Ralph D. Berenger, Book Reviews Editor
The grizzled editor
squinted at me through a haze of gray smoke from the omnipresent
cigarette protruding from his thin lips. He glared at me with
a mixture of chagrin and condescension after my suggestion that
some day I would like to write books. The Pall Mall bobbed as
he groaned through clenched teeth: "Within every reporter
there's a book. And, son, that is where it ought to stay!'
That crusty editor, a war correspondent during World War II
for Yank and The Stars and Stripes, is gone now,
but his message lingers every time I pick up a "memoir"
from a 40-something reporter recounting his full and flavored
life that coalesced around a seminal event that allowed him
or her a special insight into the meaning of Life that must
Nothing could be more defining for an individual than war. The
current pop phrase, "the fog of war," popularized
by Robert McNamara's book and documentary by Errol Morris, might
be accurate in describing a moment of confusion or disorientation--morally
as well as geographically--but the overview of war seems to
be the opposite. War adds clarity to an individual's contradictory
principles and theories; it defines purpose for front-line combatants
beyond mere survival; and it extends philosophical reasoning
beyond the battlefield or insurgent's stronghold, often reshaping
ideologies of how humans ought to treat each other. The bigger
the war, the more reshaping that takes place.
The Mystique of
Perhaps the most
mythical of all jobs in news media is that of a "war correspondent."
Never mind that ante bellum he or she might have been covering
a police beat, city council, state government, or federal agencies
for a living. Once the shots and missiles start flying our flack-jacketed
hero or heroine is primed and ready to report the war news for
the folks back home. Lucky is the reporter who lands this task
for a big newspaper or big broadcasting company. Name recognition
is sure to follow, and close behind that is the book deal that
lets them personalize the war they are covering, mostly about
them personally or how the war ought to have been fought if
only the strategists would have consulted the writer first.
That seems to be the vein of Phillip Smucker's pre-election
book that blames the Bush administration for not getting Osama
Not that the job is without risks. War correspondents fell at
an alarming rate during the Afghanistan war. In fact, during
the first month of the operation there more journalists died
than coalition troops. In fact, journalists have been killed
at a record pace around the world this year. Over 100 have died
so far in 2004, according to the International Federation of
Journalists, up from 83 in 2003 and 70 in 2002, covering wars,
insurrections, and civil disorders. This element of mortal danger
adds to the mystique of the foreign correspondent, especially
in time of war.
Fact is, the public loves war correspondents, much to the chagrin
of those reporters who daily grind away at their computers or
painstakingly check every fact in an obituary of an ordinary
citizen, or the proper spellings in a high school honors list.
Covering armed conflict is serious business, maybe the most
serious of all. War correspondents are the super stars, the
pop idols for their generation of news junkies. In some cases,
they are bigger than the stories they are covering.
Not everyone back home universally reveres them or the job they
do, however. In the 1991 Gulf war, CNN's Peter Arnette was accused
of giving aid and comfort to Saddam Hussein's regime and acting
as a shill for the Iraqi propaganda machine, a charge he flatly
denies in his book, Live from the Battlefield. Similar
charges were leveled at him in the 2003 Iraq war, leading to
his sacking at NBC. Harrison Salisbury of The New York Times
reported from North Korea during the Korean War (1952-56) and
from North Vietnam during the Vietnam War (1965-75). To this
day, rightly or wrongly, U.S. POW's blame Salisbury for prolonging
their agony in North Vietnamese prisons. Competitive pressures
can contribute to internecine squabbles in the journalism profession,
like the time New York Post reporter, Andrea Peyser,
once described Christiane Amanpour as "that CNN war slut"
eliciting a rare apology from Post publisher Rupert Murdoch,
whose Fox Network was in a ratings war with CNN at the moment.
The Silver Screen
and War Correspondents
Foreign war correspondents
have been the subject of film portrayals extending back to the
1930's when Joel McCrae was giving the Nazi's grief in Hitchcock's
1940 Foreign Correspondent. Low-key actor Burgess Meredith
portrayed a well-known World War II correspondent in the1945
Story of G.I. Joe, which featured nine real-life war wire service
correspondents of the era. Mel Gibson played an Aussie reporter
during the tense moments of a 1960's Indonesian insurrection,
in the 1983 Peter Weir classic, The Year of Living Dangerously.
Some correspondents became part of the story, as in John Reed's
coverage of the Bolshevik Revolution (Ten Days that Shook
the World). A socialist who barely concealed his ideology
in his writings, Reed, played by Warren Beatty in the 1981 Oscar-winning,
Reds, is the only American buried in the Kremlin. And
there were the countless Lowell Thomas news reels making heroes
and villains out of ordinary people in extraordinary times and
places, like T.R. Lawrence of Lawrence of Arabia fame,
and that quintessential non-violence advocate, Mohandas Ghandi.
