War correspondents are a relatively new entity on history’s battlefields, only since the middle of the 19th century have these adrenaline-driven reporters been around to point out foolish, fatal horrors of war.
In the Crimean War (1853-1856), William Howard Russell is credited with being the world’s first battlefield reporter.
Others followed, such as Winston Churchhill, H. H. Munro (Saki), Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Wallace, Ernest Hemingway and Evelyn Waugh, who crafted their literary ability and knowledge of human nature to depict man-made terror.
A job always needed.
(Michael Ware image found here).
“I’m a war dog,” says Michael Ware from a profile this month in Men’s Journal.
Ware has covered Iraq for CNN since the beginning.
He’s been kidnapped, thought dead, interviewed insurgents, gone under the gun with the grunts, lived an environment those back in the USA could never understand, or come to even appreciate.
Also a bit of a celebrity, especially after he flung it with CBS hottie war reporter Lara Logan last summer, Ware is considered a topnotch journalist, but so addicted to the furnace of Iraq, being home is hard.
In the Journal story:
“After seven straight years, you’re always hyper-vigilant, always on alert. You become conditioned to a state of being where everything is a threat and it’s hard to turn that off; that becomes your normal. There’s an old cliché about the legendary war correspondent who comes home to find he has no wife or many ex-wives, no kids or kids who won’t talk to him, who has no tapestry to his life. At some point you have to consciously reclaim your life.”
Covering the Iraqi war, though, make make a meat grinder out of dog’s ear.
Since the invasion, 265 journalists have been killed in Iraq.
Sixty-nine correspondents were killed during WWII, 17 in Korea and 63 killed in Vietnam, according to Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan free speech advocacy group.
The toll is slowing, seemingly, as a report this week notes 95 newsmen covering various wars worldwide have been killed in 2008, down 20 from last year — 15 killed in Iraq, a drastic decrease from 2007′s 50.
Although Baghdad is still considered mega-dangerous for journalists, according to the report, Asia as a region is the most hazardous, 30 killed there in less than a year — India/Pakistan and the never-ending insurgency in the Philippines make it so.
And despite the shoe-throwing incident this past weekend, news reporters in country and stories from Iraq have been reduced this year and the conflict — and there is a conflict there, no doubt about it, SOFA or not — placed on the back burner, first to a bizarre presidential election, and then to a bizarre melt-downing economy.
Still dying in Iraq, though, with 32 killed Wednesday and 66 wounded, from small arms fire to suicide bombers — and northeast of Baghdad authorities are working a grave site, where so far 87 bodies have been unearthed, including 20 in less than a week, with 10 or more women and children among the total.
Reporting carnage as it occurs takes a different set of intestines.
From NBC’s Martin Fletcher on reporting conflict: “But if you ask most war correspondents, cameramen, etc. how they last so long, many, if they’re truthful, which is unlikely, would reply, ‘Oh, no problem, a combination of drink, drugs, divorce, depression,’ which I notice here all begin with D, as does death.
What keeps me going? I don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or get depressed. I have no idea why I am so unaffected by all I have seen, although my wife is sure I’m simply suppressing it all.”
Likewise from NBC’s kid-looking Richard Engel, who chronicled his own intense war-coverage in War Zone Diary, which displays some mean urban warfare.
Engel from an interview in the Washington Post: “It’s horrible,” Engel says. “I’ve seen hundreds of dead bodies — rotting bodies, bodies buried in shallow graves. One time I watched a dog carry a severed human head in its mouth. You’re smelling bodies, you’re seeing people who are so angry and insanely distraught. The people who are being killed are too old, too stupid, too poor, too young or too weak, socially or otherwise, to leave.”
War correspondents, beyond the danger, can make an immeasurable difference.
The above-mentioned Russell once told his editor, “Am I to tell these things or hold my tongue?” as he uncovered terrible incompetence and swaggering-jingle-but-no-spurs bluster from British commanders during the Crimean fiasco — the little war of The Charge of the Light Brigade.
Russell also attended the US Civil War and once again didn’t hold his tongue: After describing the Battle of Bull Run as an Union defeat/retreat, he was promptly placed on the North’s shit list. (Russell image and more info found here).
The Vietnam War changed the US and journalism, especially war reporting, “when correspondents concentrated on more than the pathological madness and savagery that accompany the call to arms.”
Great pieces, truth-told came from the Vietnam era.
In an American Journalism Review review of the book, Reporting Vietnam:
- Nowhere is the fruitlessness more achingly visible than in the thoughts of the U.S. soldiers themselves.
In a poignant set of letters home quoted in U.S. News & World Report, Air Force pilot Jerry Shank wrote in January 1964:
“If we keep up like we are going, we will definitely lose. I’m not being pessimistic. It’s so obvious. How our government can lie to its own people–it’s something you wouldn’t think a democratic government could do.” Shank died in combat about two months later.
The slaughter in Vietnam continued for another NINE years, although war reporters kept screaming the obvious.
In Iraq, the media is a non-indicted co-conspirator.
During the run-up to war (see Judith Miller) the mainstream media was busting a gut for battlefield footage — cheer-led by a drove of retired military types as TV analysts — and helped Decider George in his quest for infamy.
TV has had a problem covering Iraq.
As another war correspondent and probably the very-best on Iraq, UK print journalist Patrick Cockburn noted in a piece last year, Iraq is unique.
- Iraq has become almost impossible to cover adequately by the old system of foreign correspondents, cameraman or woman, and crew. It is simply too dangerous for a foreigner to move freely around Baghdad and the rest of the country. It is bad enough for print journalists like myself but cameramen, by the nature of their trade, have to stand in the open and make themselves visible.
Iraq is worse than previous wars.
The Sunni insurgents kill or kidnap cameramen just as they do any foreigner. They regard an Iraqi cameraman as a possible spy. Important events now go unrecorded in a way that has not been true of any other recent conflict.
Even Logan, now promoted to CBS chief foreign affairs correspondent, believes US TV coverage of the Iraqi war is so bad, as she told Jon Stewart, and had to depend on it for news, “I’d just blow my brains out because it would drive me nuts.” (See the video here).
Iraq has been a watershed event on many levels, from the fall of the America experience, to carnage galore.
And back again to the Men’s Journal profile of Michael Ware:
- Explaining why he first wanted to become a war reporter, Ware mentions an Australian cameraman named Neil Davis, whose interviews he used to listen to as a child.
Davis is famous for shooting footage of a North Vietnamese tank running through the presidential palace in Saigon; he’s also known for filming his own death during a 1985 coup in Bangkok.
Among his maxims was that it’s one thing to film a soldier firing his weapon, but it’s a whole other thing to shoot the expression on his face as he does it.
“If you think about it, to get that expression on his face, what do you have to do?” Ware asks.
“You have to break from cover and expose yourself. You have to get in front of the man who is shooting and being shot at.
Because that’s where the story is, in that face.”
And in that facial expression lies the dogged terror of war.