The Hero Summit: Courage and Character Explored
Newsweek and the Daily Beast's first annual edition of The Hero Summit produced a series of powerful and touching moments over two exhilarating days in Washington D.C. at the United States Institute of Peace and the Newseum. The event brought together luminaries, statesmen, and military leaders including Adm. William McRaven, Madeleine Albright, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Gary Kasparov, Tony Kushner, Aaron Sorkin, and Bono, who interviewed New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, along with a host of service members, veterans, diplomats, and journalists, and others in a stirring conversation on the nature of courage and character.
The summit, hosted by Newsweek and The Daily Beast editor in chief Tina Brown, was presented by Jeep, along with IBM, USAA, and Mary Kay—and included as solution partners the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, The Mission Continues, Student Veterans of America, and Team Rubicon.
After rousing opening remarks on Wednesday evening from USIP President Jim Marshall, a former congressman and member of the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame, Brown set the tone for the conference when she spoke of "this disconnect between those who've served and those who haven't ... When you talk to people in the military, there's a sort of quiet rage about that. They feel they have so much to talk about and so much to offer, but they're not really being heard and everyone just doesn't get it."
The night then kicked off with journalist Charlie Rose interviewing Adm. McRaven, who commanded the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. McRaven called resigned CIA Director David Petraeus "the finest general" he had served under. He also disclosed a new detail about the bin Laden raid, saying that while America did not inform the Pakistani government because it seemed inconceivable that the world's most-wanted man could be holed up so close to the country's prestigious military academy without their knowledge. But, he said, that assumption proved unwarranted: “We have no intelligence to indicate the Pakistanis knew he was there.”
McRaven was followed by the four-member crew of Dust Off 73, the Army medical evacuation team that spent three days in a continuous rescue operation in Eastern Afghanistan. The members, speaking with ABC News senior foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz, shrugged off the "hero" label, stressing that they were doing the job they'd been assigned. Sgt. Julia Bringloe, the team's medic, also dismissed the idea that being a woman on the front lines distinguished her, saying: "it's a job, not a gender."
The evening concluded with U2 frontman and co-founder of ONE and (RED) Bono interviewing his hero, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. The singer, playing up his role as interviewer, pressed Kristof on his own life, and even worked in a Petraeus joke:
"I think women notice that you work with your wife--you sleep with an activist," he said to the journalist. "Only one," Kristof replied. "I'm delighted to hear that, as we know this week what happens when it's two," Bono shot back as the crowd cracked up. Later he noted that Kristof also "slept with George Clooney," referring to a trip the two took to Darfur.
Day two generated more sparks, as former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Ryan Crocker, who served after 9/11 as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and French public philosopher and activist Bernard-Henri Lévy discussed diplomats on the front line—a conversation that immediately focused on murdered U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who all three panelists knew.
“It's very hard to be an ambassador behind the walls,” Albright said. She called Stevens, a career diplomat who worked at State when she was its first female secretary, “the kind of person we need to have … Chris wanted to get out from behind the walls and represent the U.S. in difficult places—to be the eyes and ears of the president and the American people.”
Lévy raised a tragic comparison, noting that Stevens’s death came "10 years nearly to the day after another American hero who had the same pattern of mind as him, who was Daniel Pearl. Pearl and Ambassador Chris Stevens shared the same respect for other faiths, shared the same will to establish bridges in order to avoid clash of civilizations and the tragic, tragic thing … both of these true American heroes died because of that."
Joking grimly, Crocker said his own best quality as an ambassador was his “inherent expendability: ‘We'll ship out here and if it works, great, if it doesn't work, it's no great loss.’” That, he said, was the job. “The foreign service at its best moves to the sound of the guns. You move to the fight because the fight is where our national security is decided.” He added: “After a while you kind of get to be a crisis junkie and anything else is boring.”
Stevens, said Crocker, knew that “the revolt against [Muammar] Gaddafi came out of Benghazi … and for us to understand and influence it, that was where you had to be—even if you knew it came with attendant risks.”
He recalled, smiling, that when he was “serving Secretary Albright, the [Syrian] embassy was attacked by a mob and my residence was completely ransacked and she made me stay there anyway.” Albright jumped in: “I did come to visit.”
Later on Thursday, Tina Brown sat down with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who discussed The Newsroom, The West Wing and A Few Good Men—and offered for the first time details about his forthcoming Steve Jobs biopic.
“I hope I don't get killed by the studio for giving too much away,” Sorkin said, “but this entire movie is going to be three scenes, and three scenes only, that all take place in real time.”
Real time, Sorkin said, "is when a half hour for you in the audience is the same as a half hour for the character on the screen. There will be no time cuts. Each of these three scenes is going to take place before a product launch—backstage before a product launch. The first one being the Mac, the second one being NeXT (after he had left Apple), and the third one being the iPod."
Speaking with Brown, Sorkin said that while he "would love to take on" the Petraeus scandal on the coming season of his HBO smash, The Newsroom, "unfortunately, the time line ends the day before" the news broke. The public, he said, is "eating our heroes alive," and said "Petraeus plainly is a hero in the classic definition. He's put men in harm's way ... he's protected us." He called the affair with Paula Broadwell that forced the retired four-star general to step down as director of the CIA a "Shakespearian twist."
The other second-day panels found CNN lead political anchor Wolf Blitzer hosting a charged conversation on war and psychological injury; "renegade diplomat" J. Kael Weston challenging Washington D.C.'s comfort with going to war in a conversation with Washington Post senior correspondent and associate editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran; former coordinator for counterterrorism at the C.I.A. Henry Crumpton on "the heroes you'll never know"; Spirit of America founder and CEO Jim Hake, and Oxford Analytica senior global adviser Phillip Mudd, and Woodrow Wilson Director Jane Harman discussing the next war, and the next war hero with Newsweek & The Daily Beast special correspondent Daniel Klaidman; Medal of Honor recipient Alfred Rascon; Kirk Johnson, founder and executive director of The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies, and translator Haidar Khairallah speaking with Newsweek and The Daily Beast Washington Bureau Chief Howard Kurtz; Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion and political dissident discussing Russia— “I will bet my bottom dollar that Putin will not last six years”—with Newsweek and The Daily Beast Senior National-Security Correspondent Eli Lake; and discussions on how to defuse a bomb, the sacrifices made by military families, and veterans as America's secret economic weapon.
The Hero Summit concluded Thursday evening at the Newseum, where a full house sat for the first Washington screening of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Following the movie, Tina Brown sat down with writer Tony Kushner—who came to the event directly from a private White House viewing of the film for President Barack Obama—producer Kathleen Kennedy, and actress Gloria Reuben, who plays First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln's dressmaker.
Kushner told Brown that Obama "really knows his Lincoln." And he called Obama's decision to public embrace same-sex marriage "very Lincolnian":
"I think it was handled with absolute strategic and moral perfection. It arrived at exactly the right moment. As my husband said to him tonight, it was a life-changing moment when the president of the U.S. said that."
Asked if they intended to make a statement on modern politics by making a movie that pits an honorable president against a recalcitrant House of Representatives, Kennedy said the film was "a celebration of democracy”—but she said she was aware it could be viewed that way, and said the filmmakers decided not to release the film before the presidential election because "we didn't want it to be used in a political way."