tv Ben Blum Ranger Games CSPAN March 3, 2018 8:01am-9:01am EST
it means to be a latino immigrant in america. >> that's all this weekend on c-span2's booktv, 48 hours of nonfiction authors and books. television for serious readers. for a complete schedule visit booktv.org and follow along on our social media accounts, facebook, twitter and instagram. now we kick off this booktv weekend with ben blum wisconsin u.s. army ranger alex blum made a drastic shift from soldier to criminal.
>> good afternoon. welcome to the final author presentation of what i hope has been a very eventful and wonderful day for you so far at the savannah book festival. you at the trinity united methodist church was that our venue all day long. we feel fortunate to have this space for the 11th annual savannah book festival. this venue has been made possible by the generosity of jack and mary romanos. my name is roger smith and i har the privilege of serving as a aa volunteer for the savannah book festival, and i'm delighted with your participation. the savannah book festival is presented by georgia power, by david and nancy cintron, by the family foundation and by mark and pat. we would also like to thank our wonderful members as well as individual donors whose contributions have made in the past and continue to make
saturday at the savannah book festival of free and public event. in fact, 90% of the revenue for the book festival comes from donors just like you, so it's a great pleasure to thank you for your support. before we get started please allow me to go over a few housekeeping details. immediately following the presentation b our author will e at the book signing venue for the authors where he'll be glad to talk with you a little further and to s sign books that you purchased at the savannah book festival. a couple of technologyhn reminders. please take a moment now to make sure your cell phones and other electronic devices are turned off or a lease or in the silent mode so we won't have electronic interruptions during theup talk. if that your intention to take photographs during the presentation please make sure the flash on your phone or your camera is turned off. and then during the
question-and-answer portion after the presentation today, i will ask that you raise your hand if you have a question and then give one of our ushers a couple of seconds to get to you. it is important you are holding a microphone when you ask your question. otherwise viewers on c-span or people in the audience will be unable to hear your question. also when you have the microphone in your head please make sure that your question actually is a question rather than a statement or a story. our author today ben blum is here courtesy of the generosity of bill and nina while. then blum's -- ben blum holds a phd from university of california at berkeley as well as an msa in fiction from new york university where he was awarded the "new york times" foundation fellowship. his debut book and subject for today's talk is his twentysomething book entitled "ranger games." please join me getting a very warm savannah welcome to ben
blum. [applause] >> thank you so much for having me here. i've been strolling around savannah all day withe my wife and secure old daughter, and had to say i think every city should bery required to have a nice little monument every two blocks as you're walking around which is perfect for strolling, but more importantly it's perfect for hunting pokémon and pokemon go which is our daughter is most excited about. my wife and i been enjoying the spanish moss and the architecture. a portion of "ranger games" takes place about four hours west of year at fort benning, a very different side of georgia. you might be forgiven for thinking this this is a book at war, but it's not actually a book about war. the cover does have some soldiers on it and soldiers are mentioned in the subtitle, but
"ranger games" is about a lot of things on the periphery of experience of war. about family. it's about the way that good intentions go wrong, and may be more important anything it's about growing up. it's about the beautifulul allusions that propel us to follow our dreams in the way that those solutions can crumble when we get older, often making space for something richer and more real it sometimes reeking major havoc along the way. "ranger games" is the story, the true story of my cousin, alex, whom i grew up with in denver, colorado. rd about was not in english or journal jim or anything that would have been remotely helpful for writing the book. itself was in computer science. was a gigantic math nerd when i was a little kid.
