Fear in Writing: The Comfort of our Homes

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Comfort of our Homes

I look at today's "Today in Literary History" (found just below the banner, and reprinted here for your ease) and wonder what it would be like to fear for one's life.
May 18, 1593: An arrest warrant was issued on this day in 1593 for playwright Christopher Marlowe, after fellow writer Thomas Kyd accused Marlowe of heresy.
In Journalism school I often dreamed about reporting overseas, in war zones, against rogue governments.  But it didn't happen.

Now, I can only Google it. Here are the results:
Intense Training Prepares Journalists for War

Video of Two Reuters Journalists Killed in Iraq in 2007

Committee to Protect Journalists--Defending Journalists Worldwide
--Killed in 2010
--Killed since 1992

We blog every day from the comfort of our homes.  When I go in to the TV station and report the local news, I do so from the relative comfort of a state-of-the-art US law-protected business.  We have freedom to speak.  We don't worry about the heresy charges that Marlowe and Kyd faced in the 16th century.  We don't worry about the government interference that those in Iran or China or Venezuela face.  We don't worry about the hunger and death squads many face in Sudan and Afghanistan.

Do you know what else I remember?  A man named Nick.  He was kidnapped in 2003 and beheaded.  I was working as a reporter for a station in Flagstaff, Arizona.  We were a bunch of young journalists, pretending to be hardened and immune to the world.  Nick's beheading was put on the Internet.  We all looked it up and watched it.  We claimed journalistic interest.  It was important that we have knowledge of those things.  That has stayed with me.  Every once and a while I think of Nick.  I don't remember his last name or even what he was doing overseas.  I don't think he was military.  But I think of his family and the horror of knowing your son died that way, of having it broadcast and knowing he was so scared before the end.  And I think of the callousness with which we watched it.

Then I think of the real journalists and the journalist I later became.  I know what it means to be neutral now, to report the news and to be aware of what's out there.  It doesn't mean becoming a voyeur.  It means keeping an intelligent interest, but maintaining perspective.

Do I wish I was a missing journalist in the Middle East?  No, of course not.  Do I feel guilt for the comfortable couch beneath my ass?  Yes.  But I have a different purpose now.  I just have to figure it out.  

And we have to remember those who have sacrificed so that we can write from our plush seats in our free countries.

*The man picture top right is UK journalist James Brandon, kidnapped in Basra in 2004.  He was later released.
**The picture on the left is Baghdad after a bomb.


  1. My initial plan out of college was to work and save enough money to move to Britain and become a reporter there. I met my wife about a year after I graduated from college though, so that plan went quickly out the proverbial window.

    I think every journalism student (or most of them at least) dreams of reporting from the front lines in some far-off place. That's why we get into the field isn't it? To be on the forefront of history? (I forget who said that journalists are writing the first draft of history, but it's an apt statement.)

    All that said, I definitely think you're right. We need to be respectful of the people who do put themselves in harm's way so we can enjoy the freedoms we have here; and those who tell their stories to us.

    Long story short -- well said, Michele. Well said, indeed.

  2. I'll second the statement of Matthew, "well said." I cannot espouse a great desire when I was young to go out and report on war. I do, on the other hand, understand the thought process one must go through when training to be a journalist.

    Although I never reported events of history, I took part. Twenty two years in the military allowed me to serve all over the world. I've seen history made, and, in some cases, seen it skewed to meet the political slant of the day. I just returned from Iraq at the end of last year. Things are much different when one is living within the zone then they are perceived here within the safe borders of our country.

    This is the reason we need good, honest reporters in war zones. But we also need good, honest reporters here in our homeland. It is sad that in today's society I must watch at least two television news stations - one conservative, one liberal - in order to piece together a likely truth.

    You are right to say we should be thankful for those that put themselves in harm's way in order to tell the story. These folks go a long way in propagating the telling of history as it was, not just through the eyes of the victors.

  3. I remember hearing about that young man being beheaded. I don't remember that it was on video. His parents were forever affected by both his death and the video.

    Straight From Hel

  4. Its even more shocking when the nature of journalism has changed so rapidly in the last ten years since the internet has come along. The value of decent - even life-threatening - journalism has dropped due to the amount of different places to gain sources. Something David Simon was saying when he was doing publicity for the fifth series of The Wire.

    Great read!


  5. Matthew- We all dream that dream, but why? Is it so wonderful to put ourselves in danger? Is it so glamorous to be dead? It really is shocking that we want to be one of these missing people. But the truth is that we don't. We think we'll have all the glory and all the globetrotting without the pain. Well, maybe just a little discomfort to write home about. I'm glad you feel I wrote this well. It's the least I could do. The very least.

    JL- You remind me of my husband's conflict when he left the military. He was an officer in the Air Force when they decided they had too many captains. He never served overseas, and that always bothered him. In a way, he felt he hadn't done enough, even though he signed a will at age 22, promised his life for his country, and awoke in the middle of the night whenever a crisis on base needed his leadership attention. The world asks for a lot of our young men and women, and we don't say thank you enough. So thank you, JL, thank you.

