Peter van Buren

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Peter van Buren
Born 1960 (age 56–57)
New York City, New York
Occupation Author

Peter van Buren is a former United States Foreign Service employee who wrote the books Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent and We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.


Born in New York City, Peter Van Buren is a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Department of State. He spent a year in Iraq. Following his book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, the Department of State began proceedings against him. Through the efforts of the Government Accountability Project and the ACLU, Buren instead retired from the State Department with his full benefits of service.[1][2][3]

Since leaving the government, Van Buren’s commentary has been featured in The New York Times,[4] Reuters, Salon,[5] NPR, Al Jazeera, Huffington Post,[6] The Nation,[7] TomDispatch,, American Conservative Magazine, Mother Jones,[8],[9] Le Monde, Asia Times, The Guardian (UK), Daily Kos, XpatNation,[10] Middle East Online, Guernica and others. He has appeared on the BBC World Service, NPR’s All Things Considered and Fresh Air, CurrentTV, HuffPo Live, RT, ITV, Britain’s Channel 4 Viewpoint, CCTV, Voice of America, and more.[11]

Hooper's War[edit]

Hooper’s War[12] is an anti-war novel, due out in May 2017. How does fear feel? This is slightly-alternated history of Japan and the end of World War II. Hooper's War is the story of American Lieutenant Nate Hooper, his adversary and the man who changes Hooper’s life, Japanese Sergeant Eichi Nakagawa, and Naoko Matsumoto, the resolute woman who meets them both on the road into hell but can only save one.

The story is set in a fictional World War II where the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not take place. The three characters face absurdities and atrocities which last their lifetimes. “Memories are the price we pay for surviving,” Hooper says. “They don’t go away like people do.” Hooper’s conflict – how to survive first the reality of war, then the consequences, and finally, how to end his war 70 years later – is cut-in sharp. "My dreams seek revenge. When I hear the word unforgettable, well, your nightmares have no idea," Hooper says.

Hooper’s War captures the exhilaration of combat, even as dark humor pops up amidst the most horrific episodes. An Afterwords offers insight into the historical detail which powers the book, based on research at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center and Van Buren's original oral history interviews in Japan with war survivors. Many of the soldiers’ stories in the book are based on things Van Buren witnessed in Iraq.

Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent[edit]

“The longest day of my life started when I accidentally shot myself, went downhill from there” is how the main character Earl begins his story[13] in Ghosts of Tom Joad, A Story of the #99Percent.

Ghosts of Tom Joad is a reimagining of Steinbeck’s classic The Grapes of Wrath, brought into our own era. The book traces the dilution of our middle class, their replacement with the working poor, and examines the effects of this not just on our economy, but on our society, our nation, our America. Like Grapes of Wrath, Ghosts is a factual look at ourselves is wrapped in fiction, in this case, a single Ohio family touched by the changes in America from the 1950s through today.

We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People[edit]

Charged with rebuilding Iraq, the U.S. State Department instead spent taxpayer money on a sports mural in Baghdad’s most dangerous neighborhood, hoping to promote reconciliation through art. They also paid for an isolated milk factory that could not get its milk to market, as well as a pastry class training women to open cafés on bombed-out streets without water or electricity.

According to Van Buren, the U.S. bought all these projects and more in the most expensive hearts-and-minds campaign since the Marshall Plan. We Meant Well is an eyewitness account of the civilian side of the surge—that surreal and bollixed attempt to defeat terrorism and win over Iraqis by reconstructing the world we had just destroyed. Leading a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team on its quixotic mission, Van Buren details his year-long encounter with pointless projects, bureaucratic fumbling, overwhelmed soldiers, and oblivious administrators secluded in the world’s largest embassy, who fail to realize that you can’t rebuild a country without first picking up the trash.

Struggle with the Department of State[edit]

Prior to the publication of his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People in 2011, and after 23 years of service at the State Department, Van Buren experienced a series of escalating, adverse actions.[14]

These actions included suspension of his security clearance, confiscation of his Diplomatic Passport, being placed on administrative leave without cause cited, being physically banned from the State Department building, being placed on a security watch list, losing access to his State Department computer, and being reassigned to a makeshift telework position. The State Department also actively monitored Van Buren’s blogs, Tweets and Facebook updates posted during his private time on his personal home computer. Though the State Department at one point claimed Van Buren had not properly cleared his book for publication under Department rules,[15] this claim was later dropped when it was clear Van Buren did indeed follow the rules.[16]

After the Justice Department declined to pursue Van Buren for linking to a Wikileaks cable through his blog (perhaps a test case for the later prosecution of Barrett Brown for a web link), Van Buren’s termination letter came within days of a decision by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency that investigates government wrongdoing and complaints of retaliation by those who report it, to look into his case. At this point the Government Accountability Project and the ACLU stepped in to defend Van Buren on First Amendment grounds. Indeed, the Washington Post claimed "Van Buren has tested the First Amendment almost daily."[17]

After several months of legal battles, the State Department withdrew its intent to fire Van Buren and he instead retired with the pension and benefits State sought to take away from him.[18]


  • Hooper's War: A Novel of WWII Japan). Luminis Books. May 15, 2017. ISBN 978-1941311127. 
  • Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent. Luminis Books. April 25, 2014. ISBN 978-1935462910. 
  • We Meant Well. Metropolitan Books. September 27, 2011. ISBN 9780805094367. 
  • Why Peace (as a contributor). Marc Guttman. April 23, 2012. ASIN B007WTUR6E. 


Van Buren was Associate Producer[19] for the film SILENCED,[20] (2014) by Academy Award-nominee James Spione. The film shows the unprecedented war on whistleblowers that the United States government has waged.

SILENCED profiles Thomas Andrews Drake, a pre-Snowden, former NSA employee who blew the whistle on NSA wiretapping; John Kiriakou, former CIA officer who blew the whistle on the CIA’s torture policy, pleaded guilty to releasing the name of an intelligence agent and is serving time to jail and Jesselyn Radack, who blew the whistle on how John Walker Lindh was being treated when she uncovered information while working in the Justice Department.


  1. ^ Rein, Lisa (15 March 2012). "State Dept. moves to fire Peter Van Buren, author of book critical of Iraq reconstruction effort". The Washington Post. 
  2. ^ "U.S. Envoy, Peter Van Buren, Takes Caustic Pen to Iraq War". The New York Times. 7 October 2011. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "U.S. Envoy, Peter Van Buren, Takes Caustic Pen to Iraq War". The New York Times. 7 October 2011. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Peter Van Buren". Huffington Post. 
  7. ^ The Nation
  8. ^ Mother Jones
  9. ^
  10. ^ XpatNation: Archives for Peter Van Buren
  11. ^ Julian Marshall (radio presenter); Peter Van Buren (interviewee) (2011-10-08 (1200 GMT)). BBC World Service Programmes Newshour (Radio broadcast). BBC. Event occurs at 27:12. Retrieved 12 October 2011. author Peter van Buren tells Newshour  Check date values in: |date= (help)
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  17. ^ Rein, Lisa (15 March 2012). "State Dept. moves to fire Peter Van Buren, author of book critical of Iraq reconstruction effort". The Washington Post. 
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