Longform's Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform's new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

Ghosts of the Tsunami, by Richard Lloyd Parry, the London Review of Books

In the aftermath of a tsunami that claimed 20,000 lives, stories of unhappy spirits haunt Japan.

The tsunami did appalling violence to the religion of the ancestors. Along with walls, roofs and people, the water carried away household altars, memorial tablets and family photographs. Cemetery vaults were ripped open and the bones of the dead scattered. Temples were destroyed, along with memorial books listing the names of ancestors over generations. ‘The memorial tablets - it's difficult to exaggerate their importance,' Yozo Taniyama, a priest and friend of Reverend Kaneda, told me. ‘When there's a fire or an earthquake, the ihai are the first thing many people will save, before money or documents. People died in the tsunami because they went home for the ihai. It's life - like saving your late father's life.'

When people die violently or prematurely, in anger or anguish, they are at risk of becoming gaki, ‘hungry ghosts', who wander between worlds, propagating curses and mischief. There are rituals for placating unhappy spirits, but in the aftermath of the disaster few families were in a position to perform them. And then there were those ancestors whose descendants were entirely wiped out by the wave. Their comfort in the afterlife depended entirely on the reverence of living families, which had been permanently and irrevocably cut off: their situation was as helpless as that of orphaned children.

Thousands of spirits had passed from life to death; countless others were cut loose from their moorings in the afterlife. How could they all be cared for? Who was to honour the compact between the living and the dead? In such circumstances, how could there fail to be a swarm of ghosts?

Far from Home, by Cynthia Gorney, National Geographic

On the foreign workers of Dubai, who now make up more than 90 percent of the city.

Difficult living conditions for foreign workers can be found everywhere in the world. But everything about Dubai is exaggerated. The city's modern history starts just over a half century ago, with the discovery of oil in nearby Abu Dhabi, then a separate and independent sheikhdom. The United Arab Emirates was founded in 1971 as a national federation encompassing six of these sheikhdoms-the seventh joined the following year-and since Dubai had comparatively little oil, the city's royal family used its portion of the country's new riches to transform the small trading city into a commercial capital to dazzle the world. The famous indoor ski slope is only one wing of a Dubai shopping mall, which is not even the biggest of the city's many malls; that one contains a three-story aquarium and a full-size ice hockey rink. The tallest building on the planet is in Dubai; Tom Cruise was seen rappelling down its outer wall in one of the Mission: Impossible movies. Nearly everywhere the visitor looks, things are extravagant and new.

And because the men who conceived contemporary Dubai decided that their spectacular city would be assembled and serviced by workers from other countries-there were too few Emiratis to do it, and why would a newly wealthy nation expect its adults to wait tables or pour cement in 120-degree-Fahrenheit heat when it could afford to invite outsiders to perform these tasks?-they ended up doing this in exaggerated fashion too. Of the 2.1 million people in Dubai, only about one in ten is Emirati. The rest are the global economy's loaners, working on temporary contracts with the understanding that they will never be offered Emirati citizenship.

Twilight on the Tundra, by Julia Phillips, the Morning News

An adventure on the Beringia, a dog sled race stretching 685 miles over Russia's frozen tundra.

How do you see what the mushers see? You mush. Turn in an application to the Beringia, a dog sled race stretching over Russia's easternmost tundra. In 1991, the Beringia was awarded a Guinness Word Record for longest mushing trail ever. This year it covers 685 miles. Buy, borrow, or build a sled. Breed, beg for, or steal your dogs. These dogs are sometimes vicious. Their snouts carry pink-hooked scars. Shout at your team. Break up a fight and tear your hands open. In the beginning of March, make your way to the village of Esso, at the heart of the remote Kamchatka peninsula, nearly 5,000 miles from Moscow. Meet your competitors; lower your head so organizers can drape a yellow jersey over your shoulders; stand on a stage next to Kamchatka's governor; smile, wave; check your dogs' harnesses one last time and lift the toothed snow anchor that had been holding your sled in place; mush.

