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.


The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld, Errol Morris, New York Times.

"When I first met Donald Rumsfeld in his offices in Washington, D.C., one of the things I said to him was that if we could provide an answer to the American public about why we went to war in Iraq, we would be rendering an important service. He agreed. Unfortunately, after having spent 33 hours over the course of a year interviewing Mr. Rumsfeld, I fear I know less about the origins of the Iraq war than when I started. A question presents itself: How could that be? How could I know less rather than more? Was he hiding something? Or was there really little more than met the eye?"


The Dead Zoo Gang, Charles Homans, The Atavist.

Over the last several years, millions of dollars worth of antique rhino horns have been stolen form collections around the world. The only thing more unusual than the crimes is the theory about who is responsible: A handful of families from rural Ireland known as the Rathkeale Rovers. 

"Rathkeale is 19 miles southwest of Limerick, the largest city in Ireland's Mid-West Region, located amid a patchwork of pastureland divided up by flat-topped hedgerows and ivy-covered wooden fences. Once a lively market town, Rathkeale now has about 1,500 permanent residents. It's pleasant enough, but like agricultural towns in the emptied-out corners of Middle America, it gives the impression of having been frozen in time partway through the last century. There's a Main Street with a few pubs, a bookmaking parlor, and a closed-down movie theater with a modish concrete-finned facade. A hand-painted sign advertises the local boxing club. A women's clothing boutique has a life-size ceramic Marilyn Monroe out front. Most of the people are older; most of the storefronts are vacant.

It's tempting to say that this was an unexpected place to find the principal suspects in a crime wave that, by late 2013, had caused nearly 100 rhino horns to disappear from museums, auction houses, and private collections in 16 countries across Europe. But then it's hard to say where you wouldhave expected to find them. The thefts, in the world of natural-history museums, were all but unprecedented. That investigators believed them to be the work of several dozen criminals based out of a sleepy village in Ireland was perhaps less surprising than the fact that they had happened at all."


The Interpreters We Left Behind, Paul Solotaroff, Men's Journal.

As our troops pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, we're abandoning fixers and translators to the dangerous countrymen who view them as traitors. Asylum in the U.S. could be their last hope. If only we'd let them in.

"They fanned out, facing the ridge, and waited to get shot. The eight National Guardsmen lay as flat as they could in the open creek while the dirt beside them jumped with machine-gun rounds. There were 45 Taliban blazing away above them, firing from two emplacements on the hill in Wahgez, a lawless, black-route district in southern Afghanistan. Still dazed by the rocket that pierced his 'bomb resistant' truck and launched this hour-old ambush, First Lieutenant Matt Zeller was low on ammo and dropping in and out of consciousness. Twice he'd been rocked by mortar strikes while shooting at a gunner on the hill. The last one had knocked him back behind a grave, where he braced for the round that would cut him in half. 'April 28, 2008,' he thought. 'This is the day that I die.'

Suddenly, he saw a convoy roar up to a halt. The cavalry - a Quick Reaction Force from his base - began sawing open the tree line with high explosives. Zeller took to returning fire when the crack! of a rifle went off past his ear. He looked up to find Janis Shinwari, an Afghan interpreter assigned to Zeller's National Guard unit, crouched beside him, shooting in the other direction. 'Two Taliban had rounded a corner and were right behind me; another second and they'd have shot me in the back,' says Zeller. But Shinwari, who'd arrived with the QRF squad, calmly emptied his clip, killing them both, then dragged Zeller from the kill zone to the trucks.

Hours later, having towed the vehicles back to base and gotten medical care for his wounded, Zeller sat up drinking chai with Shinwari, a tall, sloe-eyed Pashtun with heraldic cheekbones and a deep-well air of calm. Though they shared the same quarters in Forward Operating Base Vulcan, they'd barely been introduced during Zeller's fortnight in-country, and now Zeller needed to know this man who'd saved his life. 'Why,' asked Zeller, 'are you on our side and not theirs?'

'Because you are my guest here,' said Shinwari. 'You come so many miles to help my family; I am honor-bound to protect you, brother.'"


 A Good Man in Africa, Mark Doyle, BBC.

