All War Correspondents Are Assholes

There are plenty of reasons to decide that you want to spend your life making no money, risking death & dismemberment, and being universally mistrusted by everyone you meet. Certainly it seems like a career that would appeal to those with a masochistic streak. Likewise anyone with overtly antisocial tendencies, like a deep seated need to take pictures of corpses and fireballs, preferably both at the same time.

I couldn’t articulate exactly why I felt the need to join the strange legions of war correspondents when this opportunity came up, nor when I first began to think about it over a decade ago. I still can’t, though I’m much better at articulating what doesn’t motivate me. I’m not into corpses. I’m not out to expose the government for the manipulative lying shysters they are (they can do that well enough on their own). While there is a vague thrum of adrenaline at the thought of being in a firefight, if all I wanted to do was risk being killed by other people I could spend my time road-tripping across deep teabag country with a bunch of Obama ‘12/Gay Pride stickers plastered across the bumper of an electric pink Prius.

Whatever my actual motivation may be—it lies somewhere at the nexus of fascination, challenge, public disillusionment, and the possibility of change, infinitesimal as it may be—the fact remains that all war correspondents are, on some level, assholes.

It is a selfish decision. Unless you are an antisocial unmarried orphan raised by slavers with no siblings and no pets, you are screwing somebody over by doing this. Depending who you are and who they are, you’re probably screwing them pretty bad. They have to stay in the normal world while you go do something mildly stupid and moderately insane just so you can scratch whatever itch it is compelled you to go there. They have to wait for the awful news, for you to find that town on the map you never heard of until two days previous but that has been waiting for your trajectory to take you there at just the right moment so it can be intercepted with a piece of shrapnel, a bullet, or some exotic third-world disease.

There is no shortage of war correspondents. We have passed the age of the wartime propaganda machine. While governments and interested parties still work hard to spin the news to their advantage, journalists are afforded a degree of independence and investigative authority that would have been unthinkable seventy years ago. They rake the muck and expose lies on a daily basis. Mai Lai, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Iraq’s ethereal WMD program—they hardly need help.

“Someone’s gotta do it, though,” the war correspondent cries. “Might as well be me.”

But everyone you love—who loves you—would beg to differ. Might as well be that orphan over there with the slaver parents. If you didn’t do it, would it make any difference? Yes, we’re wrestling with the democracy paradox here, one vote doesn’t matter but if no one voted, etc., but the point remains: if one individual war correspondent decided to give up the gig, the world would keep on spinning. The muck would still be raked, war would not disappear from public consciousness.

And yet they all, myself included, decide to stay in. We stand there and watch the suffering on the faces of our families and our lovers and we say yes, sorry, but I’m still going. It’s like punching your best friend in the face for a job. And who would do that but an utter, inimitable, complete and incontrovertible asshole?

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