If you're not a musher, you can still make it across those 685 miles of snow. You just have to figure out how. Here's my advice: Live in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Kamchatka's capital, Petropavlovsk is a slowly shrinking settlement of 175,000 people supported by commercial fishing, summer tourism, and the military-industrial complex. Learn to love life there. Compose newspaper articles about the peninsula. Discover that you're the only journalist around who's working in the English language. Figure out where the Beringia headquarters is, show up every day, make coffee for the three men who organize the race, and wash their mugs. Be patient. One morning you'll find you're in the right place at, finally, the right time-the race leader says you can accompany them as a writer.

Secrets from Belfast, by Beth McMurtrie, the Chronicle of Higher Education

How Boston College's oral history of the Troubles fell victim to an international murder investigation.

To many academic observers the Boston College case, as troubling as it was, remains an oddity. Not many oral historians choose to interview members of paramilitary organizations. And few universities contract out such work.

But the case has had a chilling effect among scholars. Richard L. English, director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, says he has heard from a number of researchers seeking advice about whether to pursue research on political violence if it includes interviewing those involved in conflict. "I think the fallout is much wider than Northern Ireland," he says. "There has been a shadow cast over this kind of research."

Clifford M. Kuhn, executive director of the Oral History Association, says the Belfast Project offers several lessons. Make sure you consult your legal team in advance, for one, and get the top administration on board. "Perhaps a word of wisdom is, if you have this kind of project," he adds, "don't open it up until all participants are deceased. At the very least, do your best not to publicize it."

The Littlest Boy, by Adam Rawnsley and David Brown, Foreign Policy

Twenty years after Hiroshima, elite American troops trained to stop a Soviet invasion -- with nuclear weapons strapped to their backs.

In the event that communist forces launched a limited, non-nuclear attack, the president would have to choose between defeat at the hands of a superior conventional force or a staggeringly disproportionate (and potentially suicidal) strategic nuclear exchange that would kill hundreds of millions of people.

To provide options between "red" and "dead," the United States soon embraced the concept of limited nuclear war, championing tactical atomic weapons designed for use in combat. If Warsaw Pact forces ever bolted from East Germany and Czechoslovakia toward Western Europe, the United States could resort to nukes to at least delay the communist advance long enough for reinforcements to arrive. These "small" weapons, many of them more powerful than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, would have obliterated any battlefield and irradiated much of the surrounding area. But they provided options.

Cold War strategy was filled with oxymorons like "limited nuclear war," but the backpack nuke was perhaps the most darkly comic manifestation of an age struggling to deal with the all-too-real prospect of Armageddon. The SADM was a case of life imitating satire. After all, much like Slim Pickens1 in the iconic finale of Dr. Strangelove, American soldiers would strap on atomic bombs and jump out of airplanes as part of the opening act of World War III.


Longform's Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform's new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

This is Danny Pearl's Final Story, by Asra Q. Nomani, Washingtonian

The author spent a decade reporting the facts of Daniel Pearl's murder. Little did she know she would also learn something about myself.

It's May 5, 2012, the first time in three and a half years that KSM -- as he's known to American officials-has appeared in court, outside his prison cell. We are at Guantánamo, where a US military commission is about to arraign him and four other men for the September 11 attacks, in a courtroom that feels like a movie set. Erected atop an abandoned airfield on the base, it's as big as a warehouse and has small trailers outside set up as holding areas, one for each defendant. When the courtroom door opened for the men, the Caribbean sun pushed its way into the room first.

I'm in seat number two in the first row of journalists and spectators, separated from the defendants by a wall outfitted with soundproof glass. A video system feeds sound and pictures to screens above us. I'm about 30 feet behind KSM, and there are 40 of us in the gallery. Yet as KSM takes his seat, it feels for a moment as if we're the only two people in the room.

"Allahu, Allahu, Allahu," I whisper.

For the families of those who died on 9/11, the day marks the start of what's likely to be a years-long trial for justice against KSM, the self-described architect of the World Trade Center attacks. For me, it's something else. KSM is the man who bragged about taking a knife to the throat of my Wall Street Journal colleague and close friend Daniel Pearl.

Eagle Scout. Idealist. Drug Trafficker?, by David Segal, the New York Times

Is Dread Pirate Roberts, the man behind the world's largest black market for drugs, 29-year-old Ross Ulbricht?

Far from the bloodless kingpin portrayed by the government, Ross Ulbricht, by the accounts of friends and relatives, was soulful and sensitive. In a conversation with his childhood friend Rene Pinnell, recorded in 2012 through StoryCorps, a national oral history project, and still posted on YouTube, Mr. Ulbricht said that in college he initially refused to sleep with the woman he described as his first love, for fear that he would wind up heartsick.

