The Voices of War
Gregg D. Caruso - On the Illusion of Free Will, Myth of Meritocracy and the need to rethink our Justice Systems

Gregg D. Caruso - On the Illusion of Free Will, Myth of Meritocracy and the need to rethink our Justice Systems

October 11, 2021

My guest today is Gregg D. Caruso, who is a Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Corning. He’s also Visiting Fellow at the New College of the Humanities, and Honorary Professor of Philosophy at Macquarie University, Sydney. Gregg is also a Co-Director of the Justice Without Retribution Network housed at the University of Aberdeen School of Law.

His research focuses on free will, moral responsibility, punishment, philosophy of law, jurisprudence, social and political philosophy, moral philosophy, philosophy of mind, moral psychology, and neurolaw. He’s published numerous books, including Rejecting Retributivism: Free Will, Punishment, and Criminal Justice (2021); Just Deserts: Debating Free Will (w/Daniel C. Dennett) (2021); Free Will and Consciousness: A Determinist Account of the Illusion of Free Will (2012); Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility (2013); Science and Religion: 5 Questions (2014) and others.

He joins me today to talk about free will, free will scepticism, moral responsibility, and our collective views on punishment. Some of the topics we covered are:

  • Gregg’s journey into philosophy of free will
  • Dominant positions in the free will debate
  • Explaining free will scepticism
  • Social determinants and their impact on outcomes
  • The mythology of meritocracy and the idea of being ‘self-made’
  • The illusion of the ‘self’
  • Free will scepticism, justice, and geopolitics
  • Impact of the situational factors, environment, and context on behaviour
  • Importance of understanding causes that lead to genocide, atrocities, and crimes
  • Gregg’s ‘Public Health Quarantine Model’ explained

This was a fascinating episode that will hopefully leave you with more questions than it answered. To find out more, you can visit Gregg's website here.  

Steve Dennis - On getting shot, kidnapped and the court case that sent tremors through the humanitarian aid industry

Steve Dennis - On getting shot, kidnapped and the court case that sent tremors through the humanitarian aid industry

October 4, 2021

My guest today is Steve Dennis. After working as a civil engineer in Canada in the late 1990’s, Steve started working as a field-based humanitarian aid worker in 2002. He worked in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, for various NGOs and UN agencies, which include the World Food Programme, Médecins Sans Frontières, United Nations Department of Safety and Security, and others.

In 2012, while working with an organisation in Kenya, armed men attacked a convoy Steve was travelling in. In the attack, one staff member was killed, and Steve and two other colleagues were wounded. He and three colleagues where then kidnapped by the armed militia only to be rescued days later in another violent gunfight.

In 2015, Steve won a precedent-setting court ruling of gross negligence against his former employer, revealing a disturbingly high level of disregard for staff safety within the organisation as well as within the industry as a whole. The court also shed some much-needed light on the need to care for injured staff, which is another topic rarely discussed.

Steve now works with individuals and organisations along their path from injury and grievance to recovery, as well as skills development and growth. This work is not only related to better navigating the landscapes of an organisation’s duty of care and risk management, but also capacity development in program management, leadership, and breaking stigmas on mental health issues.

Some of the topics we covered include:

  • Steve’s entry into the humanitarian aid profession
  • Life of a humanitarian aid worker
  • Challenges of working in a refugee camp in Kenya
  • Importance of planning and appropriate qualifications
  • Getting shot and kidnapped
  • The rescue
  • Trauma, PTSD and tools that help
  • The legal battle
  • Inadequate health and legal frameworks for humanitarian aid workers
  • Impact of Steve’s precedent-setting legal win
  • Steve’s current role helping others avoid similar challenges

You can find out more about Steve and his work here, and watch a documentary about his kidnapping here.

Stephanie Speck - Strategic Communication: A Tool For Change

Stephanie Speck - Strategic Communication: A Tool For Change

September 27, 2021

My guest today is Stephanie Speck, who has lived and worked in more than 20 countries, accumulating almost 25 years experience as a strategy and communications adviser, supporting democratic reform in fragile and conflict-affected settings. Stephanie’s expertise includes the design and programming of cross-government reform strategies, strategic communication, and advocacy initiatives; public policy development; counter-terrorism communication strategies, government public affairs and crisis communications. 

Stephanie has launched TV channels (including the Middle East’s most popular, MBC Action); was Deputy Director of the first Palestine Investment Forum; led a US$1billion governance reform portfolio in Afghanistan; developed maternal health campaigns in the Vietnamese/Chinese border regions; worked to eliminate family voting in Albania; reported on disasters—earning her the Australian Humanitarian Award for her work post the Indian Ocean tsunami; and held several high-level public diplomacy and spokesperson roles, including as Senior Adviser to the Senior Minister of Afghanistan, the President of Somalia and the Prime Minister of Iraq. 

Stephanie has just finished almost three years leading communication and advocacy initiatives for the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, in Geneva. 

