My Bulletproof Vest and the Illusion of Perfect Protection

When I interviewed civilians struggling to rebuild their homes, in Mosul and in Northeastern Syria, I would ask if they had hope for the future. They told me ISIS was gone, things were getting better, and I wrote that down. They were lifting the remains of a crumbled wall, felled by a missile or rocket or endless heavy gunfire, collecting the wreckage of their lives, as snipers pierced the air not two neighborhoods over. I would report their optimism, and I hated the thought of wearing my PPE while interviewing people so resilient yet vulnerable, so I kept it packed away in the car.

Our ideas of safety were asymmetric. Their idea of safety in that moment was in the absence of something—ISIS. What I wanted was a fixer I trusted and a better internet connection so I could talk to my wife on WhatsApp, eight hours away. I wished

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