Hawkeye Spotlight with Francis Hamit

Francis Hamit - LA Iowa ClubFor this segment of the Hawkeye Spotlight, Isaiah Scales interviewed Author and Iowa Alumnus, Francis Hamit.  Hamit found writing a way to share his experiences in Industrial Security and his service in the Vietnam War.  Hamit gives an eye-opening and thought provoking look at the difficult challenges the world faces in protecting citizens.

The University of Iowa has one of the most respected writing and journalism programs in the nation, what factored into your decision to attend the U of Iowa?

“Actually, the reputation of the Writer’s Workshop had nothing to do with my original decision to attend Iowa.  I had never heard of it.  I came there in the Drama department in 1965 after two years at a much smaller school with a very small drama department, because of a book written by Iowa professor A.S. Gillette, “Stage Scenery”.  I started in theatre at age 15 at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, California.  I wanted to learn from Dr. Gillette, but he was close to retirement and there was a lot of competition for jobs on productions MFA students.  Mere Juniors were not supposed to get them.  When I did, it created some hard feelings.

Is there any particular subject, class or professor that you feel made a true impact on your career as a writer?

“Aside from Dr. Howard Stein, who really taught me structure and how to think creatively, my most influential professor was Vance Bourjaily.  So much so that I dedicated my second novel to his memory.  Vance was generally considered the best creative writing instructor in the country at the time.  He was a very kind man, but always willing to call you on your B.S. and try to get you on track.  I loved the Workshop experience.  I never wanted to leave.  Once the {Vietnam} war was over and the politics gone, it was a great place to learn your craft.

You spent 21 years in Industrial Security; what kinds of roles did that entail, and what did you find to be the most difficult aspect of the job?

“At first it was a temporary stop-gap.  I was a Captain in charge of about 200 officers at 24 major accounts in the Chicago area for a year.  Then I got hurt on the job and couldn’t do those ninety-hour weeks anymore, so I went into selling the service, eventually ending up at my fourth company as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing.  I also became a consultant, and wrote a column for a trade magazine, and articles for others.  The year in uniform gave me great grounding in the industry and you see things that other people never see.  Much of my “literary” fiction is about that environment and life, and ties into my writing about the military and being a private detective.  There is a lot of skepticism about the problems you find, and then they don’t want to spend the money it takes to correct the problems.  After a while it wears you down.”

How has your experience in Industrial Security shaped your writing?

“I use narrative to try and take the reader inside that world through stories, and use the knowledge I have to paint the scene while not drowning them in detail.  I’ve seen some amazing and tragic episodes where people’s lives change forever.  I also have a better understanding of research and how the world works than many of my contemporaries who are simply content to recycle myths and the agreed-upon lie of accepted history rather than to dig and discover how things really were.”

March 19th, you gave a radio interview and went into great length about domestic terrorism.  Less than a month later, America came under attack at the Boston Marathon.  Do you think domestic terrorism now poses a greater threat than international terrorism?

“Well, the Boston attacks turn out to be foreign inspired, part of the Chechnyan terror against Russia.  Boston was just a convenient location.  As Brian Jenkins put it, terrorism is a form of theatre, and warfare by the weak upon the strong.  These are small people striking out the only way they know how, but no less dangerous for all of that.  And yes, we have a big problem, which was ignored by the Feds and tracked only by the Southern Poverty Law Center and like civil rights groups.  Since the 9/11 attacks the Feds have really gotten on their game, but people still don’t understand the damage that a small group or one individual can do if not detected, and why we have this massive surveillance.  It’s called asymmetrical warfare because the sides are so grossly uneven.  As long as people overreact to what is, at its base, and insurance risk, this situation will continue.”

 You said before 9/11, it was difficult to get the media to pay attention to this kind of threat; something you defined as “leaderless resistance.”  Could you explain this notion and do you consider the attacks on Boston an example of this?

Leaderless Resistance was a doctrine devised by KKK leader Louis Beam in the 1980s after the FBI had taken down a number of violent groups.  It means perpetual war and attack that can come from anywhere, on a whim, without any kind of central command or strategy.  It’s terrorism for terrorism’s sake.  A cry for attention.  And yes, the Boston Marathon attack is such an instance.  Before 9/11 the mainstream media had its collective head in the sand, while security professionals from the American Society for Industrial Security and the several federal agencies kept tugging on their sleeves and saying “Hey, pay attention!”  This was in 1991, ten years before the World Trade Center went down, and we’d been predicting it for years and being dismissed as a bunch of “Chicken Littles.”

Speaking of the media, how would you assess the media today as a whole in terms of keeping the public accurately aware of threats to the U.S.?

“If anything, they’ve now gone the other way, tending to start at shadows, but the reporting is a lot better and more responsible.”

What advice would you pass on to the next generation of writers?

“Write what you know and write what you want to write.  Be a leader.  Don’t chase the market, and do your best work.  Never worry about the money.  You do it right and the money comes.  Be kind to others, and never envy another writer’s success.  Your day will come.”

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