THE SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT THE SHOCKING TRUTH

16 THINGS A WAR CORRESPONDENT WILL TELL YOU

War correspondents have existed as long as war, and that is a very, very long time.

charge of the light brigade, war, war correspondents

The Valley of Death complete with cannonballs, Crimea 1855

Before modern war journalism, accounts were written at the end of a conflict, such as Thucydides account of the Peloponnesian Wars.

Dutch painter Willem van de Velde is credited with being the first modern war correspondent; in 1653 he used a small boat to row out from land and watch a naval battle between the Dutch and the English at close hand.

When newspapers became established, one Henry Crabb Robinson covered Napoleon’s European campaigns for the London Times.

One of history’s most famous photographers, Robert Capa, once said:

“I hope to stay unemployed as a war photographer till the end of my life.”

war, war photographers, Max Hastings

Robert Capa by Gerda Taro

In fact he barely got a moment’s rest. In the thirties and forties he covered the Spanish Civil War, the second Sino-Japanese war, World War Two, the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and then the first Indochina war – in which he was killed.

Modern war correspondents aim to bring graphic images and reports of wars from around the globe right into our living rooms to show us what it’s really like.

And the last I heard there were no rumors of peace. The modern war correspondent’s job still appears recession proof.

What is their shocking truth about the shocking truth?

1.‘I have made arrangements for the correspondents to take the field .. . and I have suggested to them that they should wear a white uniform to indicate the purity of their character.’

-        attributed to Union General Irvin McDowell during the American Civil War.

american civil war, war, max hastings

aftermath of Antietam

 2.     ‘By showing war in its stinking reality, we have taken away the glory and shown that negotiation is the only way to solve international problems.’

-        Howard Smith, ABC news presenter

3.     ‘Take the glamor out of war? I mean, how the bloody hell can you do that? … Can you take the glamor out of a Cobra, or getting stoned at China Beach? … War is good for you, you can’t take the glamor out of that. It’s like trying to take the glamor out of sex, trying to take the glamor out of the Rolling Stones!’

-        Tim Page, combat photographer, Vietnam War, in his autobiography Page by Page

4.     ‘If you have not seen a battle, your education has been somewhat neglected. For after all, war has been one of the primary functions of mankind, and unless you see men fight you miss something fundamental.’

-        Herbert Matthews

5.     ‘I just figured what with guns going off and things blowing up, there’d be plenty of deep truths and penetrating insights.’

-        P.J. O’Rourke, Holidays in Hell

6.     ‘When one’s nation is at war, reporting becomes an extension of the war effort.’

-        Max Hastings

7.     ‘I wouldn’t tell the people anything until the war was over – and then I’d tell them who won.’

-        military censor at a meeting in Washington

Kokoda, war, Max Hastings

8.     ‘You see these things, these terrible things. But in an odd way they’re good stories.’

-        Charles Mohr

9.     ‘War is the ambulance chaser’s wet dream … the visions of misery and suffering can also provide a convenient reference point for putting aside one’s own damaged emotions.’

-        Paul Harris. ‘Someone Else’s War.’

10.  ‘Perhaps everyone who reports on war is in part sating their own dark curiosities. I know I will return soon.’

-        Askold Krushelnycky, war correspondent

11.  ‘Most wars literally, not merely photographically, go through people’s living rooms.’

-        Charles Mohr, war correspondent

12.  ‘Nothing makes an easier lead sentence than a stray mortar round hitting a starving baby in a typhus hospital.’

-        P. J. O’Rourke, Holidays in Hell

Leningrad, Max Hastings, war

Leningrad 1941

13.  ‘Working as a war correspondent is almost the only classic male endeavor left that provides physical danger and personal risk without public disapproval and the awful truth is that for correspondents war is not hell. It is fun.’

-        Nora Ephron

14.  ‘It is not the bullet with my name on that worries me. It’s the one that says: “To whom it may concern.’”

-        resident of Belfast

15. ‘The brave ones shot bullets; the crazy ones shot film.’

–        quote from ‘Joseph Longo, founder of the International Combat Camera Association’

16. ‘Despite all the videos you see from the Ministry of Defence or the Pentagon, and all the sanitized language describing smart bombs and pinpoint strikes, the scene on the ground has remained remarkably the same for hundreds of years. Craters. Burned houses. Mutilated bodies. Women weeping for children and husbands. Men for their wives, mothers children. Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice. We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story.’

– Marie Colvin. Killed in Homs Syria February 2012 while reporting on the Syrian conflict.

war photography, combat photographer, Max HastingsFrom Vietnam to El Salvador, Sean Ryan and Hugh Webb share beers, lovers and slit trenches and photograph the worst that human beings can do to each other.

They think themselves above it. But are they?

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COLIN FALCONER

About colinfalconer

author of bestselling historical novels like Anastasia, When We Were Gods, Aztec and Harem. My books have been published in the UK, US and ANZ and translated into seventeen languages.
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4 Responses to THE SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT THE SHOCKING TRUTH

  1. Jan says:

    Big events that terrify me, exploding nuclear power plants, mega typhoons, my brain can’t come to grips with to put into a story. Ray Bradbury said he put his scary things into a list of nouns. Take me to therapy, I put nouns into a red notebook. Are pictures photographer’s nouns?

    • If they’re the things you put in a red notebook, then yes, they’re photographer’s nouns. They say a picture paints a thousand words, Jan, so I guess when they take a photograph, they’re trying to convey a thousand red nouns. I had a war photographer mate who was at the siege of Sarajevo and won awards for his work. One of his photographs I still remember: it was a thousand red nouns in black and white.

  2. D.G.Kaye says:

    Media can flash all they want. You can’t speak until you wear the shoes! Great post!

    • Thanks Debby. I have a friend who was a war photographer and he DOES have a bullet with his name on it. It was fired from a Serbian MIG fighter and just missed him. It now sits on his coffee table with his name proudly inscribed. Those guys are crazy!

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