Archive for July, 2010

Unpublished, Unseen 3

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2010 by stevemccurry

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Burma, 2010


So many of you have told me that you enjoy seeing the unpublished work, that I will try to put up previously unseen material more often. Thanks for looking at my blog.


Riding the Indian Railways

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2010 by stevemccurry



Dusty and monumental, India’s trains often seem as ancient as India itself. – Paul Theroux





Ever since the British built the railroads in India that stitched that vast subcontinent together, the trains have connected all of its disparate parts.




When I was on assignment shooting a story on the Indian Railways,  I would go to the station every day and wander around the platform each time a train would roll in, carefully stepping over bodies and around huge mountains of luggage, and would start to photograph the swirl of life that assaults and saturates the senses.




Anything and everything takes place in a station; there is nothing that the depot hasn’t observed. The train station is a theater and everything imaginable happens on its stage. People endlessly wait, they camp out in the stations, and many call it home.




Travelers must share it with the occasional cow or even monkeys foraging for scraps, tolerate ever-present shouts from vendors trying frantically to attract business, and demonstrate patience with the endless queues.



When the train pulls into the station there is a mad dash of humanity as though it is the last train out of hell. People push through the doors and climb through the windows to capture an elusive seat in order to avoid the punishment of having to stand for an entire trip that could take six hours or more. Often the trains are so crowded, the aisles so packed with bodies pressed up against each other, that you cannot even lift an arm to scratch the back of your head.




One day I came across a solitary figure eating lunch — not an unusual sight in many places, but in the bazaar that is an Indian railway station, something that captured my attention. He had carved out a quiet refuge in that chaotic universe and seemed to be lost in a quiet contemplation that was the perfect foil for the rowdy universe that surrounded him.



India is peculiarly visible from a railway train.  I have the idea that much of Indian life is lived within sight of the tracks or the station, and often next to the tracks, or inside the station.  It is not only part of Indian culture, but it is an ingredient in Indian life; it is dynamic, energetic, powerful. It is impossible to imagine India without the railway, or to think what could conceivably replace it.”  -Paul Theroux, The Imperial Way

Tide of Destruction

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2010 by stevemccurry

The Two Gulfs


The largest oil spill in history until now, caused by the deliberate atrocity of the Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army as they were retreating from Kuwait, covered 600 square miles of sea surface, and blackened 300 miles of coastline and decimated the once-abundant wildlife.



Saddam’s army deliberately spilled as much as six million barrels of crude as they blasted pipelines, and emptied loaded tankers into the Persian Gulf.  Everything that wasn’t spilled into the water was set on fire.


“The Persian Gulf catastrophe would have even been worse if it were not for four brave Kuwaitis who tricked the Iraquis by making them think that a 48-inch pipe had already released all the oil from storage tanks.” –  Tom Canby (National Geographic, August 1991)




Hundreds of volunteers cleaned up  habitats and laid protective booms across tidal channels. Even though at least 20,000 birds died, many were meticulously cleaned treated, and released.




Comparison of the estimated spillage of three major oil disasters:

Gulf of Mexico: 126-210 million gallons (2.8-4.8 Million Barrels) as of July 13, 2010
Persian Gulf:  84-250 million gallons (2-6 Million Barrels)
Exxon Valdez:  11 million gallons (260,000 to 750,000 Barrels)







Contrary to the reports that the spill had few long-term effects, there is ample evidence that there was long-term damage; some of the oil in the tidal flats is as much as a foot under the surface twenty years later.

To track the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico :

Rationale, Rationalization, and Illogic

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2010 by stevemccurry

World Trade Center Collapse, September 11, 2001

Immediately after the atrocity at the World Trade Center on 9/11, we went into Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden, to root out Al Qaeda and  the Taliban which was protecting it, and to fight the “war on terror”.


Nine years later, we are not only still there, but by almost anyone’s calculation, we are losing.  The Taliban has been able to strike in the capital numerous times, the general in charge of the troops has been relieved of his duty for intemperate comments about his superiors and the situation in general, and the signs of improvement are few and far between.


The rationale for the mission has lurched from one rationale to another,  and officials in Washington and in Kabul all try to explain what we are trying to accomplish.   We have been told it is to keep the streets safe in America.  It has been said that we are there to give breathing room to the Afghan government to build up their own forces.  We hear that we are there to help build Afghan institutions so that the country can have a civil society.  How does that square with the facts now?


According to the AP and ABC, CIA Director Leon Panetta said on Sunday there may be fewer than 50 al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan. Panetta said, “I think the estimate on the number of Al Qaeda is actually relatively small. At most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity.”

President Barack Obama wants U.S. forces in Afghanistan to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda.” About U.S. 98,000 troops will be in Afghanistan by fall.


“It’s a curious thing about Afghanistan: every time a politician makes the case for why we need to stay, he or she ends up making the case for why we should leave.  And he thinks he’s making a case for staying! It’s truly bizarre how many in Washington are describing the situation in Afghanistan accurately, but then fail to draw the most obvious conclusion based on what they’ve just said.” (Ariana Huffington)


Panetta said less than a week ago:Our purpose, our whole mission there, is to make sure that Al Qaeda never finds another safehaven from which to attack this country. That’s the fundamental goal of why the United States is there.”


If there are fewer than one hundred members of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and if eliminating Al Qaeda is truly the main objective, the costs are staggering in human lives and in scarce dollars that we can not afford.  The U.S. has paid more than 300 billion dollars and the costs keep skyrocketing.


General Petreus says that we will win this war, but what does winning mean?  Kandahar is still a Taliban stronghold nine years after the start of the war.  Unfortunately, there are too many questions and too few answers.


The “Q” word – quagmire – has been mentioned a lot recently.  How much time has to elapse before we know if we are in a quagmire?  If the definition is “a difficult, precarious, or entrapping position, a predicament”  we are already in one.


We all want Afghans to live in a peaceful society, and to be able to raise their families in security and safety.  We want Afghan children to get a proper education which will give them a future.  We want women to live without the fear which they suffered under during the Taliban years.


The problem is, that it is difficult to see how adding more troops will achieve that goal.  It seems to be doing the opposite since in the last nine years more boots on the ground have not produced security for Afghans.



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