The War Correspondent Romance Vs. Reality Propaganda Vs. Professionalism Secrecy Vs. The Story First Draft Vs. Final View
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Romance vs. Reality

The war correspondent trails clouds of glory. The names of the pioneers of the trade are stardust: Ernest Hemingway, Alexander Dumas, Henry Villard, Winston Churchill, Stephen Crane, John Reed, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Richard Harding Davis, John dos Passos, John Steinbeck, Jack London, George Orwell, Philip Gibbs, Luigi Barzini. The names from World War II , Korea and Vietnam, the Gulf War and Kosovo are likewise as redolent of adventure and derring-do, with photojournalists, and radio and television commentators crowding the pantheon.

They are the eyes of history — when they are allowed to be.

    • William Howard Russell is with the British command on a plateau overlooking Balaklava on Oct. 25, 1854, watching in horrified fascination as the 600-plus proud men of the elite Light Brigade misunderstand a command and charge straight into the Russian guns. Nearly half are killed, wounded or captured.

    • Archibald Forbes steels his nerves inside the British square at Ulunidi, Natal, as it braces to resist thousands of onrushing Zulu warriors in 1879, then rides 300 miles in 50 hours with news of a British victory.

    • In the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, Luigi Barzini stands with 100 Cossacks confronted by 2,000 saber-wielding rebels determined to slice them to pieces.

    • Thomas Morris Chester, the son of a former slave, sits in the speaker's chair in the Confederate legislature in 1865 to write a dispatch that at last will do justice to the valor of the black troops who were among the first to enter Richmond.

    • Sylvanus Cadwallader is in the McLean house in Virginia when Union officers squabble over souvenirs after Robert E. Lee's surrender to Ulysses S. Grant in 1865.

    • Lowell Thomas meets Col. T.E. Lawrence in the desert fighting the Turks in World War I and creates Lawrence of Arabia.

    • At Guernica in the Spanish Civil War, Noel Monks and George L. Steer are near enough to testify that it was Nationalist squadrons of German warplanes that dropped incendiaries and high explosives and machine-gunned civilians.

    • The war artist Tom Lea crawls with the Marines under Japanese mortar and rifle fire on Pelelieu Island; Bill Mauldin draws his popular cartoon, "Hit th' dirt, boys!" after he is "nicked" by mortar fire "sliding down one of those mountains in Italy."

    • Virginia Irwin and Andrew Tully ride with Soviet forward troops to see the final bloodletting in Berlin in 1945.

    • Jon Swain, Sidney Schanberg and Alan Rockoff risk their lives in May 1975 to stay in Phnom Penh for the arrival of the murderous Khmer Rouge, and witness the cruel mass expulsions into the Killing Fields.

And then there are the photographers. George Rodgers at Bergen-Belsen and Margaret Bourke-White at Buchenwald incontrovertibly document the evil of the Holocaust. In the Korean War, David Douglas Duncan immortalizes the stoicism of the Marines on the long icy retreat from Chosin Reservoir. Giles Peress captures the crucial moments when civilians died under fire on Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland.

Television's moving pictures have their own velocity, but they clearly have not supplanted the still photograph, which has more affinity with the way we summon images to mind. Who cannot recall the image first published in the French magazine Vu in September 1936 that made Robert Capa instantly famous — the moment of death of a Republican militiaman, flung backwards by a bullet, his rifle arm outstretched as he falls on a scrubby hillside in the Spanish Civil War?

Three still pictures by war photographers stay in our minds as symbols of Vietnam: Malcolm Browne's 1963 photograph of a monk's fiery death; Eddie Adams' of an officer shooting a prisoner in the head on a Saigon street during Tet; "Nick" Ut's 1972 photograph of a naked 9-year-old Vietnamese girl running toward the camera from a napalm bombing by the South Vietnamese air force.

Early photographs had to be viewed as prints or as stereoscopic cards, though they also were the basis for engravings in publications such as Harper's Weekly. Still, right from the start, photography made an impression, advancing under the banner that the camera could not lie. Of course, it could. Roger Fenton, who was in a way the father of war photojournalism, took a photo wagon to the Crimean War with the deliberate aim of taking photographs that would boost domestic morale after William Howard Russell's exposure of scandalous conditions. Troops who had lacked food and fuel were now shown at the cookhouse and in new tents, with supplies piled up; soldiers who had almost frozen to death were shown in heavy wool clothing; servants poured wine for reclining officers.

