Unusual warrior takes unlikely path — to peace
Rye Barcott, author of "It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine's Path to Peace" at the Pritzker Military library. (July 1, 2011)
In 2000, the ROTC scholarship recipient from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill traveled to Kibera, a crowded slum in Nairobi, Kenya, to study ethnic violence for his senior thesis. His experiences prompted him to co-found a nongovernmental youth development organization there called Carolina for Kibera.
Barcott's promotion of peace in Kibera would eventually clash with his commitment to training as a Marine. He tells his story in his memoir, "It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine's Path to Peace."
Barcott, now a member of the sustainability office at Duke Energy, talked during a recent Chicago visit about his experiences.
Q: How do you view war and peace, having been active in both at the same time?
A: I felt torn apart. I tell you, at times I felt my head was split in two between the two experiences. But at its core, I believed — and I believe — that militaries exist … to promote peace.
Q: When writing the book, did you have a particular audience in mind?
A: High school and college students. We're getting feedback from a lot of parents in particular who are writing and saying, "Wow, this is actually helping me think about the types of experiences that I want to expose my kids to in my own parenting and leadership."
Q: Much of the book takes place in your 20s; what would you recommend to other 20-somethings who may not have the resources you had to make change?
A: You can make that change and form relationships with people who are different from you right here … by confronting your fears and pushing them outside of your own comfort zone. And that's really where it begins — it's this recognition that depth still matters.
Q: In the book you mention that your father's service was the inspiration for your joining the Marines. What was the inspiration for the other things you've done?
A: I had this really unique set of experiences growing up because my mother is an anthropologist. She gave me the middle name Mead after (famous anthropologist) Margaret Mead and taught me the value of appreciating cultures that were different from me. So I think dad and mom (were) big influences in the early stages. And then I benefited throughout my life from really great mentors.
Q: Given all you've done, did you ever doubt yourself at all?
A: I've tried to lay bare the setbacks as well as some of my own limitations and weaknesses. I think that the wisest leaders that I've served with, many of whom happen to be from the military, are the folks that have a real sense of themselves, both their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Because at the end of the day, we're all flawed.