for halloween i dressed up at a hedron and, gold star to anyone who knows what that is. but alex was in his own way just as weird. he was obsessed with the military from a very young age, absolutely fascinated with all things army. he always had his nose buried in a book, but the becomes he was reading were the kind is if you stack them unnext to mine would have beaten them up. band of brothers was big. black hawk down, red badge of courage, any mill tar drama he could get his teeth into. and so we started hearing from alex when he was a kid that he wanted to be a soldier when he grew up. a common dream for a young boy. but he really stuck with it. his freshman year in high school, two weeks into the year, september 11th hit, and i
think that's the point when his goal started to get a lot more real, a lot more serious. he enlisted shortly after his 18th birthday. by then his goal was to survive a really brutally difficult selection program called the ranger indoctrination program to make it to the elite special operations ranger regiment. he achieved that, shortly after his 19th birthday, was posted to fort lewis, washington, and four months later served as the driverrer in an armed bank robbery organized by a superior the rangers. he was arrested shortly afterward. he served 16 months in federal prison, and then shortly after this release started talking to me about the crime. so, i spent about seven years
all told, trying to get to the bottom of how alex, the goody two shoes of of family, almost cartoonish idealistic as a kid had come to be involved in this bizarre question. the question i went over and over, how do you support someone who has done something terrible, that caused a lot another harm, both to himself and others. how do you help them reckon with what they have done? i'll sort of alternate some readings with some conversation about the book. i'll open with a passage about what al application were like growing up, in denver. >> from the time we were kids, alex always had a simple dream, to defend his country from the forces of evil and oppression.
none of us took this very seriously but him. after school in the suburbs of denver he would run off in a camouflage t-shirt cargo pants to play vietnam commando on the canal, highing booby traps and hinding behind stands of. he reined every arm my movie, place every video game there weren't many women back then, just grim-lipped men in high-tech gear, dropping down rones to helicopters to the unforgettable jingle, be all you can be in the army. back then we bear barely spoke out. dream worlds did overlap. i was known in the family as math prodigy. in he field where alex saw darting commie girlll las i saw ferns.
i'd tell supermarket cashier how lasers worked. give lifeguards introduction to stokes equation for flow. i was, i realize now, completely insufferable. human relations were not my specialty. toxicated. by 13 i was taking contractual -- calculus and physics at the university of colorado. the only real common we had was ten the street hockey nets on hi his driveway where he would ocautionly dane to secure scurry round my knees and i destroy me. he was a budding star. our fathers had both made efforts at manly education. alex's father was the assistant coach of alex' hockey team. with the elite littleton hockey association and played adult league with denver finest and a
smatter of pros during the players track. my own father was the quarterback coach of george washington high school, football team. both raced buy cycles in the yoke mountain, played pickup street hink in a rink, and skied, golfed, climbed, and pumped inordinate quantities of iron. they took is us camp, hiking. they stuck earplugs in our ears, jammed shotguns beginnings our soldiers, point it toward discarded appliances and needle us until we squeezed the trigger. it took better with alex than me. reports of hi shining ash americanness began filtering in, shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor, coaching little kids at hockey camp. defending cass plates against bullies at littleton high
school. he was flying to tournaments all over the country with his hockey team, he became more and more serious about the mayor thing. seemed as if he has bought himself readymade off a toy store display. a g.i. joe action figure and a world of attachments and product tie-ins were available to him. his would be a life of heroic accomplishment, an american life, blum life, triumph. so, i knew when i published "ranger games" some people would take it as an antiwar book but it's not that either. through talking to alex and a number of other soldiers, i gained a huge appreciation for their bravery, discipline, their integrity and the deep care they show each other. alex and i were both raised on stories of our grandfather, al sr., who served in the army in world war ii. he landed in normandie shortly after d-day. and although those stories men