No Civil War photographs captured combat; cameras of the era were unable to freeze movement. The many thousands of Civil War photographs made by hundreds of local photographers were commerce rather than journalism — paid portraits of soldiers for loved ones. Just a handful of photographers, chiefly Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Timothy O'Sullivan, George M. Barnard and James F. Gibson, actively engaged in photographing conflict. Their classic battlefield images document an end truth about war — men in extremis. "It seems somewhat singular," observed The New York Times of Brady's pictures from Antietam, "that the same sun that looked down upon the faces of the slain, blistering them, blotting them out from the bodies all semblance of humanity, and hastening corruption, should have thus caught their features upon canvas, and given them perpetuity for ever." But Brady and Gardner rearranged pictures for romantic or heroic effect. Gardner carried a rifle as a prop, laying it beside a corpse where it would help the photo's composition. In a photograph of a dead Confederate at Rose Woods, Gettysburg, he added a severed hand. His Confederate sharpshooter at Devil's Den, Gettysburg, on July 6, 1863, had been dragged 40 yards by Gardner to make "a sentimental composition." When one officer was absent for a group photograph of Gen. William Sherman's staff, Brady took the absentee's photograph later, pasted it in, and re-photographed the group portrait.

There is no journalistic justification for this kind of manipulation, now made dangerously easy by the advent of computer imaging. Manipulating images devalues the unique integrity of the photograph as a document. At the very least, pretense should be acknowledged. In World War I, photographs of troops with bayonets going "over the top," and captioned "advancing under fire as steadily as on parade," were posed pictures taken during training, the negatives altered to mask giveaway details. Access was severely restricted for photographers, but Jane Carmichael's study, "First World War Photographers," suggests there was also a tacit agreement among the military, photographers, propagandists and the press, that too much dwelling on the horrific dead would offend contemporary standards of decency. Photographers William Rider-Rider and John Warwick Brooke are all the more distinctive because they were dedicated to authenticity. They provided us with images of the appalling battlefields of Passchendale and Ypres that once seen are never forgotten. Their photographs have become "World War I."

Photography of violence is charged with emotion. Editors at The New York Times considered Browne's photograph of a South Vietnamese monk who set himself ablaze too much for their readers. The Times also downplayed Ronald Haeberle's confirming documentation of the 1968massacre at My Lai, with one picture on Page 3. It felt it had to "balance" this single image with a picture of a child killed by Viet Cong. Readers complained anyway. Kenneth Jarecke's Gulf War image of the charred skeletal head of an Iraqi in a vehicle hit by a rocket was not seen in the United States at the time because an Associated Press editor in New York took it off the wire. The London Observer did publish it and was swamped with protests that it was too ghastly. Admittedly it was shocking, but it was still a photograph that respected the human identity of the dead man. It was not meaningless dismembered flesh. As a newspaper editor I have rejected photographs of carnage that are obscene because they do not improve our understanding of the event. They amount to a macabre voyeurism. British television, for the same reason, did not show film of the mangled heaps of flesh after the Serbs shelled a crowded square in Tuzla in the spring of 1995. In the Iraqi case it seems to me that the amateur and professional censors were still attempting to nurture the romantic illusion of war as a conflict where nobody dies a horrible death. CBS cameraman Jim Helling made the proper point. He was in the photographic pool with Jarecke and took film of the truck and other bodies, but he asked Jarecke for a print of the still "because that's the face of war."

No questions of taste justified depriving the public sight of David Turnley's Gulf War photograph of a sergeant in a helicopter weeping beside a body bag he has just discovered contains his best buddy, killed by friendly fire. "The Pentagon did everything it could to manage the images that came out of the war," says Turnley. "I was there to document the reality." His picture almost never saw the light of day. Turnley took it when he managed to dodge his military "minder." It was only by chance that he later found his film had been held up at the censor's desk and argued for its release — an argument validated by the image's triumph as World Press Photo of the year.

Such scoops! Such sensations! Such adventures! Such romance! Such camaraderie, swapping yarns in the bistro in Saigon, the Intercontinental in Amman, the Commodore in Beirut! "I would say that the war correspondent gets more drinks, more girls, better pay and greater freedom than the soldier," says the legendary photographer

Robert Capa, and promptly goes in with the first wave at Omaha Beach, taking his expensive Burberry raincoat into the landing craft. He ends World War II in Paris having a passionate affair with Ingrid Bergman.

