This interview with Joshua Dysart was an extraordinary experience for me. He brings the highest level of thoughtfulness and sensitivity to his work, and is unflinching in discussing some of the most difficult questions facing us as a species: the cruelty and inhumanity of war, how to survive it, and how to respond to it. His perspective is both sober and encouraging.
There is nothing cheap, flippant, or snarky about Dysart. He is full of warmth, quick to laugh, and hilariously fun to talk to. But his humor, along with everything else about him, is authentic, virtuous, and thoughtful. There is such dignity in his respect for the dignity of others. Dysart has a great heaping dose of what the Romans called substantia, a deep underlying essence, perhaps what we call character.
So I wasn’t shy to ask him the ultimate question, about truth, faith, and hope. And he wasn’t shy to answer it.
CBB: One final question. You’ve done such a fabulous job with the concept of “ground truth.” I think anyone who’s done war reporting or has seen combat knows what you’re talking about. Truth on the ground is elusive. So what, in your view, is the truth? The truth we should never let go of, no matter what? Are faith and hope justified after knowing what people are capable of doing, in our awareness of the cruelties and horrors of Uganda, or Baghdad, or Bosnia?
JD: This is why Sera is my favorite character in the whole book. Sera’s in the worst place in the world, emotionally, not geographically, in what she’s experienced, and how willing to go into the darkness she is. Yet in the end, Sera’s always going to be good person. And I don’t think that’s fiction. I think those people exist.
Now, in answer to your question…[thinking]…Yes. [laughing]
Yes, there is reason to be happy and to have faith and to believe in the end that it’s going to be okay. You’re right that it is humanity’s nature to tilt towards violence. That is a reality, and we see it all around us. But it isn’t the only reality, and it’s not humanity’s only nature. And to give hope to all this, I would argue that evolution in history is a rising helix. And it twists, and it turns, and sometimes it falls back on itself, and there’s a lot of confusion. But it always rises. It always rises.
I really do believe that right now, there is less conflict in the world than there ever has been. It’s difficult to believe that when we have it piped into our homes 24 hours a day through the largest communication structure that we’ve ever had in the history of the species. But in truth, there are less people fighting today than ever. There are more people who can read now than ever. There are more people talking to each other than ever. There are more cultural, social, spiritual, and physical barriers broken down --between human beings and their ability to find each other -- than ever.
It’s true that in these rural parts of the world, or in these politically unstable parts of the world, or in parts of the world that have been raped by global powers, that you get systemic, deep-rooted violence, and that it seems like it won’t end. Violence will always be with us, but we are rising. We are rising as a people, and as a species. And if the earth doesn’t kill us first [laughing], if the eco-apocalypse doesn’t do us in [shouting with laughter], then we are going to be, a little bit inch by inch every year, a more beautiful, more sustainable species. I do believe that!
Our deepest thank to Joshua Dysart for this compelling conversation! To collect all the issues of Unknown Soldier in Uganda, follow these links: