‘There’s a lot of spit and vitriol and anger’

Maclean's Podcast: Paul Wells in conversation with Graeme Smith

“I always find myself kind of the downer in the room,” Graeme Smith said the other morning over coffee in a hotel café near Parliament Hill, when conversation turned to book touring. Smith’s bestselling memoir, The Dogs Are Eating Them Now, takes its title from the fate of some dead Taliban fighter NATO troops left to lure other insurgents during the Afghanistan war. It didn’t work. Not a lot did.

Smith recently left the Globe and Mail, where he built a reputation as a deeply committed and apparently fearless war reporter, to work for the International Crisis Group in Kabul. The Dogs Are Eating Them Now is his account of his experiences in Afghanistan as the country went to hell, or started in hell and wound up somewhere worse. Its tone is captured in the first line: “We lost the war in southern Afghanistan and it broke my heart.”

“The book is just me barfing out some of my crazy experiences,” he told me. “There’s a lot of spit and vitriol and anger, so it’s just therapy in some ways. If there is an argument, it’s just the first line of the book: that we lost the war. We had certain aims, and those aims — certainly the most important ones, peace, stability and — you can argue about democracy, but peace and stability were not achieved.”

Smith in person is much like the voice in his book: world-weary at a young age, often quite funny, plainly despondent about what happened in a country so many Canadians tried so hard to help. Here is my recording of our conversation.

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