Some of the topics we covered include:

  • Stephanie’s introduction to mass violence at the age of 9
  • Strategic communication as a tool for change
  • ‘Those who tell the stories rule society’
  • Revolution in communication methods
  • Transparency and visibility in communication essential for trust
  • When expectations and reality don’t align
  • Manipulation vs. Strategic Communication
  • Values vs. Interests in international development
  • Role of social media in strategic communication
  • Holy trinity of government regulation, individual responsibility, and social media companies to tackle echo chambers
  • Understanding the local context
  • Stephanie’s view on the current situation in Afghanistan  

If you've enjoyed this episode, please share it with your friends and followers. It will help grow the show and allow The Voices Of War to be heard far and wide. 

Adam Cooper - Mediation, Diplomacy and Digital Conflict

Adam Cooper - Mediation, Diplomacy and Digital Conflict

September 20, 2021

My guest today is Adam Cooper. He is the Director of Digital Conflict for the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, or HD. Adam has been with HD for over a decade and now oversees a global programme of work mediating offensive cyber operations and disinformation on social media. He also hosts ‘The Mediator’s Studio’ podcast, which provides some incredible insights into what happens behind closed doors when peace agreements are negotiated.

Prior to his current role, Adam managed HD’s Myanmar operations. And before joining HD, he coordinated election observation missions in Asia and served as an adviser to former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed. He has degrees from Oxford University and the Harvard Kennedy School. Adam is a Thai and UK national and currently lives in Brussels. Some of the topics we covered are:

  • Adam’s journey into the world of conflict negotiation
  • Private mediation and the work of HD
  • Why confidentiality is important when looking for alternatives to military only solutions
  • Straddling multiple diplomacy tracks
  • Lessons learned from senior negotiators
  • ‘Peace is made in stages’
  • Dangers of not negotiating with the ‘enemy’
  • Adam’s experience in Myanmar
  • Digital conflict, digital threats and understanding the problem
  • Challenge of establishing norms of online behaviour
  • ‘Freedom of speech’ vs. ‘Hate speech’
  • Responsibility of social media organisations
  • Experimentations of ‘Peace Tech'

To find out more about the 'ups and downs' of conflict mediation, listen to 'The Mediator's Studio', available here.

The Story Behind ‘The Voices Of War‘

The Story Behind ‘The Voices Of War‘

September 15, 2021

Since starting 'The Voices of War', many people have asked me how this podcast came about.

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by Pascal Gemperli who runs the popular 'Conflict transformation, Peacebuilding and Security' (CoPeSe) group. Pascal was kind enough to give me ample time and space to share a bit of my own background and the story behind The Voices of War podcast. We touched upon my early experiences as a refugee, life in the Army, the story behind starting CrossFit Sarajevo, my exposure to the world of development work and ultimately the motivations behind the podcast.

Many thanks to Pascal for this opportunity. You can find out more about his 40,000+ members community, 'Conflict transformation, Peacebuilding and Security', at or by searching for CoPeSe on LinkedIn, Facebook or YouTube.



Sahar Fetrat - On the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan

Sahar Fetrat - On the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan

September 13, 2021

My guest today is Sahar Fetrat, a young Afghan living and studying in London. Born in Afghanistan but forced to flee when she was only one year old, Sahar returned with her family to Kabul when she was 10 and stayed there until graduating from university. She then moved to Budapest to pursue her first Masters at the Central European University before moving onto her second Masters in War Studies at King’s College London, where she is currently a student.

Sahar introduces herself as a ‘feminist who’s navigating her way between activism and academia’—a journey that has seen her produce short films as well as becoming a prominent social commentator. During her relatively short, but impactful career, Sahar has directed two short films, one called ‘- this is Kabul’ and the other ‘Do not trust my silence’, with the latter winning a best film prize at an Italian short-film festival. Both films seek to challenge the position Afghan women and girls hold in that society. More recently, Sahar has published articles that seek to highlight the struggle of women and girls in her homeland, an issue particularly relevant now that the Taliban has returned to power.

Some of the topics we covered are:

  • Life of a child refugee
  • Kabul during the ‘peaceful’ years
  • Answering the call of activism
  • Failure of ‘black and white’ narratives
  • Defining feminism
  • Role models that influenced Sahar
  • The story of ‘Do not trust my silence’
  • Lived experience of women and girls in Afghanistan
  • Camera as a weapon against inequality and abuse
  • Taliban attack on Sahar’s university
  • Losing her mother and father
  • Scars of war and importance of legitimising emotions
  • The current situation in Afghanistan
  • The power of individual action

Sahar mentioned a program, ‘Sahar Speaks’, that introduced her to the power of the camera. That same program has recently helped resettle two dozen alumnae in host nations around the globe. You can find out more about their struggles and help nurture their journalism careers at the following link: 

Dr Ghassan Jawad Kadhim - Still ‘The Last Optimist In Baghdad‘?

Dr Ghassan Jawad Kadhim - Still ‘The Last Optimist In Baghdad‘?

