The puzzles of international politics were explored piece by piece Wednesday as Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist J. Ross Baughman spoke with Amherst students.
The 1971 graduate of Steele High School teleconferenced with teacher Emily Marty’s college-level civilization class.
Over the course of 90 minutes, discussion ranged from his time in the African nation of Rhodesia to post-World War II mercantilism, developments in the Middle East, and U.S. presidential politics.
“My mission when I went out into the world was to look at all the presumptions, the comfortable quilts people would wrap themselves in to deny what they could see with their own eyes,” he said, reflecting on a 39-year career in investigative reporting.
After working as an editor for student publications at Steele and Kent State University, Baughman’s professional work started in 1976 at The Lorain Journal.
There he gained acclaim by secretly reporting on the activities of homegrown Nazi factions in Cleveland and Chicago.
The series “Nazis in America” pulled back the curtain on murders linked to the National States’ Rights Party, as well as its plans for domestic terrorism.
Later, working for the Associated Press, Baughman covered the Rhodesian Bush War, spending two weeks embedded in southern Africa with a mounted infantry group fighting guerrillas. His writing and photos revealed how the solders tortured civilians and prisoners.
While he initially faced scrutiny from the Overseas Press Club for the manner in which the pictures were attained, his work was validated when Baughman earned the Pulitzer Prize in 1978. He has since covered important historical turning points in Lebanon, El Salvador, and Grenada, working for LIFE magazine, Newsweek, and The Washington Times.
What Baughman’s experienced over the years had “good roots” at Steele High, due to influential history and English teachers who taught him to question authority, he said.
That practice put him in the cross-hairs of administrators in 1971, when they seized a controversial edition of the school newspaper, The Record, and burned it before it could be distributed. Baughman said it was a clear First Amendment violation.
The prize-winning journalist was dismayed to learn The Record was discontinued this past year.
He urged Marty’s students to band together to share daily news and perspectives online. Journalism is a practice that trains the mind to ask questions and find answers — an important skill set in today’s world.
Baughman also challenged students to examine the motivations behind the world events they are studying, looking deeper into the complicated ways Middle Eastern politics, African independence movements, and British imperialism have shaped modern politics.
For example, the motives that led to the creation of Hadrian’s Wall across Britannia in the second century are more or less the same as those behind today’s proposals for a wall along the Mexican border, Baughman said.
Another parallel: Rome became a great empire, but the larger it grew the more it was influenced by the philosophies of the people it conquered. The same could be said of American economic policy, Baughman argued — the U.S. market is addicted to growth, obsessed with tapping markets such as China, which has led us to be more dependent on Chinese goods than ones made here.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Used with permission This photo shows a white minority Rhodesian soldier swinging a bat at a captive. It is among the images J. Ross Baughman captured while covering the nation’s bloody war in southern Africa in the 1970s.
Photos by Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Steele High School teacher Emily Marty introduces students in her college-level civilization course to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist J. Ross Baughman, who on Wednesday led discussion over historical and modern global trends via a Web conference.