“Bravery is not being afraid to be afraid.”
I like my heroes fucked up.
It is in that place, where our humanity ruts up against our sense of place in the world, where our flawed edges scrape against our aspiration that I find myself drawn. There is truth in that place, as much truth as can be mustered in this world sometimes and through that you see can see glimpses of the human soul. Some offer it freely, through their manner, whereas others might proffer these glimpses through their work, through their passions and the spirit with which they attack them.
Marie ColvIn embodies these ideals for me.
The title, ‘journalist’ has been usurped to me and is more reflective of empty, hollow sensationalism. This, of course is reflective of public demand but there was a time when journalism meant truth; the pursuit of it, the wrestling of it from the shadows. It is a romanticised ideal, certainly, but it was left to the few, the resourceful, the hard edged and the resilient to search out these truths, to reach into those places we could not. They were brave enough to lift up the rug and see what lay beneath.
Marie Colvin spent the majority of her career as the Middle East correspondent for The Sunday Times, covering some of the worst atrocities to occur in the region, as well as conflicts in Sierra Leone, East Timor, Kosovo and Chechnya, amongst others. It takes a special kind of person to run into such atrocity with nothing but a pen and a notebook for protection. Yet, like most who answer that calling, there is a strange sense of truth and the pursuit of it acting as a shield. Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth, yet what other explanation could there be? What blind and twisted faith could explain such an action otherwise?
Colvin was credited with saving the lives of 1500 women and children from Indonesian-backed forces in East Timor in 1999. Surrounded within a compound by armed militia, Colvin shamed the attending UN commander and his soldiers into saying by stating that even if they left, she would remain. She reported from within the compound for four days straight, surrounded by imminent death on all that was occurring. When queried by her London Editor, “Where have all the men gone?” Colvin, characteristically responded, “They just don’t make men like they used to.”
A strong shield, indeed.
Yet, even after being seriously injured from a rocket propelled grenade in 2001, that faith in the shield persisted. Even after calling out ‘Journalist! Journalist!’ after being caught in the midst of a skirmish, the militia launched the grenade, regardless. Colvin believed they knew what they were doing and that the act was deliberate. The shrapnel from the grenade tore into her, leaving her blinded in her left eye. Despite the severity of the injury, Colvin still managed to write a 3000 word piece on the situation by the set deadline.
Of course, as wonderfully exciting as these anecdotes are, it was the humanity, the one thing she always chased in her words which persisted. Colvin suffered post traumatic stress disorder from her exposure to situations very few would be privy to without her commitment. She was a hard drinking, chain smoking writer; one good witness where none would otherwise be.
And it ultimately killed her.
On February 22nd, 2012 in Homs, Syria, Colvin chased her story to its logical conclusion and died amidst ferocious bombing. A lot has been written about what she was doing there.
This 56 year old woman, suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, with known alcohol issues being placed in the heart of danger. Should any journalist be allowed to enter into such circumstance? Is it the medias responsibility to protect their reporters? In a time of youtube clips and instantaneous communication, are reporters such as Colvin really even necessary?
Yes. More than ever.
Because reportage isn’t truth. Immediate media access of any given situation can be controlled, manipulated. It does not allow option or choice, it is merely a hand picked barrage, controlled by the provider. You need a human eye, an informed soul to seek out and deliver truth.
You need words that touch the spirit, that can encapsulate all the horrors apparent whilst also empowering the reader to act upon their own conscience. It takes depth and raw strength to find a way into a situation of bared atrocity using nothing but words, knowing how to communicate the unimaginable into the ordered and mundane lives of others. It takes the ability, the gift of making people feel. Colvin’s words, her intent make my meager efforts feel impotent and weak, but she also makes me want it to be otherwise.
A good writer elevates, informs them of themselves as much as of the outside world. A great writer assumes great intelligence on the part of the reader. There is a nobility in striving to retain that intelligence within the world and nobility feels in short supply.
Marie Colvin, most likely would not have described herself as noble. She would have not alluded to being a hero. She was a journalist. In a time where more press is spent on the Trumps and Kardashians of the world than on true humanity, perhaps young women and men… all of us could look to people like Marie Colvin and be inspired to seek out our own truths.
To make real change.
“… war reporting is still essentially the same – someone has to go there and see what is happening. You can’t get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you. The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people, be they government, military or the man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen.”