Twenty years ago, Rwanda descended into the madness of genocide. UN peacekeepers were stretched to breaking point - but one stood out, taking huge risks to save hundreds of lives.

"This is the story of the bravest man I have ever met.

I've covered many wars and seen many acts of courage. But for sheer grit and determination I've never known anyone to compare with Capt Mbaye Diagne, a United Nations peacekeeper in Rwanda.

I was there in 1994, when 800,000 people were killed in 100 days, and I returned to reconstruct the story of this remarkable, charismatic officer from the west African state of Senegal."


The Election is the Enemy, Barnett R. Rubin, Foreign Policy.

The Taliban isn't attacking the Afghan army anymore -- they're trying to blow up the heart of Afghan politics.

"When a group of gunmen killed nine people in Kabul's Serena Hotel in late March, the victims included one of the international observers who was supposed to help ensure that this week's presidential vote wasn't marred by widespread fraud. The response was grimly predictable: The National Democratic Institute shuttered its Kabul office and sent its staffers home, while the United Nations pulled some of its technical experts from Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC). The IEC compound itself was assaulted last weekend by a group of heavily armed Taliban militants. The withdrawal of so many international observers, according to the New York Times, 'potentially raises serious questions about the validity of the election.' For the Taliban, it seems, the election, not the Afghan National Army, is now the primary target."

Alex Wong/Getty Images; ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images; BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images; ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images; Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images


Longform's Picks of the Week

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.


Being the Son of a Nazi, Nicholas Kulish and Souad Mekhennet, The Atlantic.

In 1975, Rüdiger Heim landed in Egypt with one question on his mind: Was his father a Nazi? Over the next two decades, he found out. 

"Aribert Heim lived at the Karnak Hotel, of which he was a partial owner. He had a small room with a view of Midan Ataba, the square where the twisting lanes of Islamic Cairo met the orderly grid of the European quarter. It was one of several property investments he had made in Egypt. The purchases were complicated by ownership rules that forbade foreigners to buy property, but with the help of local partners he owned a share of the post-war building in Cairo, an apartment in Alexandria, and a plot of land he was trying to develop in the coastal resort of Agamy Beach. He intended to show them all to his son. He had many plans-and even more opinions. 

The boy wanted to ask about his father's sudden departure from Germany in 1962 and the reasons behind it, but he never found the right moment. Questions about Heim's military service and possible war crimes were never broached. Instead Rüdiger studied his father, asking himself, 'Is this how a Nazi behaves? Was he one?' Rüdiger's notion of Nazis was based on Hollywood films, which presented those Germans as racists who felt justified in exterminating those to whom they felt superior. They were people who killed without being troubled by the act." 


Sarajevo: The Crossroads of History, Simon Kuper, Financial Times Magazine. 

On a street corner here 100 years ago, a 19-year-old Serb nationalist shot the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne and triggered the first world war. The assassin, Gavrilo Princip, is still a potent and divisive symbol.

"'Sophie, Sophie, don't die! Stay alive for the children,' the dying Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand urged his wife as she slumped over him in the open-topped sports car. But Gavrilo Princip's shot had already killed her. A bodyguard asked Franz Ferdinand if he was in pain. 'It's nothing!' he replied repeatedly. Those were his last words. 

If Princip could return today to the scene of his crime, he'd recognise almost every corner of Sarajevo's old town, well restored since the Serbian siege of the early 1990s. The quay along which the royal couple motored to their deaths on June 28 1914 remains a pleasant backwater of Habsburg-era buildings, a sort of cut-price Vienna. The town hall, the last place the couple visited that lost summer morning, is now almost restored to its mock-Moorish splendour of 1914. Around the corner, locals in the medieval Ottoman bazaar are still drinking Bosnian coffee. Sarajevo is still a sleepy Balkan town, still dwarfed by its surrounding hills, still smelling of death." 


The Chaos Company, William Langewiesche, Vanity Fair.

Wherever governments can't-or won't-maintain order, from oil fields in Africa to airports in Britain and nuclear facilities in America, the London-based "global security" behemoth G4S has been filling the void. 

