The question of whether the U.S. should be the “world’s policeman” has a particular kind of 1990s ring to it. At least, I hear it that way, probably because I had to answer the question in multiple rounds of high school debate. It was a pertinent question that decade, as the U.S. participated then in at least one military intervention that was deemed successful (Yugoslavia) and at least one that wasn’t (Somalia).
Today, 10 years after 9/11 and what former President Bush termed the War on Terror, we don’t talk so much about being the world’s policeman. Instead, the geopolitical conversation turns to questions about the potential decline of U.S. influence in the face of rising China, or questions about the role and effectiveness of nation building, how to train the armies of other countries to “stand up when we stand down,” and whether we should intervene in countries like Libya. These are this decade's set of questions about America’s place in the world, shaped largely by everything that’s happened between Black Hawk Down and the Battle of Fallujah.
One person who has added meaningfully to this conversation over the last two decades is journalist and filmmaker Sebastian Junger. He has spoken up in favor of American intervention, but knows the costs can be high: His friend and partner, photojournalist Tim Hetherington, was killed during the fighting in Libya in April.
Hetherington’s death gives Junger something in common with the American soldiers they profile in Restrepo, their Oscar-nominated documentary that follows U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan. “They know that as soon as you’re talking about war,” Junger says, “you’re talking about the death of your friends.”
When Junger spoke in Chicago in June he reiterated his belief that the U.S. should intervene in cases where “doing nothing is amoral.” You can hear him describe the events he’s witnessed that shaped those beliefs – including Hetherington’s death – in the audio above.
Dynamic Range showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified’s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Sebastian Junger spoke at an event presented by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in June.
Click here to hear the event in its entirety.