Tomorrow will mark the release of the 8th episode out of 10 for Hi-Phi Nation, which is my attempt at bridging many different genres with philosophy; documentaries, journalism, narrative storytelling, and sound design. As a guest blogger this week, I’m going to talk about the backstory behind the making of some of these episodes, as well as the interesting challenges I faced as a trained academic philosopher trying to create something so different from what we’re trained to create (essays not audio, arguments not narratives.)
Episodes 2 and 3 were the first pieces I produced a little over a year ago. When I first met Major Ian Fishback in Ann Arbor, I already recorded with Jeff McMahan, Helen Frowe, Michael Robillard, and many faculty at USMA at West Point on just war and revisionist just war theory, as well as Mike’s work on moral exploitation. But because the show wasn’t just going to be a highly-produced piece of audio philosophy, I needed a good story. You can’t “turn stories into ideas” without story. I knew Ian’s story from the archived media reports about his whistle-blowing in the Army, so I assumed that I was coming into a story about a man who opposed torture, and we were going to have a show about torture in war. But that made up less than a third of what we ended up talking about. Ian and I spoke on tape for over three hours. The real story behind his military career was almost a perfect snapshot of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, from the hopeful and almost easy days of the early push against Al Qaeda and the Taliban (remember the Northern Alliance?) to the chaos in the initial years in Iraq, all the way to the height of the surge and the limited successes and ultimate failure of the counterinsurgency campaign, leading to the rise of ISIS. If you haven’t already listened, the bonus content for the episodes is just gold, I wish I could’ve included them. Ian’s story and current philosophical reflections on his experiences did not disappoint. How could a philosopher who spent over a decade of his life in combat not have interesting things to say about the ethics and law of war? My conversations with Ian and the pieces that were finally released set the structure for how I approached the rest of the season.