"G4S is based near London and is traded on the stock exchange there. Though it remains generally unknown to the public, it has operations in 120 countries and more than 620,000 employees. In recent years it has become the third-largest private employer in the world, after Walmart and the Taiwanese manufacturing conglomerate Foxconn. The fact that such a huge private entity is a security company is a symptom of our times. Most G4S employees are lowly guards, but a growing number are military specialists dispatched by the company into what are delicately known as "complex environments" to take on jobs that national armies lack the skill or the will to do. Booyse, for one, did not dwell on the larger meaning. 

For him, the company amounted to a few expatriates in the Juba headquarters compound, a six-month contract at $10,000 a month, and some tangible fieldwork to be done. He felt he was getting too old to be living in tents and mucking around in the dirt, but he liked G4S and believed, however wearily, in the job. As he set out for the west, his team consisted of seven men-four de-miners, a driver, a community-liaison officer, and a medic. The medic was a Zimbabwean. All the others were soldiers of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, the S.P.L.A., now seconded to G4S, which paid them well by local standards-about $250 a month. At their disposal they had two old Land Cruisers, one of them configured as an ambulance with a stretcher in the back." 


He Remade Our World, Mark Danner, New York Review of Books.

Why didn't I know about this?
-George W. Bush

"Almost exactly a decade ago, Vice President Dick Cheney greeted President George W. Bush one morning in the Oval Office with the news that his administration was about to implode. Or not quite: Cheney let the president know that something was deeply wrong, though it would take Bush two more days of increasingly surprising revelations, and the near mass resignation of his senior Justice Department and law enforcement officials, to figure out exactly what it was. 'On the morning of March 10, 2004,' as the former president recounts the story in his memoirs, 'Dick Cheney and Andy Card greeted me with a startling announcement: The Terrorist Surveillance Program would expire at the end of the day. 'How can it possibly end?' I asked. 'It's vital to protecting the country.'

The Terrorist Surveillance Program, then known to the handful who were aware of it only as 'the Program' or by its code name, 'Stellar Wind,' was a highly secret National Security Agency effort-eventually revealed by The New York Times in December 2005 and then in much greater detail by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last June. Among other things, Stellar Wind empowered the agency to assemble a vast collection of 'metadata,' including on the telephone calls and e-mails of millions of Americans, that its analysts could search and 'mine' for information."


High-Speed Empire, Tom Zoellner, Foreign Policy

Chinese rail is sprawling, modern, and elegant. It's also convoluted, corroding, and financially alarming. Wanna take a ride?

"The bullet train hurtles toward the industrial city of Taiyuan in northern China, and seemingly within seconds, the modern, smog-soaked Beijing skyline gives way to open fields. David Su is munching on pistachios in the bar car, careful that not a crumb hits his blue foulard scarf, as he heads some 320 miles to reach his early-morning appointment for a private equity firm. Over his shoulder, the Chinese countryside is a disembodied blur: farms and factories receding at the mind-aching speed of 186 miles per hour. Cars on a nearby highway seem to be creeping along by comparison. 

Su travels frequently for his job at Global Capital Investments Group, and he likes this new high-speed train, zipping along on one of several dozen lines built by the Chinese government in a decade-long blitzkrieg program that now has a price tag of $500 billion.

'This will take a financial loss for a few years,' he says, as the aerodynamic carriage rocks and sways. 'But 10 to 20 years from now? This will turn out to be a great investment. I mean, look at it now. It's full!' He puts down his bag of pistachios to gesture to the car, where drowsy travelers are hidden behind newspapers, young hipsters are nodding along with their earbuds, and a group of policemen are playing a voluble game of cards: a workaday commuter scene in front of a hallucinogenic smear of color outside the windows.

China's extraordinary high-speed train enterprise, officially launched in 2007, has often been held up as a grand case study for how a determined nation can build its way to prosperity. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has admiringly termed it a 'moon shot' of technological confidence, of a piece with China's front-line work in aviation, biosciences, and electric cars. Trains make dozens of departures a day from supermodern stations with indoor gardens and mirror-like floors; the lead cars are needle-nosed, their trailing bodies majestic and sleek as swans; and young attendants in zinfandel-colored uniforms and berets serve wine, beer, and coffee."