September 6, 2021

My guest today is Dr Ghassan Jawad Kadhim, who is a political advisor and analyst of politics of the Middle East. His expertise lies in his own homeland, Iraq, where he has spent nearly twenty years supporting dialogue and development. He has worked extensively with local as well as international actors on diverse projects seeking to promote national reconciliation, co-existence, and peacebuilding. He has served as an adviser on anti-corruption, security, and political stability.

Ghassan is one of those people who seems to know everyone and is never far from decision makers. His enthusiasm to get things done has been publicly recognised in a book written about his life and contribution to Iraq by Dr Brian Brivati, a British historian, in his 2016 book ‘The Last Optimist In Baghdad’.

Some of the topics we covered are:

  • Becoming the ‘Key-maker’
  • Ghassan’s personal experience of torture at the hands of his own countrymen
  • The power of perspective in shaping narratives
  • The complexity of Iraq
  • The progressive destabilisation of Iraq over decades
  • Issues with domestic leaders and why they are stifling progress
  • Complexity of governance in Iraq
  • The birth and impact of ISIS
  • Interests of regional and global actors
  • Possible ‘redrawing’ of maps of Iraq and the region
  • Was the invasion of 2003 worth it?
  • The ‘curse’ of oil
  • What the future holds for Iraq
LTCOL Dave Grossman - On killing, combat, sleep, ‘blind spots’ and everything else in between

LTCOL Dave Grossman - On killing, combat, sleep, ‘blind spots’ and everything else in between

August 30, 2021

Today, my guest is LTCOL Dave Grossman. He requires very little introduction, as I’m sure most of my audience will be intimately familiar with his books, most notably the one that has revolutionised the way we think and talk about combat. The book is of course ‘On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society’, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize; has been translated into multiple languages; is on the US Marine Corps Commandant’s Required Reading List; and is required reading at the FBI academy and numerous other academies and colleges around the world.

He is now the director of the ‘Killology Research Group’ and is on the road almost 300 days a year, training elite military and law enforcement organisations worldwide about the reality of combat.

During our chat, we discussed a range of topics, including

  • Non-firers in combat and how we made killing a conditioned response
  • How anonymity can enable violence and the importance of non-verbal communication
  • The logic behind the term ‘killology’
  • What LTCOL Grossman means by the phrase ‘no pity party, no macho man’
  • Sleep deprivation and its effects on our societies
  • The issue with high doses of caffeine in energy drinks 
  • The impact of sleep deprivation on ethical decision making in soldiers and first responders
  • Social blind spots and how they impact our decision making
  • The blind spot of creating a generation desensitised to violence and war
  • How medical technology decreases murder and death rate, and thereby hides an increase in violence
  • How otherwise good people come to do bad things, particularly in war
  • ‘Killing enabling factors’ and how they can lead to atrocities
  • ‘The virus of violent crime’ and its implications for our future
  • The need to understand causes of violence, not means to carry it out
  • The power and danger of information

Since I’ve barely scratched the surface of LTCOL Grossman’s extensive biography, you can find an extended version here. You can find a list of other books he has written over the years, including the two mentioned in our chat—'On Combat' and 'Assassination Generation'—here.

Dr Mike Martin & Dr Christopher Ankersen - Afghanistan Update and Future

Dr Mike Martin & Dr Christopher Ankersen - Afghanistan Update and Future

August 28, 2021

Today, I’m speaking with Dr Mike Martin and Dr Christopher Ankersen. I have spoken with Mike at the beginning of this crisis (link here) as well as a few months back (link here). Suffice to say that he is considered an expert on Afghanistan and is the author of the book ‘An Intimate War’, considered by many as the most authoritative book on the political, social and economic dynamics of Afghanistan.

Dr Christopher Ankersen is an Associate Professor at the Centre for Global Affairs at NYU. Prior to joining NYU, he enjoyed a colourful and eclectic career which includes being a security adviser for the UN, as well as serving in the Canadian Armed Forces for more than a decade. Throughout his career he has taught at the London School of Economics, the London Centre for International Relations, King’s College London, Carleton University, and the Royal Military College of Canada. He has also lectured at staff colleges in Canada, Australia, and Denmark. A link to his full bio is here.

Mike and Christopher join me on Saturday the 28th of August, just before 0500h Kabul time, to discuss the ongoing situation in Afghanistan and its implications for the region and the world. 

You can find Mike's and Christopher's article titled 'The Taliban, not the West, won Afghanistan's technological war', here.

Hizbullah Khan - On the current situation and the future of Afghanistan

Hizbullah Khan - On the current situation and the future of Afghanistan

August 23, 2021

Today, I once again spoke with Hizbullah, an Afghan security analyst and journalist, who remains in Kabul. We recorded our first discussion on 17th of August, only a day after the Taliban took control of Kabul where we discussed how we got to where we are now (you can access that episode here). Today, we spoke about the current situation and what the future might hold for the people of Afghanistan.

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