"We didn't have sex for like three months," he said. "But we'd make out, and really, like, get close but never go there. And when we finally did, it was amazing."

It seems nearly impossible to reconcile the government's version of Mr. Ulbricht with the warm, compassionate person that others describe. Which leaves at least three possibilities.

One, that the government has, in fact, collared the wrong man.

Two, that Mr. Ulbricht is a sociopath who concealed a dark side from everyone for years.

Three, that Mr. Ulbricht is Dread Pirate Roberts -- and that the two are not really that different.

A Countryside of Concentration Camps, by Graeme Wood, the New Republic

Burma could be the site of the world's next genocide.

A year later on the streets of Rangoon, Burma's Great Unclenching is a beautiful thing. The Burma I first visited in 1998 was a snakepit of secret police and muzzled dissent. But last fall, I heard people openly express love for the leader of Burma's democratic opposition, Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. On every street corner, kiosks sold dozens of vibrant tabloids free from routine censorship. Burma's economic isolation once forced foreign visitors to pack in bundles of crisp hundred-dollar bills. Now brand-new ATMs disgorge money just like in Paris or Buenos Aires.

But Arakan state looked a lot better when things were still clenched. Muslims and Buddhists who recently lived with each other peacefully now squat on opposite sides of barbed-wire fences and plot each other's elimination. Old women and children too infirm to run from raiding parties have been speared or beaten to death in their homes. The fortunate ones are fleeing to other countries on overladen, leaky boats. In Sittway, the state capital, Buddhists have surrounded the old Muslim quarter, starving its residents into submission. "It's a concentration camp," a diplomat in Rangoon told me.

The Disappeared, by James Traub, Foreign Policy

Reporting and surviving a war with no rules.

The early days of the war saw a number of tragic deaths of journalists, including the Sunday Times of London's Marie Colvin and freelance photographer Remi Ochlik, killed by regime shelling during the bombardment of Homs. And then things took an even nastier turn. On August 13, 2012, Austin Tice,3 an American former Marine, law student, and sometime journalist, was nabbed, apparently by the regime. Nothing has been heard from him since October 2012. Two months later, the NBC reporter Richard Engel and his team were kidnapped by what Engel described as the pro-regime militia known as shabiha. They escaped after five days when their captors drove into a rebel checkpoint. Those were just early mile markers on the road to anarchy. Today, rampant kidnapping has become the norm.

Covering wars is, of course, a dangerous job; that's one of the things many war correspondents like about it. But Syria is dangerous in a way that is less thrilling than sickening. Stephanie Freid, who covers the war for the Chinese CCTV network, says, "I've never been in a bleaker, darker setting; it's a godless place. Whenever I go in I feel like, 'Just let me get out alive.'" While some major news organizations continue to work inside Syria, many of the world's most experienced war correspondents -- including C.J. Chivers of the New York Times, Paul Wood of the BBC,4 and Janine di Giovanni of Newsweek5 -- stopped crossing into Syria in September 2013. They're not afraid of being killed, at least no more than any sentient being would be in such a dangerous place.

"I can take anything but kidnapping," says di Giovanni.

Our Man in Africa, by Michael Bronner, Foreign Policy

America championed a bloodthirsty torturer to fight the original war on terror. Now, he is finally being brought to justice.

Foulds excused himself and rushed to inform the ambassador, Richard Bogosian, and the CIA's chief-of-station. They lit up the phones to Washington to seek instructions and, if possible, assistance. "The bottom line is that he was worth saving," Bogosian said of Habré. "He helped us in ways not everybody was willing to."

Throughout the 1980s, the man the CIA had dubbed the "quintessential desert warrior" had been the centerpiece of the Reagan administration's covert effort to undermine Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi, who had become an increasing threat and embarrassment to the United States with his support for international terrorism. Despite persistent and increasingly alarming reports of extrajudicial executions, disappearances, and prison abuse carried out by Habré's regime, the CIA and the State Department's Africa bureau had secretly armed Habré and trained his security service in exchange for the dictator's commitment to ruthlessly pound the Libyan troops then occupying northern Chad. If Habré were overthrown, that near-decade-long effort would be undone.