more to alex than they meant to me, i also come to appreciate the warrior ethrows eat throws he passed down through this sons. the deep bond with one's fill low soldiers and the willingness to just keep on going no matter how tough and how painful it gets. in the ranger indoctrination program he went through, he and his buddies endured hell together. they at one point had to group up into teams of six and hold telephone poles aloft for 48 hours, taking naps in brief shifts. that was two days out of a month-long process of extreme physical pain and endurance. after surviving the cut, mose soldiers quit but alec did not and was posted to fort lewis and began learn whats his new job would entail as a cherry private, under the guidance of
the tabs, higher ranking soldiers who had seen combat. so, this next passage is about the way that formal training spilled over into the more informal settings that soldiers visited in off hours. those months were transformative for all the cherry privates. at night and on weekends, they ventured into tacoma with new eyes. every door was a potential preach point. every bar country red zone concealing hidden gunmen, every debby's dining room, partitions into lines of fire. civilians looked more and more like another species entirely. cherry privates watched in bemusement as women and men puzzled over menus, smoothed nap kind over their laps-wiped their children's mouths. one night after raiding air
plane hangars, alex? his buddies went to see the new x-men movie, and all they could talk about lined up there in the dark among teager who had no idea they were subpoenas rangers was how simple it would be to take down the theater. they tied to outdo if e each other in the assessment of the problem which was identical to hangar, three exists, red zone? projectionist booth, interior space with sheep to herd. piece of cake. talk of hitting spots around tacoma was a reliable way to show off knowledge and sound hard. a real world application of their classroom sessions, planning raids on satellite photos of al qaeda complexes. whenever they watched movies they laughed how much better they could do the job themselves. tabs were fluent in the lining go of tactical plan without the sharper private were already picking it up. in this pfc blum was lucky to enjoy a special mentorson of
specialist summer. even after his replace as blum's team liter, the popped in a while after blum broke down machines or shining boots to ask him for a ride in town him wad friendlier to the privatessing taking them out to war games. but blum seemed to be favorite of his. sommer thing to the silver audi his father had given him was cool, nicknaming it the transporter, after one of his favorite movies in which a disillusioned special forces operate career runser rans in an odd di. blum tried to hide his nervous friday about the stick shift. no matter where sommer wanted to go, the supermarket, a porn sharp, he made a little lesson out of it. where is our -- side door by be booth. red zone? by the counter, from the
kitchen. behind the soft serve thing. you forgot the bathroom, blum. bang, you're dead. all of us were completely flabbergasted best by his arrest and the first question that came our minds was, why? why? where did this come from? and gradually the story began to filter out. alex's father was not able to visit him the first couple of weeks he was in detention. finally got to talk to him. through him the story came to the rest of us. apparently, alex had believed the plans for the bank robbery were just one more of specialist sommer's little games. a training exercise that suddenly got real. and some further reports began filtering out of very strange stuff going on in alex's head when he was in prison. he was in some kind of weird
state that none of us 0 to coo quite wrap our minds around. finally later he told us that even after his arrest, when he was being held in federal detention, he had been waiting every day for some representative of the second ranger battalion to appear and tell him there had been a giant mixup. i had been a training exercise, and they would send him to iraq to be with his unit where he belonged. when i began talking to alplex in depth about the crime, he seemed so fragile and adamant about it so earnest and searching in his effort to convey the bizarre truth of what had happened to him. i felt it was my job to -- as his friend and cousin, to support him. but the more research i did as i started to wry the book, the more evidence i found that suggested things were a little bit more complicated than alex was letting on. it was right in he thick of all the family tension created as i started trying to get to the
truth, that the doctor, the social psychologist most famous for the stanford prison experiment who contributed to alex's legal defense, called alex up and asked him to appear on a special episode of the doctor phil show, title "when good people do bad things." so, i -- the next passage i'll read is from the taping in hollywood, where i was in the studio audience. and by the time of the taping i was just a total nervous wreck. i had this sort of since that alec might be lying to me and the family but didn't have the evidence to prove it and the general sense in the family seemed to be that alex was so confused and traumatized by his experience that he real story wasn't access table him at all, if it existed in the first placement i because just -- dr. phil's big catch phrase is, get real.
