This Isn’t Your Last War

This Isn’t Your Last War

Posted on November 7 by admin
Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Pinterest

It takes a special kind of crazy to become a great war journalist.

Ask Marie Colvin, the award-winning reporter for the Sunday Times, killed earlier this year covering the siege of Homs, Libya. Colvin, just after losing her left eye to a Sri Lankan rocket-propelled grenade in 2001, spoke out about the importance of shedding light on “humanity in extremis, pushed to the unendurable.” Hardly uplifting work. You have to wonder what kept her going.

And of course if you go looking for trouble, you can’t be too surprised when it leaves you troubled, yourself. The tough image of a war correspondent is never more moving than when it suddenly gives way. The documentary War Photographer takes viewers into the world of James Nachtwey, a soft-spoken, eerily calm photojournalist who has covered nearly every global conflict to flare up during his career. It becomes clear that the searing images he has produced have never left his mind. At one point, his voice sticks in his throat, helpless to describe the Rwandan Genocide. The scene ends in silence. At least part of what war journalism tries to do is to leave us at a similar loss for words.

At the same time, it also tries to give a voice to powerless and vulnerable people, to inform people who can make a difference, and to influence the course of global events. But this leaves other pitfalls to beware of. Michael Petrou speaks to these in his book Is This Your First War? where he writes about seeing first-hand how some conflicts become automatic front-page stories throughout the Western world and others, like the enormously bloody civil war in Liberia, barely make the newspaper.

Most striking about Petrou’s book is his perspective on the grey area where the journalist stands, caught between all the worst facets of war machines, media juggernauts, and unwieldy international organizations, and always having to make compromises in order to get the word out. Petrou’s harrowing escape from Darfur, retold in his book, captures all of these elements. The descriptions he gives of the last UN plane flying out of the genocide zone with empty seats, while people outside beg for rescue, is sure to stay with you. In the end, that’s the measure of great war reportage: that it compels us to witness other peoples’ tragedies and learn how they are connected to us — how, ultimately, we are bound by shared responsibility and human decency. Even in the darkest moments, that’s reason enough for hope. Maybe that’s what motivates these journalists, against all common sense, to keep putting themselves in harm’s way.