Catherine Porter, the Toronto bureau chief, and I are among a cadre of Canadians who help produce The New York Times. While some of the others are also reporters, many of the Canadians lurking within The Times are editors, which means you usually don’t see their names.
That group includes Bruce Headlam, a proud son of Elmira, Ontario, and a staff editor on the Op-Ed page. Mr. Headlam recently produced two emotionally charged films in which veterans read passages from war plays written by the Greek tragedian Sophocles. Their intensity left me shaken. You should not miss them.
Read and watch: U.S. Veterans Use Greek Tragedy to Tell Us About War
Mr. Headlam shared some background on the videos:
The project had several influences, one Canadian. First, obviously, was Bryan Doerries’ Theater of War project, which uses Sophocles’ war plays to help veterans deal with trauma. Second, a smart young producer named Deborah Acosta at The Times had once spliced together a “Hamlet” from submissions by high schoolers, which she called InstaHamlet. Third, I saw a great production of Brian Friel’s play “Translations” at The Stratford Festival in Ontario in the early 1980s. The play is about the British-ordered eradication of the Irish language but it was full of beloved quotes from ancient languages.
Mainly, though, I just wanted to do something The Times had never done before. In a similar vein, we at the Times Opinion section started a fully reported comic strip about a family of Syrian refugees called “Welcome to the New World,” and I can promise you The Times doesn’t do that kind of thing very much. And Times readers also benefit from different voices that can be heard without politics, or our own biases getting in the way.
The veterans were all fascinating. Many had signed up after 9/11 because they believed that war required their personal sacrifice. Some had a high school education, others were Ph.D.’s and doctors, and at least a few were excellent writers. (I can’t recommend Phil Klay’s “Redeployment” highly enough.) Jack Eubanks, who read from “Philoctetes,” had such severe brain damage that it took him three years to relearn how to read and write, and he was told he could never go to college. He just graduated from Vassar and is starting graduate school in New York.
They all had stories to tell about experiences few people will ever share. On top of that, many still feel betrayed by the United States government’s decision to invade Iraq under what we now know were false pretenses. Both “Philoctetes” and “Ajax “ deal with the theme of betrayal and with soldiers’ anger at generals. Such themes resonated with many of these vets.
By the way, Mr. Headlam also receives the credit (or blame) for bringing me to The Times. During the 1990s, Mr. Headlam edited my stories about technology for Canadian Business magazine (including one about an obscure email “pager” from a then-equally obscure company that became BlackBerry). After he was hired by The Times to help start Circuits, begun as a weekly technology section, I continued to write for him.
Since then, Mr. Headlam has held a variety of positions. You can see him in action as the head of the media desk and also acquire a good, if slightly dated, sense of what goes on in New York, in the documentary film “Page One: Inside The New York Times.”
One of the low points of a visit to New York can be running the gauntlet of hucksters in Lower Manhattan pushing tickets for sightseeing cruises around the Statue of Liberty. This week, Joseph Goldstein and Nate Schweber reported that aggressive sales practices have sometimes extended to violence. One tourist suffered a fractured skull. My personal tourist tip: Don’t bother with the Statue of Liberty, but do take the authorized ferry to the former immigration station on Ellis Island. You’ll pass by the statue on the way and the immigration museum is a must-see.
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