just get real about your problems i.s was so terrified dr. phil would call bs on alex, tim hill to get real about this -- tell him to get real about this crazy story on national television in front of three minimum americans at this sensitive moment when i was trying to support him and get at the throughout. this is from the moment in that taping when we got to alex's segment after some vary cheerful prior segments on the stanford prison experiment and abu ghraib. lights, action. dr. phil admitted another texan grammar. i have a world famous psychologist and renowned author, who is here with us today and we're discussing his book "the lucifer effect." understanding how good people turn evil. let me tell you something, you
need to read this book and you need to read it twice. then you need to give it to your kids. the doctor chuck eled a a heroic effort of impersonnitying someone. alex was sitting stiffly his chair. one shoulder higher than the other. eyes alternate between mcgraw and the audience. dr. phil's last anyway. i moon it really is very, very insightful, continued dr. phil. today we're talking about when good beam do bad things. now, eye 0 baying authority is rule number one in the military but i want you to look at what happens when win former ranger says he thought he was following routine orders. they turned in their chairs to look at the screen of the back of the stage where, mr. place of the swirling dr. phil logo, an eight-foot-tall al los angeles stood in this bedroom, head bowed, digging an old camo out of his closet.
the drum beated started almost at once. what followed was a short series of jetted together sentence thursday alec lazy voice, each of which i had heard him saying to me. not one of which was individually untrue. though the only possible unifying interpretation was of some kind of bizarre military dilution that none of us civilians could begin to comprehend. the finished -- the music finished. there was a big pause. okay, said "d" phil with a sigh. he leaped forward in his chair and scrutinized alex. having not been in a situation, all of us right now are saying, now, wait? what? alex went through one of his full-body fidgets. so, what you're telling me, phil continued, spreading out all ten finger inside an unprecedented double, let get real hands, ea
motion akin to shooting electricity from his fingertips into a spasming body of luke sky walker. you did not know, phil now again actually flapping his clinched fist with his palm, that you were involved in an armed robbery of a bank? alex lost his job after that episode aired. he had been coaching five-year-olds at a local ice arena. the first job he managed to find since his release from prison he was passionate about. very hard finding work as a felon in america he became increasingly bitter and hard to talk to about the robbery. instead i found myself turning to luke elliott sommer, the ringleader of the robbery, very intelligent, very charismatic guy, who had committed a host of other crimes after the robbery, including stabbing one of his co-conspirators in prison and
trying to put a hit out on his prosecutor. i ended up developing a strangely close relationship with him. he was obsessed with math, the same subject i was obsessed with as a kid. he was even working by correspondence with a professor at san francisco state university who seemed to think he was a genius at it. sommer admitted directly to me in our conversations about his childhood, that morality had always been a mystery to him but this made him much easier to talk to about the robbery than alex. alex had such a hard time accepting he had done anything wrong, but sommer mood real sense of wrong at all. it made by wonder if growing difficulty of my relationship with alex had something to do with a some kind of unprocessed guilt inside him that he wasn't letting on about. so, this next passage is from the one in-person interview i
managed to secure with sommer at a rural penitentiary in kentucky, seven hours straight, sitting in this dismal little visitation room. as my time with elliott wound down, he goes by elliott -- we talk briefly about the additional sentences he received for his final two offenses. stabbing nathan and trying to put a hit out on his prosecutor. he corrected me about my understanding that he had received ten years apiece. that was just the way it was structured. really it was two 20 year sentences, a plea deal in which the government knocked down the charges. i asked why the authorities were willing to do that. i think my prosecutor finally
realized aisle bat -- shit insane but he sent me to prison anyway. that still got me hot. on the last phrase, elliott's voice dropped into a menacing register so cartoonish i couldn't help interpreting it as playful, like a seven-year-old threatening to blow up his school help sound just the way head when he illustrating the intensity of his family feeling, he had painted a vivid scene of quilling everyone in the room if his son was threatened. as we fired his unit manager to collect him i jotted a few last notes and tried to massage some life back interest my writing hand. elliott asked me how i was planning to represent him in the book. luke elliott sommer, world famous signing eye path, he or offered, grinning if don't know about that. i almost wish i could be a dillinger type character, a rough bank robber type. alas, he switched for the last time into his corny sing song voice, rolling his eye thousands
the ceiling in a way that reminded me of the mouth of chuckey cheese. it is not to be, he said. the guards fell in on either side of us as we were scotted out to the empty visitation room. the beiges and blaze bankrupted only by a kid's playroom in the corner with grinning cartoon characters on the walls tell rough texture or cinder block showing through. ol pointed out the small marked zone on the floor next to guard station where he had been permitted to stand and kiss mandy when they were married the previous month. barring a treaty transfer the only intimas sill he we be a allowed with her for 37 years billion reflex is reached out to schick hays hand, asking if this was permitted after it was too late for the surrounding official to tell tell me it wasn't and then we quick efficiency elliott led to the secure door on the far side, carrying on a friendly, jokey, totally one-sided conversation with the guards. and then the concrete buck just
