Letting go of war

Note: This blog post also ran in the Society of Professional Journalism’s “Journalism and the World” blog. Click here to see the original post.

There was a great story in the LA Times today — Reporter recalls the layers of truth told in Iraq (thanks, Lauren, for bringing it to my attention).

The part that particularly struck me was when Borzou Daragah, the LA Times former bureau chief in Baghdad, wrote about lying to his closest and dearest about how much danger he was in. He also talked about war reporting as an addiction.

I also noticed that he skimmed over the part about how he first became a war correspondent – specifically, the practical aspects of how he went about getting his first assignment. I don’t know if this was intentional on his part, or if it just wasn’t germane to a general-interest story, but I also feel reluctance to say, in print, how I got my first war reporting assignment.

I don’t mind telling people in private, when it’s clear that they won’t go to the frontlines themselves. But I’m always worried that somebody might read it, decide that they can do it too, and then get themselves killed.

For example, people who hate mass murderers should not go to a war zone. You’re going to meet a lot of mass murderers. And if you hate them, they’ll take offense, and have you killed.

Being curious about them is fine, I think. Being a war geek is fine — thinking that guns and helicopters are cool, or being a fan of strategic military planning, or whatever. Being an insane thrill-seeker is fine. But if you make them feel bad about what they do, they’re going to kill you to make that feeling go away. Now, most people don’t like mass murderers, and have a hard time hiding this fact when they meet them face to face.

One solution is to become schitzophrenic. When you’re there, say, “Oooh, cool gun! What kind of bullets does it shoot? Got any tracer rounds?” And then when you get home, you write, “Then the so-called ‘Butcher of Blkjalkistan’ carressed his AK-47 SM and told me, ‘I like to practice killing on local livestock. We get great barbecues in our unit. I try to kill at least a few things every day, and we’re running short of innocent civilians.'”

Signing off in Shanghai,