Then there are fictionalized accounts such as Nick Nolte as
an objectively challenged war photographer in Nicaragua in Under
Fire (1983), while in a neighboring country quirky actor
James Woods was scratching out stories about death squads in
Salvador (1986). There even novels about war correspondents,
such as Masha Hamilton's heroine who suffers her correspondent-lover's
loss while covering the Palestinian Intifada.
So, like so many things, Hollywood can be blamed for glamorizing
the war correspondent; of making this type of news reporter
the top dog in the journalism game, and giving an opening to
the war correspondent to tell the whole story. My crusty old
editor would have wondered what the heck they had been doing.
Weren't they sent to that foreign war to cover it fully and
honestly for the readers back home? He would not have looked
kindly on the new "kiss and tell" books by journalists
who tell their readers that they could have done a better job
had they not had so many thick-headed editors, gutless headline
writers, and tight-fisted company accountants to deal with.
Such is the style of BBC's John Simpson's latest tome, Simpson's
world: dispatches from the front lines. In a similar self-serving
vein is William Tuohy's book that reviews his coverage of the
1982 Falklands War, among his other adventures, and Anne Garrels'
offering about 2003 Iraq war.
How did covering war, armed only with pencil and camera, become
equated in the public mind with heroic soldiery actions during
A Cult of Strong
Some of literature
and journalism's most colorful characters were at one time or
another war correspondents. One of the first, according to Philip
Knightley, whose latest edition of The First Casualty
is updated to include the Iraq wars, was William Howard Russell,
who covered the Crimean war for the Times of London (1854-5).
Prior to that newspapers depended on sporadic government handouts
and occasional diarists' accounts of events in war. Russell
professionalized the war correspondent job by also covering
the Indian Mutiny (1858), American Civil War (1861-2), the Austro-Prussian
War (1866), and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1). The art of
war reporting was refined during the American Civil War (1860-65),
as reporters used the latest technology of the time to report
from the battlefield. A few of them became well known for their
war coverage or, in the case of Mathew Brady, for their use
of photography. Another writer of renown, Karl Marx, was also
filing Civil War dispatches from London for the New York
Herald, though most were likely written by his collaborator,
Frederick Engles. Perhaps in some ways surprisingly, the revolutionary
Marx favored the capitalist North over the agrarian South, which
was also contrary to England's sympathies for the cotton-producing
According to separate books by Philip Knightly, Nathaniel Lande,
and John Seelye, the prototypical war correspondent from America
was Richard Harding Davis, a flamboyant international correspondent
who covered the Greco-Turkish War (1896), Spanish-American War
(1898) and Boer War (1900) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904),
where he saved the professional life of a young Jack London,
who was covering his first war. Davis, who had also saved Stephen
Crane's life in the Spanish American war, had an aristocratic
bearing that allowed him access to generals and diplomats. He,
would influence a generation of war correspondents covering
World War I (1914-18), the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay
(1932-35), and the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), and World War
II (1939-45) including Ernest Hemingway, Walter Cronkite, and
a cadre of broadcasters who were later dubbed "Ed Murrow's
boys" after the CBS godfather of broadcast news, Edward
Two other war correspondents at the turn of the 20th century
left their mark on the profession, and one left his mark on
the world. The first was Charles Edward Woodrow Bean, an Australian,
who accompanied the New South Wales Light Horse Regiment to
Egypt, then to Gallipoli, Turkey, where he reported on the unnecessary
carnage to Anzac troops, sustained a wound, and demonstrated
considerable heroism that went undecorated because of his civilian
status. The second man was Winston Churchill, the only war correspondent
ever to lead a country in time of war, albeit nearly four decades
after his heroics in South Africa's Boer War. Churchill, of
course, parlayed his fame as a war correspondent into a political
While fame came grudgingly
to print journalists, many of them writing for local or regional
dailies, World War II did produce a bona fide war correspondent
giant who rivaled Murrow in popularity--Ernie Pyle, a slightly
built, balding, unassuming, personally complex man, who was
the original embedded reporter, living and sleeping with soldiers
and telling the "G.I. Joe" stories to the folks back
home though syndication in nearly every daily newspaper. Pyle,
whose columns filled several books, was also the subject of
a half dozen more. He was killed by a sniper's bullet in the
Pacific shortly before the war ended.
One of "Murrow's Boys" was a young print journalist-all
of the early broadcasters learned their trade behind a typewriter
in those days-named William L. Shirer, reported from Berlin
during the first part of the war and later published his journal.
Mark Bernstein and Alex Lubertozzi recount Murrow's broadcast
days from the skyline of London during the blitz, in a book
that should be required reading by broadcast journalism students
on how to get the story right.
The television war has marked a turning point of sorts for books.
Now they seem more to be about the journalists themselves than
the story they were paid to cover. Another CBS broadcaster,
Charles Osgoode, with tongue firmly in cheek, took notice of
this personal trend in his nostalgic memoir, Defending Baltimore
against Enemy Attack: A Boyhood Year during World War II,
which charmingly recalled his pre-teen years on the home front.
A similar work by Gardner Botsford should satisfy the champagne
and brie set on how gentlemen cover international conflicts.
