A Personal Critique on Mr. Mortenson

The following does not necessarily reflect the opinions and goals of my fellow classmates, my professor, and our course project.

This past week, 60 Minutes ran an investigation on Greg Mortenson and his charity. The clip was introduced to us by our professor and is relevant in that, while our project has no direct affiliation with Mr. Mortenson and his charity, his books were used as texts for our course and fueled many of our inspirations.

For reference, the video is embedded below.

There are several responses to such a news segment. I’m not sure how I’d felt, initially. On one hand, I wanted to give both sides the benefit of the doubt. Two sides to every sheet of paper, right? But on the other hand, there are many details that do point towards reason for doubt and suspicion. After all, 60 Minutes is said to be a trusted and respected news program.

After mulling for a few days, I have decided there are two perspectives to consider. First, the initial perspective, is Mr. Mortenson’s actions. The clip does illustrate the fact that there is something intrinsically wrong with the way Mr. Mortenson runs his charity. His expenditures are unnecessary in many respects, and the investigation on the schools Mr. Mortenson built is enough proof that Mr. Mortenson does not support and follow up on nearly as many of his schools as he should. Even though the 60 Minutes clip itself seems rather aggressive in nature, the clip does show enough evidence to justify the investigation.

Furthermore, the testimonies from Mr. Mortenson’s supposed captors are hard to argue against. Mr. Mortenson’s choice in publishing innocent and well respected men as his captors is disappointing, to put it nicely. The fabrications Mr. Krakauer testifies are inspirational, yet they are still nothing but fabrications. Even if 60 Minutes cannot precisely identify Mr. Mortenson’s reasons and merely presents the opinions of those against his cause, it is difficult to provide a complete defense on Mr. Mortenson’s behalf, and his refusal (or reluctance) to make the defense himself on 60 Minutes program does not help ease the average person’s suspicions.

This is the ethical perspective, whether Mr. Mortenson’s actions are justified. However, one should consider another perspective. Naturally, many of Mr. Mortenson’s supporters likely find themselves disappointed in the possible fabrication of the stories that moved them. But in terms of the inspiration attained from reading Mr. Mortenson’s books, should one abandon such inspirations after watching this investigation?

I suppose it ultimately depends on what inspired you, and that in part influences my personal perspective on this question. As this book was a school text for me, principles and ideals were the primary things I took away from his books.

And in Mortenson’s defense, his books were not entirely fabrications. He did build schools, yes. And this stress on the importance of education of children, regardless on stories behind his actions, is an important ideal to take away from his books, an inspiration to help children who do not have such liberties to education.

Now, if one were moved by the fact that one man, Mr. Mortenson, had accomplished all of this and struggled by himself, that one were inspired by Mr. Mortenson’s desire for action, then yes, perhaps one would be disappointed to hear the truths unearthed from this investigation. But a man who writes a book for the sake of motivating others, realistically speaking, first inspires his audience. He is not a historian. He speaks what must be said to move hearts.

This is not to say I agree with what Mr. Mortenson has done. I truly am disappointed in many of his fabrications, most especially the one which framed innocent men as Taliban kidnappers. I also am very disappointed in the management of his charity.

But he’s also not totally in the wrong, and perhaps he isn’t in the wrong at all, even though there appear to be many signs suggesting otherwise. After all, the intention of the 60 Minutes investigation is single-minded, and is the result of doubts and suspicions. Though it is a news program to some extent, it has preset intentions of discussing such suspicions and revealing revelations, and thus does not necessarily reflect the opposing side accurately, especially without Mortenson to personally speak on his defense. Mortenson himself has released a written defense, though not on the show itself.

Again, two sides to every sheet of paper.

In regards to our own project, it is slightly disheartening to learn that the text which inspired us to start drives for school supplies for needy Afghan Children was in part nothing more than lies. But we were inspired for a reason. We did not take up action because some guy had similar passions for children in Pakistan, but because the act and ideals themselves moved us. Whether Mr. Mortenson’s personal actions are ethically justifiable, or even legitimate in occurrence, should not affect our project goals or motivations.

Editor’s note: This class and its charity project operates under the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation and is part of a grassroots school supplies drive started by USAF SMSgt Rex Temple in June 2009 while he was deployed to Afghanistan. This project is not affiliated with Mortenson or his CAI Foundation. All the school supplies we collect are shipped to U.S. troops in Afghanistan and distributed during humanitarian missions. A full 100% of the shipping money we collect is used to ship the boxes to the troops. For more information, please visit the link below:


About Justin Doromal

I am a student at the University of South Florida majoring in Mathematics, with a side interest in educational improvement and pedagogy. I am literate in French, though not necessarily fluent, and in my free time I like indulging in Korean pop music culture.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Charity, Education, Stones into Schools, Three Cups of Tea, Uncategorized, University of South Florida, USF Honors College, Video and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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