Journalists and medical staff have special access in war zones and should not receive harm. Many conventions have been developed to protect them. One of the lessons in war, odd though it may be, is the least harm you do, the more compassion you show the less hatred towards the oppressors. Since war is usually a divided issue, even within the country committing war, showing some sort of humanity indicates reluctance to just kill everyone period. It’s an odd dichotomy to be sure as some have said war is war. Yet, most are repugnant at shooting unarmed civilians, women, children, medical staff, and POWs. And journalists.
The Kurds have well utilized women as soldiers and Hamas has used civilian buildings and people to shield military personnel and weapons. Israel has used excessive force to sway the genocide sworn to them. In Japan, in WW II, from 100 to 200 thousand people died from nuclear bombs, and any other living thing that happened to be in the way, proving the US to also be ready to do what it takes with desperate and fearful abandon. Japan, fearing land evasion had begun filling its sea coastal caves with small boats carrying bombs, using citizens as suicide pilots.
Terrorists transgress humanity, long before the situation seems desperate, in the hopes they will shock people to compliance or scare others to stay away.
Hemingway wrote how grand it was to report on the Spanish war but since then the plethora of journalists risking their lives for a story has escalated dramatically. In 2001 Geraldo Rivera startled journalists by carrying a rifle in a war zone where 8 reporters had already died. His claim that he was in a dangerous place sounds ridiculous as how does carrying weapons make it less dangerous? Especially since modern war is not a place where you see your shooter and can shoot back like some face-to-face western. The best choice is to stay hidden or not be there, More radically it clouds the issue of whether a reporter is a combatant or not.
That journalists are not trained to fight in war makes it more difficult to understand why they would carry weapons or even be in war zones. When they are in danger, the military must decide whether to defend them and risk their own men or allow them the freedom to commit what can essentially be called passive suicide. It may seem reasonable that journalists should be allowed to make their own choices about engagement but they have a special privilege. The military does not allow sincere and willing citizens to catch a plane and join in combat or be bystanders to combat scenes.
The American desire for sensationalistic news and the rising competitiveness of young journalists to make a name in a difficult field encourages doing more and more dangerous activities. The old reporter who waits until the bullets lesson misses the story and photo that make the evening news. New reporters laugh at the old journalists still alive that wait at hotels having drinks until it’s safe to go out. It’s not quite like that but it is true that journalists are willing to take more risks than ever before.
65 journalists have died in Syria in 2012. 151 journalists died in Iraq. From 1992 to 2011 880 US journalists have died in war. Was the gripping photo worth it? Was receiving some news a little more early essential for the public’s assessment of what’s going on?
54 journalist died in World War II. A war that caused the death of between 50 and 80 million people, 20 to 25 million soldiers. It is an impossible comparison as no war since has begun to have that kind of death toll. By proportion the number is small.
The Islamic State has certainly capitalized on the capture and beheading of James Foley as yet another horror. They certainly must feel more important as the media blazes with anger and indignation.
The importance of getting the most immediate photos and story of war is balanced against a drama that elevates the status of terrorists to greater terror. Terrorists who were always willing to kill anything in their way.
Has it been worth it? Has the public benefited from the 1,000 deaths of journalists during the last 20 years? Do you feel better informed, more certain of the horrors of war, and more likely to make good decisions about any given war? For me, I would rather see them alive, returning home, and continuing to support their families and society.
Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com