swallowed him and he was gone. as civilians, and i am myself a civilian, i had no experience talking to military folks before i started researching the story. we have been taught to interpret the experiences of soldiers through the lens of trauma, increasingly in the last ten years or so. unspoken code prohibits us from questioning too deeply in into what they had to do on the battlefield. but sommer really challenged that lens for me. he claimed his traumatic experiences abroad had been at fault for the robbery. for a while after the robbery, when he fled to canada, he actually claimed he had staged the whole thing to gain a platform to protest war crimes he witnessed in afghanistan and iraq. he claimed to have evidence of
this, that he was sort of withholding and it never materialized. when i started talking to him, he was still very adamant that had been his motivation, but when i looked through this google search history on the hard drive that the fbi had recovered from his desk top computer i found no political news, in protestlet literature, jaws lot of guns, porn, and gleeful speculation about what to do with a all the money. so, here in the cavalier way that sommer talked about the people in the bank he robbed, made me realize that what holding somebody accountable means is sometimes rejecting their own account. memory is notoriously unreliable when it comes to things we're ashamed of and don't want to remember. it actually shifts around to jet out or transgression in a way that is very hard to control. and the more i researched the
story, the more i began to see that at the truth that matters, the voice that has to be given moral authority is not the voice of the guys who do it. alex had his account of events, what he was think offering the forces that brought him to the bank and ultimately the story belongs to the people in the bank that went through the terribler and experience of the robbery. one of the people began talking to me four years ago. her name is jessica stott, a 19-year-old teller in the bank on that day. actually the lead teller, responsible for supervising the others. and she was extraordinarily generous with her time, and extraordinarily forgiving toward alex. so the portion of the book that shows what actually happened on that day depends heavily on her account of the event. i'll read a passage from that now.
what three inch of plexiglas can't stop is a teller's fear. among fbi agents who work bank cases, mistrust of the bandit barrier if the subject of an oft repeated criticism. i heard from from a veteran in the new york field office. you have a bandit barrier and the teller shoves money underneath. i think it mays first supervisor who told me the only thing that can penetrate a demand barrier is a depound note. jessica to stott had imagines the scenario. if she was ever so unlucky as to find herself being robbed, she did not intend to shovel money underneath. look virginia, heather, jessica
number two, and now elva, the other tellers that day, she had been instructed that a modern bank robbery was a terrifying but ultimately dangerless wide screen action movie. she knew where to find the silent alarm button, talked away in easy reach which would make the movie stop. it did however seem a little strength to her to all of them, that in this particular branch, there was a narrow gap between the plexiglas and the ceiling. at 5:15 and 53 seconds, a man in a ski mask ran through the entrance from the parking lot, plant it one foot on the countertop in front of elva, and leapt for the barrier's lip. elvas cry war move or surprise an terror. quickly modulated down to an embarrassed yelp. later she would say everyone had been 0 friendly and welcoming to her all day -- it was her first
day -- she figured this want an initiation prank. it was only when the girls looked over to see the dark figure risings above their heads that panicked telescoped through the stations in a crushing surge. they all leapt back as one from the difficults difficults diffie end hover the teller's. jess dove under the has desk, striking her how many on the iron door of the disease safe of the heather and jessica dog piled on top of them. elva burst around the corner moment later and dove in, too. is this a drill, she murmured? do they test us? jess had to surprise a wild giggle. i think this is a little extreme for that, she said. if his is a drill, i'm quit, announced jessica number two. u.s. army field manual 90-10-1, an infantry man's god to combat
in built areas describe this room-clearing procedure. a flash bang or fragment grenade falled bay four-man breaching team. while the team members moved toward points of domination, they engage all targets in their sector, reads the manual. because the soldiers are move and shooting at the same time, they must move using careful hurry. they do not rush with total disregard for any obstacles. obstacles in the present facility included a promotional display for mortgages for the faux gable rochet a water cooler and car raf another hot coffee. a fat are-legged play table in rain blow blocks in he corner printer and an array of polliestster belts paid out between waste-high tanks within which thronged a sizable
afternoon crowd them four men in ski masks and sweat shirts breeching the bank's rear door had been dissuadessed from grenades by scottburn, who assured specialist sommer even if he was crazy enough to do this thing, flash bang was completely insane. but they did move toward the points of domination with careful hurry. chad palmer to the far door with his fully automatic ak-47 and banana clip of 37.6, two milliliter rounds at his shoulder. nathan to the rear door, with another ak-47 -- to the near door with another ak-47 and a duffle bag full of spare ammo clips and bleeder kit, and robertson to the personal cubicles with a pistol. according to a conventional tactical breakdown, the ban did barrier was not an obstacle. was architecture, dividing the lobby in two.
