le Pen.

As it happens, in fact, we Americans are one of the few nations who don't
refer to historical events this way. There's the Fourth of July, of course,
but we only use that date to refer to the national holiday, not the approval
of the Declaration of Independence back in 1776. We talk about Pearl Harbor,
V-E Day and the Kennedy assassination, not December 7th, May 8th or November
22nd.

September 11th is the one exception. That may be because the events of that
day happened in two different places. Giving the date is more concise than
saying `the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.'
But even so, we seem to feel the need to give the date a special name. Since
the attacks, September 11th has been steadily losing ground to 9/11, which is
now about six times as common in the press. That's the way we write a date in
headlines or on a check stub, not what we say in conversation when somebody
asks for our birthday.

Of course, you could say that our reluctance to refer to events by month and
day is simply a matter of avoiding ambiguity as to which year we're talking
about. But people in other nations don't seem to have any problem
understanding these references. Would that be next Brumaire 18th or the one
back in 1799?

For the French and Italians, in fact, that's the point of referring to events
as December 12th or April 21st. It appeals to the collective memory of a
community linked by a common daily experience. You have the image of a people
turning the pages of the calendar in unison and marking the important dates in
red letters. It's the same sense of history that allows families to refer to
the dates of birthdays and anniversaries without having to remind each other
what their significance is.

Of course, that familial sense of national community comes more naturally to a
homogeneous people with a history that transcends regimes and revolutions, and
we Americans don't really think of ourselves as a people in that sense. When
we talk about the American people, we usually continue with `are' rather than
with `is.' That may be why we're uncomfortable with the familiar sort of
patriotism you hear in De Gregori's Italian anthem. When my sister and I talk
about our family, we can allow ourselves the tone of fond exasperation without
having to worry that somebody's going to accuse us of being anti-Nunberg.

As families go, at any rate, we Americans aren't very good at remembering the
dates of our anniversaries. Shortly after the battle of Lexington and Concord
in 1775, John Adams' wife, Abigail, wrote that `the 19th of April would be
ever memorable for America as the Ides of March to Rome,' but the only people
who mark that date now are the decidedly unfamilial far-rightists who
associate it with Waco and the Oklahoma City bombing. Most Americans couldn't
tell you when the shot heard 'round the world was fired or, for that matter,
by whom or at what.

That may very well be the fate of today's date, too, within a couple of
generations. But in the meantime, there's something to be said for referring
to the event simply as September 11th rather than with that bureaucratic
sounding 9/11. It's only two extra syllables, and it locates the events where
they happened, in the middle of our daily lives.

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist at Stanford University's Center for the
Study of Language and Information, and he's the author of "The Way We Talk
Now."

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

52:30

'Monuments to the Unthinkable' explores how nations can memorialize their atrocities

In How the Word Is Passed, author Clint Smith explored U.S. sites that deal with the legacy of slavery. Now, in The Atlantic, he writes about German memorials to the Holocaust.

42:42

Journalist Maria Ressa explains 'How to Stand Up to a Dictator'

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist faced criminal charges in the Philippines after her news site's reporting angered government officials. How to Stand Up to a Dictator is her new memoir.

08:48

Maureen Corrigan's favorite books of the year: 10 disparate reads for a hectic 2022

Some years, my best books list falls into a pattern: like a year that's dominated by dystopian fiction or stand-out memoirs. But, as perhaps befits this hectic year, the best books I read in 2022 sprawl all over the place in subject and form. Here are 10 superb titles from 2022:

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue