Dismantling improvised explosive devices (IEDs) is the most dangerous job in Afghanistan.
Former foreign news correspondent Terry McCarthy was embedded with a group of Marines tasked with the deadly job. He experienced firsthand the repercussions even one second of distraction can have in a war-torn country, and as a part of a guest lecture series, he recounted those costs of war to Ojai Valley High School students.
“I did a lot of war, and it’s a sort of bittersweet thing,” he said. “You’re reporting on people being killed, but I learned a lot about human nature.”
Despite years of this kind of reporting, years with recognized media outlets, and an impressive collection of esteemed awards, McCarthy finally gave it up, bowing to the understanding that it’s a young mans game and that raising his family in Afghanistan was not a move he wanted to make.
Now, he spreads the word in a different way, as the CEO of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, a non-partisan foreign affairs forum in Los Angeles, a forum that the Ojai Valley School is taking full advantage of.
OVS has become a member of a new program sponsored by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council aimed at involving more high school students in its public programs. The council’s events are focused on providing authoritative and influential speakers from around the world an open forum to promote greater understanding of global issues.
This involvement with the Los Angeles World Affairs Council has opened up several opportunities for OVS students—in the fall, the school newspaper staff had the opportunity to attend the screening of new film “E-Team” and student leaders attended a luncheon and speech featuring President Bill Clinton.
It also opened up the opportunity for Terry McCarthy to share his views on war after spending years at the forefront of those conflicts, experiencing things that no person should ever have to witness and interviewing political leaders.
McCarthy never intended on becoming a journalist. In college, he studied German philosophy and Ancient Greek, two fields that left little options after school other than becoming a professor.
Not wishing to become a professor, McCarthy fell into journalism, which he views as an extension of philosophy. He found the questions he asked as a journalist, such as why people do what they do, very similar to the questions he would ask in philosophy.
McCarthy then proceeded to work for news organizations such as The Independent, Time magazine, ABC News and CBS News. He has won four Emmy Awards and an Edward R. Murrow Award. He also holds an Honorary Degree as a Doctor of Literature from University College Dublin.
“What drove me into journalism was curiosity and the idea that you can find out what’s really going on,” he said.
McCarthy has interviewed subjects such as Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of a democracy movement in Burma, who was put on house arrest in 1989. He has followed Marines as they disassembled IEDs, and even witnessed one marine who lost his legs when he stepped on one such device.
“In 2010, the war was really reaching its climax. We’d increased our troops to about 100,000,” McCarthy said. “The Taliban were trying to push back, especially in the South. The Marines were sent to Helmand, because it was the most violent province.”
It was there in Helmand that McCarthy was following a battalion of Marines. Their job there was to push back the Taliban, help civilians that had stayed behind, and clear bombs.
The process of clearing bombs was particularly hazardous in the region riddled with deadly conflict. The Pakistanis were supporting the Taliban, and would smuggle in the materials to make IEDs.
“It’s not that hard to make a bomb,” McCarthy said.
But while it might be easy to make a bomb, it certainly is not to find and disassemble them. The Marines walk through the streets with metal detectors, hoping that they will find the bomb before they step on it.
In the town of Safar Bazaar, Sergeant Johnny Jones turned around to talk to his colleague for a second. That second cost him his legs, when he stepped on an IED.
“He’s lying there on this stretcher, essentially temporarily blinded, and he knows that his legs are gone. The commanding officer walked in and leant over and took hi hand and said ‘How are you doing son?’” McCarthy said. “This young marine, the first thing he says is ‘sorry I screwed up sir.’ I couldn’t believe that that was the first thing he would say.”
It was this incident that taught McCarthy what the cost of war was, and one of many experiences he has been privy to that has educated him about human nature and the world around him.
He had plenty to say about the world around him to those gathered in the GAC. And although he is no longer in the journalism field, he still has plenty of knowledge about foreign affairs from his position as CEO of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.
McCarthy foresees that students will see topics in the news during their lifetimes such as “whether or not we can fix our political system, which quite frankly is a disgrace, the catastrophic public education system,” environmental challenges and Islamic fundamentalism, among others.
Students had a lot to say about the topics McCarthy touched on after his speech.
“I thought the he was a good speaker,” junior Ally Feiss said. “The topics that he talked about were really engaging and brought up a lot of good student and teacher questions.”
Senior Amir Podoswa questioned him about the credibility of American news sources, while freshman Daniel Bytin from Russia questioned McCarthy’s credibility to make the statements he had about Putin’s influence.
“I was really worried there was going to be dead silence when he opened up to questions, but I was pleasantly surprised at not only how many questions were asked, but at the quality and depth of the questions that were asked,” journalism advisor Fred Alvarez said. “Both the students and the adults in the audience asked interesting questions, they asked challenging questions, and I thought Terry McCarthy handled them all beautifully.”