this only entrance tee teller pit was a locked, reinforced door at the end. after breaching at the opinion, fn90-10, 1 indicated a two-by-two leapfrog pattern. infantrymen was not supposed to close a space without sufficient manpower. for rangers, however, regular infantry field manuals read the way freshman geometry text books read to a mathematics graduate student. chosen for teachable, blind to the way axioms might bend. the man who is body was twisting sideways to sort through the gap betweenplex si glass and ceiling, one glorified hand planned for purchase this other holding a mine mill meeter with a red laser sight, with specialist luke elliott sommer. jess thought, flat on her back amid the smell of can't and computer wires under virginia's desk in he teller pit, kept
feeling that same urge to digle. the trappings of her new professional life loomed at unreachable heights. drawers, office supplies, fluorescent lights, the underside of virginia's stool. someone's legs lay across her chest. the breath of the material some was supervising came fast and close. seconds pulled out like taffy. the lobby rang with scuffs, cries, thumps, shouts, and then a loud metallic bang which sparked a fleury of desperate looks throughout the pile and then a tentative consensus there was no way that had been a gunshot. verge caught jess' eye and nodded toward the silent alarm button. jess staired out it for a short eon. all she would have to do is pull her arm out, reach her hand out across space, extend her finger
up and a pair of giant legs turned the corner interest their station. the pile come blessed with a gasp. a man in a bulky gray situate shirt and black ski masked stared at them. hi eyes seem to glow through the eye holes. laser light, spike from the barrel of his gun, dancing through their torsos and limbs. the image of herself wither arm outstretched toward the button reverberate yesterday in mind with such insistence that she could barely think. she had almost done it. get up, the man said. nobody moved. the red bee exerted a tingling force like the fingertip of a ghost. i said, get up. one by one they scram dealt to their feet. the man was large and muscular, as he made the bead dart over the fabric off their bare arms to pause on each chest in turn his voice went suddenly
personable. he explained he wants his canvas shoulder bag filled with 50s and hundreds no dye packs no bait money no severallized bills. jess had not been familiar with these concepts before working at the bank, and wondered where he had learned them. he sounded like guy her age, calm and cocky, she felt suddenly sure she knew him. had he come in before? none of this was quite real yet. time, he called out toward the lobby. 30 seconds, shouted a hooded figure with an assault rifle by the front entrance. if this bag isn't full in one minute, you're all going to get wasted. the blue-eyed man explained to the materials, emphasize thing point with his gun. now it was real. unreality is a big theme in this book. there's the unreality of war to civilians, who mostly see it
through big budget action movies or video games where the reality of it is given an unrealistic gloss. there's the unreality of war to soldiers in training nowdays, who go through such detailed stimulation-of-battlefield conditions conditions that distinction between rehearsal show starts to blur. that's the unreality of reality television, which purports to give us an unfiltered grissom of human drama but where the stories are in fact quite carefully constructed. there's the unreality of luke elliott sommer, who was masterful at playing in the dangerous, fuzzy space of games and jokes and banter as he brought all the many, many, soldiers involved in his scheme, into greater contact with the reality of his plans.