    Helen- As a parent now, I am horrified by my viewing of it as a younger person. But I suppose that is the benefit of aging: looking back on our younger selves. Nick will not have that benefit.

    Simon- It can also be said that we have more balanced news because we have more sources, more from which to choose. We no longer have to get balance in one story, we can get it by reading multiple places--the farce of balance and neutrality can go away. (I, however, do not believe that was a farce.) So there is an argument both ways. Thank you for stopping by! I look forward to checking out your sight and hope you will continue to comment here.

  6. Thanks for putting it all in perspective. Kind of humbling.

  7. It's a lot more glamourous in the movies/novels. It would be nice if it stayed there.

  8. I remember that news story about the beheading and that it was being shown on the internet. I never watched, or had any desire to watch. I have an internet friend who is in Thailand right now reporting on all the protests. Every time she posts, or I hear her on the radio, I'm relieved to find out she's fine.

  9. P.S. Do you know the real story behind Christopher Marlowe's arrest? He was a spy working for the English government and the powers that be (or were) were concerned he had become a double agent. He was killed in a strange bar brawl on May 30th, 1593. There was never an investigation. Dangerous times...

  10. Good and interesting post.

    War reporters, when I see them in TV or read their articles in the papers, always reminds me of Hemingway and his books Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bells Tolls.

    Cold As Heaven

  11. I think watching that beheading would be extremely hard and I don't know that I could do it. I do enjoy the comfort of my computer and my mind. I do give credit to those who risk their lives so that we aren't left in the dark as to world events.


  12. The first war correspondents I learned about in school were Ernie Pyle, who was killed by Japanese bullets in 1945, and photographer Margaret Bourke-White, who might be the first female journalist to experience war up close. The folks who are willing to take these risks are fascinating, but I'm afraid I would be scared to death.

  13. I basically grew up constantly fearing for my life and the lives of people around me, which is not unusual since I'm from Serbia. When I was around 10 or 12 the Civil war started bringing the downfall of Yugoslavia, and then after we've spent 90's in poverty and political turmoils, USA decided to bomb us in 1999.
    It was all horrible, but you just learn to live with somebody constantly trying to destroy your country, with bombs falling around you, with not having money, security ....
    But the thing that hurts you the most is something you've mentioned, Michele - the war reporters, who come to invaded countries all hyped up, thinking they are in a movie, and everything around them is just something they use to establish their own careers. The fact that they don't really get anything seriously, that they bend the truth as they see fit or as they are paid to do, the way they make political and media propaganda and destroy the lives of ordinary people and the whole generations, is something beyond horrible.
    Modern wars are not lead with weapons but with the power of media. Whatever you see in your TV programmes is what you take as a fact and truth. And being lost in all that media game as innocent victim and a toy is something I hope none of you will ever experience as my country, my people, me myself and many other small countries did.

  14. Will- Maybe it's time I wrote it into a novel...

    Elspeth- I was just thinking about the backstory. But I must say, it is my understanding that it is speculation Marlowe was a spy, not fact. As to your friend in Thailand, it is definitely an interesting time there. Dangerous for many. I wish them the best. It takes bravery to keep the world informed.

    CAH- I can see the correlation. Probably drink as much, too. ;)

    Clarissa- There are many who do risk there lives, and you are right to give them credit.

    Patricia- I think fear is the sign of sanity in this case.

    Dez- Words are the most powerful swords. Just when we think we are reporting the truth, we find we are reporting someone else's twist of it. It is so hard to know what Truth is, and I thank you for pointing this out. I was too young in the 90s to know exactly what happened then, and can't say I know anything but the media's portrayal since. What I do know is that the media can be a powerful tool. I konw that if you want to get help for your cause, write your protest signs in English, as protesters did before the fall of the Berlin wall. The media is single-minded, but with a short attention span.
    Like I said, I dreamed of being that marauding Journalist when I was young, but soon learned Journalist doesn't exist.

  15. I'm not brave enough to do reporting in war situations - also too much of a sap. I'm not sure I could cope with the loss, the desperation, the terror & the loneliness around me. I'm very thankful for those who can deal with it.

  16. Great post! I admire journalists who risk their lives for the truth, because if they don't who will? Not me. I admit I'm not that brave.
    But I decided a long time ago that the truth of my own life and devotion to it was more important to me than the truth of the world, which changes day to day and in the eye of every beholder.

  17. Jemi- It is hard to tlet in the pain of everyone else. True. I think there is a certain thrill-seeker mentality for those that go into warzones, which is maybe why sometimes the truth gets lost for the thrill, as Dezmond pointed out.

    Lorel- So true, but someone--many people--must carry that burden. Thank goodness there are people who do!