It remains to be seen whether Arabic broadcasters will follow
the trend. Certainly, there are some stars emerging at Al Jazeera
and Al Arabiya who one day will set down their thoughts about
war coverage from the Arab point of view. There most assuredly
is enough material and controversy surrounding the job they
do. At present the Arabic broadcaster's voice has not been translated
to the written page.
In that regard my old editor's advice might have been wrong.
Maybe the books within Arab journalists should come out, so
this valuable perspective draws the attention it richly deserves.
There seems no shortage of books about Al Jazeera. New ones
are set for release in 2005. But so far, the inside story journalists
seem so fond of telling, is lacking in the Arab world, and the
rest of the world is eager for that perspective.
in this Essay
(prices from amazon.com)
Arnette, Peter. Live
from the battlefield: From Vietnam to Baghdad, 35 years inside
the world's war zones. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Hardcover. 464 pages. ISBN: 0-671-755-86-2. $22.
Bean, C.E.W. and
Kevin Fewster. Gallipoli Correspondent: The front line diary
of C.E.W. Bean. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1983. Hard cover. 217
Bernstein, Mark and
Alex Lubertozzi. World War II on the Air: Edward R. Murrow
and the broadcasts that riveted a nation. New York: Sourcebooks
and CD edition, 2003. Hardcover. 256 pages. ISBN: 1-402-20026-9.
Botsford, Gardner. A Life of Privilege, Mostly. New York:
St. Martins, 2003. Hardcover. 272 pages. ISBN: 0-312-30343-2.
L. The Media at War: Communication and conflict in the twentieth
century. London: Palgrave MacMillan, 1999. Paperback. 321
pages. ISBN: 03-1222-801-5. $29.95.
Young Winston's Wars: The original dispatches of Winston
S. Churchill, war correspondent, 1897-1900. New York: Viking
Press, 1973 (Reprint). Paperback. 350 pages. ISBN: 06-7007-9515-1.
Garrels, Anne. Naked
in Baghdad: The Iraq war as seen by NPR's correspondent Anne
Garrels. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. Hard
cover. 240 pages. ISBN 03-745-3903-5. $29.95.
The Distance Between Us. Lakewood, CO: Unbridled Books,
2004. Hard cover. 279 pages. ISBN: 19-3296-102-x. $24.95.
The First Casualty: The war correspondent as hero and myth-maker
from the Crimea to Iraq. 3rd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 2004. Paperback. 594 pages. ISBN: 0-8018-8030-0.
Dispatches from the Front: A history of the American war
correspondent. London: Oxford University Press, 1998. Paperback.
416 pages. $19.95. Paperback: 416 pages. ISBN: 0-195-12206-2.
McNamara, Robert S., et al. Argument Without End: In search
of answers to the Vietnam tragedy. Washington, DC: Public
Affairs Press, 2000. Paperback. 512 pages. ISBN: 1-8916-2087-8.
Nichols, David. Ernie's
War: The best of Ernie Pyle's World War II dispatches. New
York: Random House, 1986. Hardcover. 432 pages. ISBN: 0-3945-4923-6.
Defending Baltimore against Enemy Attack: A boyhood year
during World War II. New York: Hyperion, 2004. Hardcover.
160 pages. ISBN: 1-40130-023-5. $31.95.
Pyle, Ernie, Orr
Kelly and Carol Johnson. Here is Your War: The story of G.I.
Joe. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. Paperback.
256 pages. ISBN: 0-8032-8777-1. $16.95.
Reed, John. Ten
Days that Shook the World. New York: Penguin Books, 1980.
Paperback. 341 pages. ISBN: 0-1401-8293-4. $11.95.
Rosenstone, Robert A. Romantic Revolutionary: A biography
of John Reed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990
(1975). Paperback: 443 pages. ISBN: 0-674-77938-X $12.95.
Shirer, William L. Berlin Diary: The journal of a foreign
correspondent, 1934-1941. New York: BBS Publishing Corporation,
1995. Hard cover. 640 pages.
Seelye, John D. War
Games: Richard Harding Davis and the new imperialism. Amherst:
University of Massachusetts Press, 2003. Hard cover. 341 pages.
ISBN: 15-584-9386-7. $80.
Simpson, John. Simpson's
World: dispatches from the front lines. New York: Miramax
Books, 2003. Hardcover. 432 pages. ISBN: 1401300413. $26.95.
Al Qaeda's Great Escape: The military and the media on terror's
trail. New York: Brassey's Inc., 2004. Hardcover. 256 pages.
ISBN: 1-57488-628-2. $26.95.
Tobin, James. Ernie
Pyle's War. New York: Free Press, 1997. Hardcover. 320 pages.
ISBN: 0-68483642-4. $25.
Tuohy, William. Dangerous
Company: Inside the world's hottest trouble spots with a Pulitzer
Prize-winning war correspondent. New York: Morrow, 1987.
Hard cover. 395 pages. ISBN: 06-8806-794-8. Unknown.