then there's the unreality of what alex went through and never fully processed. i have come to see that as a big part of what keeps trauma alive inside us. the disengagement from the reality of what we have gone through because the reality is just too painful for process, and all those year is spend trying to figure out how to help alex, i spend a lot of time think about trauma. nowdays, of course, we have a much richer understanding of trauma than we used to when soldier goods abroad and have horrible things done to them and do horrible things to others and come back and suffer from it. they're generally given a diagnosis of post post post-traumatic stress disorder, ptsd. it's gradually starting to be recognized at the va that some soldiers suffer from something different that requires a different kind of treatment.
the term that is coming into use is "moral injury." you suffer a moral injury between you do or witness and enforce become complicit in a violation of your morals. lie, steal, treating women in a way you don't believe in, participating in a bank robbery you never actually wanted to be part of. and i find this a fascinating moment in the progression of therapeutic methods, psychologists have not historically been in the business of helping their clines atone for their sins. -- client as i tone for their sin bus that's what the moral injury framework is beginning to make some space for. now, i'm very glad for the increasing awareness today about trauma, but in some way i think
moral injury is even more important to understand. it's very tricky, helping your loved ones deal with their trauma, but it's even trickier helping hem deal with their burdens of moral injury. how do you tell someone you care for, someone who is hurting, and attacked from all sides and relying on you to defendant some support them that they really screwed up, they need to do better, they need to change. i think if you can do that helpfully, lovingly, compassion natalie, it's one of the very highest acts of love. it took me a long time to come to that place to that feeling about alex's involvement but i did in the end confront him with all the evidence that i had amassed, that called parts of his story into question.
i got very, very personal and direct with him. one of the scariest things i have ever done, and the results were startling, and transformational for both him and for me. that's the tropical storm of the book -- the trajectory of the back, the place where it ends which mean i can tell you how it went because i don't want to give it away. but i have come through this process with a renewed hope in the possibility for healing in families that are willing to graupel with some of these dark stories that no one wants to talk about, if they really stick with it. so, thank you all very much for being here. [applause] and i would love to answer any questions you may have.
>> i fear i misproup nod your last name and is breaking rule under one. i apologize. >> no trouble. it's a common mistake. >> the issue of dealing with moral injury, that's not a new thing for people dealing with war. in thank god your friend it was only a bank robbery and not something else. if it helps. how do you think -- there is any support within the service and within the va
there are a few programs after the bring together those iraqis and afghan citizens who lost family members who may not know what impact they have had but some of those connections can be very powerful. >> what are the names of those programs? >> i should have the name of those programs on the tip of my talk but i don't, i'm sorry. >> do you think the family members understand that's what
they're going to be dealing with? >> not yet. not yet. i think we've seen a lot of trauma stories, and i think in part because of the failure to distinguish between trump and moral injury at us is ended up being a very problematic narrative for a lot of soldiers coming back and trying to reintegrate into society, get jobs, feel accepted by their communities. i think there's a lot of stigma around ptsd, you know. we see news stories about soldiers flipping out and committing crimes on base or abroad. and that's been very damaging, very unproductive. i think, i would love to see some more support services for families to do with this issue.
i don't think there's nearly enough. >> how is your cousin doing today and what is he doing, if you can give any detail? >> he's doing amazingly well. this secret was eating him up for years picky didn't think of it as a secret. he just was clenched so tied around this version of a story that he thought exonerated him, that he thought showed his true character. and he retreated further and further from friends and family, the harder he held to that. so in a surprising way, confronting him led to a kind of dramatic reconciliation with family, and he stopped drinking. he started training in jujitsu lichen which is always a a good sign for him. he has a good job now.