In the Civil War, William Croffut of the New York Herald Tribune reads Byron around campfires of Union soldiers awaiting battle. In Paris, besieged by the Prussians in 1870 The (London) Times' man floats his messages to Britain out over the front lines by that French innovation, the hot-air balloon. By carrier pigeon he gets back the front page of The Times reduced to microscopic size, which is then enlarged and distributed. Trying to capitalize on his readers' war fever, young William Randolph Hearst instructs a correspondent to rescue the 18-year-old daughter of a Cuban insurgent from a Spanish dungeon in Havana, and he does, disguising her as a sailor. Stephen Crane observes Theodore Roosevelt charge up Kettle Hill in 1898, then saunters off in his khaki suit and slouch hat and captures a town himself. In 1917, Floyd Gibbons chooses to cross the Atlantic on the liner Laconia in the full knowledge it might attract a German U-boat, and it does, giving him a sensational story. Richard Harding Davis, ribbons on his chest, a brace of pistols in his belt and two pairs of binoculars round his neck, survives five wars unscathed but in World War I finds that his fondness for fancy attire carries risks. An eight-year-old passport photo, in which he's wearing the uniform of a West African field officer, convinces the Germans that he is a British spy who should go before a firing squad. After a harrowing night in captivity he is released, unharmed but shaken. While other reporters idle in the bars of El Paso, John Reed slips across the border in 1913 and catches up with Pancho Villa's bandit army in Chihuahua, Mexico. He rides into action with Villa and his horseback troop, and makes him an icon. Marguerite Higgins, a 24-year-old blonde from Oakland, shows that there is steel behind her good looks. She scoops the world at Dachau, swims away from the bullets of the North Korean invaders of Seoul. Francois Sully turns up at besieged Dien Bien Phu in 1954 in perfectly pressed fatigues and goes to bed, amid the pounding of artillery, in navy-blue silk pajamas with white piping, toasting the grimy defenders from a silver hip flask of Courvoisier.

The romance is real enough. Nora Ephron wrote in 1973, "It is impossible to realize how much of Ernest Hemingway still lives in the hearts of men until you spend time with the professional war correspondents." She argued that reporting the war, unlike fighting in it, was about the only classic male endeavor left that provided physical danger and personal risk without public disapproval. "The awful truth is that for correspondents war is not hell. It is fun."

It is possible to find ample quotes to confirm her perception. Life photographer Tim Page, who raced into combat areas in Vietnam on a motorbike and was badly wounded on three occasions, was then asked to write a book that once and for all would take the glamour out of war. "Jesus!" he said, "Take the glamour out of war! How the hell can you do that? You can't take the glamour out of a tank burning or a helicopter blowing up. It's like trying to take the glamour out of sex. War is good for you." Author Knightley believes most correspondents in most wars have had a romantic sense of their jobs, but that disillusion set in for many as the Vietnam War grew more shocking. Certainly, correspondents began seriously to examine their own ethics — making careers out of human misery — but their sensibilities have hardly discouraged their heirs. Greg Marinovich speaks for a generation of young globe-trotting conflict photographers in saying of his experiences in Croatia in 1991: "I find I liked war. There was a peculiar liberating excitement in taking cover from an artillery barrage in a woodshed that offered no protection at all." Marinovich, with South African Kevin Carter, was one of a group of four war photographers who came to be called The Bang Bang Club — "we liked the credit" — and then had a problem with the numbers of other young photographers who wanted to join the clique. Anthony Loyd, who has reported seven recent wars, called his 1999 book, "My War Gone By, I Miss It So." He was a British army platoon commander in the Gulf War and Northern Ireland who found peacetime civilian life oppressive and took himself off to the Bosnian killing fields: "I cannot apologize for enjoying it so. I took the freedom and light that fighting offered, feeling truly earthed with the Bosnian War once more. It was like falling in love again."

Of course, war attracts the adventurers because it is big news, the biggest story most correspondents will ever cover. There always will be a thrill in that. The seasoned Charles Mohr, who told it like it was in Vietnam, said, "You see these things, these terrible things, but in an odd way they are good stories."

But for all the romance, there is a reality, too. Live like a sewer rat in a battle zone. Suffer for years as a hostage, like The Associated Press' Terry Anderson in Beirut. Take 40 days and 40 nights of brutal treatment from your jailers, like Bob Simon and his CBS crew, captured on the Iraqi border in the Gulf War. Know that independent reporting incites accusations from your countrymen that you are a liar and traitor. Squarely confront the overarching reality for every battlefield correspondent that luck can — and does — run out. Ian Morrison, age 35, of The Times and Christopher Buckley, 45, of London's Daily Telegraph came unscathed through reporting World War II and were planning to retire from war reporting when Korea lured them back. Their jeep hit a land mine. Ian Roeh was riding with a general in an Israeli-controlled security zone in Lebanon in 1999 when a roadside cluster mine took his life. Swedish-Argentine cameraman Leonardo Henricksen, working for Swedish television, has left us the most telling image of reality: the moment he died. Reporting a coup attempt in Santiago, Chile, in 1973, he aimed his camera at a soldier pointing a rifle at him. The soldier shot him dead.

Capa said, "If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough," and the mortality rate of photographers is astounding. No fewer than 135 photographers of different nations were killed or disappeared while covering the several wars in Indochina: 45 reporters are known to have died. The debonair Capa was unashamed to admit that in the surf with dead soldiers at Omaha Beach he "had it bad," the camera trembling in his hands, a "new kind of fear shaking my body from toe to hair and twisting my face." Ten years later, on May 25, 1954, he stepped on a land mine in Vietnam. His peer Larry Burrows went down in a helicopter crash. Gilles Caron, the co-founder of the Gamma Agency, was captured by Viet Cong inside Cambodia in 1970 and never seen again.

They were unlucky; some invite death. In the Suez War of 1956, Magnum's David Seymour (also known as Chim), in a borrowed British army uniform, and Jean Roy of Paris Match, took a jeep to drive down the causeway. A cease-fire had been declared, but they were stopped by a British officer and warned not to go beyond his final outpost. They gave him the "V sign" and roared on. The next order was from an Egyptian outpost: Stop. They roared on again, only this time they were machine-gunned.

Press credentials and public position are little protection in the new little hot wars. Egon Scotland of Suddeutsche Zeitung was riding in a clearly marked press car in 1991 when shot dead by Serbian militia. Agus Muliawan was traveling with a group of nine church workers on a relief mission for refugees in East Timor in 1999, but Indonesian troops slew them all indiscriminately. Every conflict claims its press victims. Kosovo is thought of as a sanitized affair, an air campaign with mass briefings away from the action, but at least three journalists were among the hundreds of civilian fatalities. In that number was Slavko Curuvijia, the editor and publisher of Dnevni Telegraph, who had been critical of Slobodan Milosevic and his government. He was assassinated outside his apartment.

There were 30 or so other wars going on at the same time as Kosovo, with journalists at risk in every one of them. Rarely does the murder of a journalist provoke the kind of reaction it did in Nicaragua when Pedro Chamorro, the publisher of La Prensa, was gunned down after he had criticized President Anastasio Somoza. The murder led to a revolution that Somoza had to flee, and eventually the election of Chamorro's widow, Violeta, as president.

War correspondents can rarely point to such a positive result for the risks they take. Some do not even try. Their habit is to affect a devil-may-care attitude about the value of their work. They see themselves as "war junkies," flamboyantly there for the hell of it. I think this is more a rationalization than a true reflection, but there is a rough distinction, historically and today, between the undeniable "cowboys" and those who could be categorized as "believers." Believers tend to be less reckless than the adventurers; they are not in it for the exhilarating scent of danger or the adrenaline rush. They calibrate the risks, trying to recognize the moment when the story becomes secondary to survival. But common to all of them, I find, is a sense of fraternity. Egon Scotland died because he went out searching for an inexperienced colleague who was late coming back from the field. A loss among the brotherhood can invite impulses at once foolish and admirable. In the Nigerian civil war in 1968, CBS reporter Morley Safer braved a hail of machine-gun bullets to retrieve free-lancer Priyan Samrakha who had been shot by a sniper, fatally as it turned out.

Photographer Don McCullin of The Sunday Times, a true believer in awakening the public conscience, had been on the front lines over and over again in Cyprus, the Congo, Vietnam, Iran, Afghanistan and Central America. He was hit by mortar fire in Cambodia, beaten and held in Uganda in 1972. Yet a year later, in the Yom Kippur War, McCullin did not hesitate when an Israeli officer on the Golan Heights told him that the car driven into a valley by his colleague Nick Tomalin had been blown up by a Syrian missile. Like a man possessed, McCullin brushed past the restraining Israeli officer and ran into the Syrian-targeted valley of death, willing Tomalin to be alive so that he could carry him back. Tomalin would have done the same. Tomalin was in the classic mold, more a romantic than a believer, but a professional, renowned for a brilliant report from Vietnam ("The General Goes Zapping Charlie Cong," 1966). He was on sabbatical when the Yom Kippur War started, writing a book and, at the moment the news broke, practicing a Mozart clarinet concerto. He insisted on being sent. It might be fun.