The Itch

Why a Reporter Is Drawn to War

So why the reporter's urge to be near that carnage? I can only tell you that after a reporter has tasted the war experience and acknowledged to himself that many of the reasons he gets gratification from it are narcissistic, he may still discover deeper reasons for keeping at it. This may sound corny, even naive, but a reporter can come honestly to believe in the importance of delivering the full face of warfamilies decimated, bent refugees walking in endless streams, children orphaned, uplifting acts of honor and friendship, unspeakable acts of cruelty and depravity, bravery, betrayal, human lives saved by Samaritans, human beings lying in pieces from explosive projectiles. People should have to look upon all of that.

If ours is truly a democracy, the people should be told and showneven if they wish to turn their eyes awayexactly what is being waged in their name. No sugarcoating. No sanitizing. Just a faithful picture of the wild convulsion that is war.

Never more alive than this: the author crossing the Mekong River in Cambodia, 1973
photo: Sarah Webb Barrell
Never more alive than this: the author crossing the Mekong River in Cambodia, 1973

So far, the Pentagon's about-face decision this time to allow journalists to accompany battle units is a vast improvement over the sequestered and censored conditions of the first Gulf War in 1991. America is seeing war almost in the raw, and while the pictures and words are often unsettling, they may be helpfulin the new world of scarinessto our coming-of-age.

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