he's got a loving, like a pit bull named pickles that he dotes on with affection, a level of affection that would kill a a smaller dog probably. he's doing well. he and i have become very close. the publication of the book as you might imagine very, very scary for them but it ended up being quite cathartic i think picky about every together at public event in colorado at which a number of our family members were in attendance. there was a very, very tense back and forth with the audience, the most hard-core question and answer session i think i've ever seen at public event but it went very well. >> this is such a personal event for you to go through this whole process and write this book, but as an author where do you go
from here? >> well, hopefully no more bank robberies by close family members. alex occasionally offers if i'm stuck in my career, you know, go rob another one if i really, really need him to get but, so do come from a a science background. i love science and i've gotten very interested in trauma dramn psychology, in therapy. so the next book is kind of about, it's a little bit about what you're talking about. some state of the art ways for close families to heal each other from their trauma, to grow together and hold each other accountable when appropriate in order to move past some of these things that stick with us for years. >> yes, are you familiar with the fear group out of fort
stewart? started out on some active-duty soldiers, went from just guy stuff as they called it to a plot to overthrow the u.s. government. it's forever enduring always ready, and as one of them testified in court, they couldn't believe how it got out of hand to the point that they killed one ofir their co-conspirators and his girlfriend in an effort to tie up loose ends, they said. it's one of those things that started out shooting in the woods at night and just sort of got out of control. did know if you familiar with that? >> i'm not. that's fast dating. what year was that from? >> 2012. >> wow. okay. that's incredible spirit it's called the fear group. >> i will look into that. that sounds very familiar indeed. incredible the way these small groups dynamics can evolve beyond the control almost of anyone in the group, , especialy
in these elite warrior cultures where there's a huge taboo against backing down. even if, if one guy jokes were taken down a bank, you joke about taking down a casino killing one and went inside. there's an escalation, and dd can't rise to the level of banter then you're showing yourself as week. it's very, very hard to back down once you've started along that path. do we have any others? >> i have a cute question -- quick question for me. you mentioned your relationship with alex is all healed. is that true of edwin with the family, particularly his father, if you still with us? >> yeah, he is still with us. norma is very much still kicking
and doing his 200 push-ups every morning as he is been doing since he was eight years old. the family has been incredibly supportive through this process. i don't, i think, so i began this book and, what, 2008 or something, insanely longer go like that come with the idea of clearing alex his name. i just felt it was so unjust that is going to spend his life as a convicted violent felon having been tricked into robbing this bank while pursuing what he thought was extracurricular training that would help him on deployment in iraq. so the family was as you might imagine very much behind the project. we were all circling the wagons around alex andnd helped out in whatever way we w could. andnd then came the really complicated years when my story
started veering out of alignment with the families. and those were difficult times, but at the same time there was an amazing amount of tolerance for me to keep pursuing this. i think part because by then i was alex's closest friend and who so clearly everyone that he needed that come he needed someone to work through this with him. so i was worried about publishing the book, but my relationship with the norm, i mean come he read it, actually the things that end up -- i was so like my custom what is anyone going to thinko about the way i portray alex? are they going to hate the fact i quoted their corny jokes here and there and everywhere else? nope, totally fine with everything except for what i wrote about my grandfather,,
powell, senior, the world war ii veteran who had inspired alex to enlist, who was the source of so much of our family lore, so much of the mythology that alex and i grew up on. i discovered his war memoir in the course of researching this book, and learned through reading that a lot of we've gone through a broad was much darker than had been passed down to us. i think this this is a common experience for families. and that begin to make clear that this legacy of trauma and moral injury much more the trauma really for him had played a significant role in making alex susceptible to become invalid that sommer brought them under. and i think that deep reckoning with family culture and the sort of intergenerational history of trauma and moral injury going
back through several wars, that's something that our family is still processing to this day. >> thank you. [applause] >> thanks, everybody. >> want to remind everyone that been blown will be out in the square signing copies of his book. we want to thank you once again for an incredibly compelling story, and thank you all for being here this afternoon. don't forget that the receptacle is a full round containers are therefore your dollars so that in future book festival events we can keep saturday free for everyone. f thank you also much. ben, thank you again. it's been great. [inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations]