Over the years, Ann Jones has confronted some of the most daunting and depressing issues on the planet: the abuse of women, African civil wars, the disaster that is Afghanistan, and ― as reflected in her book They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars ― the plight of American casualties of the fighting there. She’s put on her flak jacket and combat boots to “embed” with U.S. troops at forward operating bases near the Pakistani border. (“I… got a checklist of things to bring along. It was the sort of list moms get when sending their kids off to camp: water bottle, flashlight, towel, soap, toilet paper [for those excursions away from base], sleeping bag, etc. But there was other stuff too: ballistic eyewear, fireproof gloves, big knife, body armor, and Kevlar helmet. Considering how much of my tax dollar goes to the Pentagon, I thought the Army might have a few spare flak jackets to lend to visiting reporters, but no, you have to bring your own.”) She’s been in trauma units in Afghanistan and on U.S. C-17 cargo planes taking the desperately wounded home. (“Here again is Marine Sergeant Wilkins, just as he was on the flight from Afghanistan: unconscious, sedated, intubated, and encased in a vacuum spine board… He remains in cold storage, like some pod-person in a sci-fi film.”) In the heat of summer, she’s ventured off to watch U.S. advisers trying to whip Afghan military recruits into shape. (“Hundreds of little Davids to the overstuffed American Goliaths training them… Like me, many sag under the weight of a standard-issue flak jacket.”)
So, honestly, who could blame her for finally seeking out a little time in Norway, a country that just took first place in the annual World Happiness Report of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network? Not me. She spent several years in Norway, in fact, returning to her own land with a strong sense of what might raise the American happiness quotient. As it happened, she was just in time to watch her country’s slo-mo dive off the edge of a cliff in a fit of plutocratic triumphalism. In response, she offered a little advice about what actually works when it comes to a better life from one of the happiest, most satisfied countries on Earth, a place where welfare isn’t a dirty word and the social safety net isn’t the preferred place for budget cuts. (Check out her “Social Democracy for Dummies.”) Of course, not many were listening to such suggestions at the time, not at least until Bernie Sanders came on the scene as a presidential candidate.
Having paid another visit to Norway recently, she’s home again, infused with hope in these grim times. In that spirit, in “Scandinavia in Maryland?” she offers her own uplifting antidote to Trumpcare (that is, to the various Republican deathcare bills) and a striking sense of how resistance to The Donald & Co. might proceed on a state-by-state basis. For me at least, her perspective feels like tonic in a desperately down time.