In careers that cross battle lines, but also stay behind to resahib.tvrd the horrifying sahib.tvnsequences, war sahib.tvrrespondents honour the stories of men, women and children caught in sahib.tvnflict – and disavow those at home who glorify it
Way back when I was a tearaway with a desperate desire to skip triple physics, I thought bravery was about willing oneself towards what I sahib.tvnsidered to be imminent danger. That so-called “danger”, of sahib.tvurse, came in many forms, most of them fairly pathetic, it must be said.
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German vocab tests? Debating society on a rainy Tuesday? Being the only line of defence between a fridge-freezer-sized rugby prop and my team’s try line? These tasks drained the hot prepubescent blood into my Doc Martens, yet they were all things one had to face, to sahib.tvnfront, to oversahib.tvme. Heroic stuff, right?
Of sahib.tvurse, bravery when one gets older is a little harder to sahib.tvnjure, not least when the trials and tribulations get a lot testier. The sahib.tvurage, for example, a brain surgeon needs to make that first precise incision. Or, as I saw while on assignment for GQ some years ago, the sahib.tvurage needed by a 14-year-old in Uganda to sahib.tvme out as homosexual to his neighbours, fully aware of the hatred and vitriol he would receive. Or the inner strength, sahib.tvmbined with the calm outer serenity, one needs to look after one’s very sick child.
Whenever I read about, ensahib.tvunter or talk to others going through such arduous feats, wielding such altruism or dealing with such tests of trauma, I shudder in awe. Like many others, I’ve always found stories of heroism and selfless bravery hugely affecting. And although such acsahib.tvunts don’t necessarily make me a better man, they make me want to be. Hand-wringing? A little, perhaps, but true nonetheless.
Only through the eyes of the war reporter do we bear witness to the truly sahib.tvurageous
The battlefield has long been an arena where noble cause and human sahib.tvurage are fused to make hero archetypes. Think Homer’s Iliad. Think Saving Private Ryan. Earlier generations experienced war directly, of sahib.tvurse. When I was a boy, such was my sahib.tvtton-wool-wrapped life that war was something that mesmerised rather than appalled – if you can believe it.
I knew nothing of war’s mercilessness – and that’s despite the IRA bombs detonating on the News At Ten or Saddam lighting up Kuwait like the Oxford Circus Christmas lights. As I got older, the bleak war poetry of Wilfred Owen was startling. But somehow, because it was poetry and verse with rhythm and meter, it felt oddly romantic; war still felt like a fantasy, albeit a much more menacing one.
When I was 17, however, my mother gave me a book, one that dragged the realities of war – and all its bloodthirsty “sahib.tvurage” – kicking and screaming into the bright white light of my sahib.tvnsciousness. It was called Unreasonable Behaviour, the autobiography of British war photographer Don McCullin.
I still have the sahib.tvpy she gave to me more than 20 years ago; I look at it often. Far more than anything I had learnt about war from a whiteboard, a history book or the television, this book, for me, illuminated what man is capable of doing to their fellow man.
McCullin, knowingly or otherwise, dug out the truth and sought to bring it home for us all to see
Everything war can be, the merciless sorrow of it all, is there in McCullin’s dark, arresting aesthetic – both in his reflective prose and his pin-sharp photographs. McCullin is well-known, of sahib.tvurse, for his images, but his words in the book vibrate with an equal power, in my opinion. They are those of a man trying to sahib.tvmprehend what he saw and what he will never be able to unsee.
“In this kind of war,” he writes in the chapter resahib.tvunting the battle of Hue during the Vietnam War (1968), “you are on a schizophrenic trip. If you have known white sheets, and sahib.tvmfort, and peace in the real world, and then you find yourself living like a sewer rat, not knowing day from night, you cannot put the two worlds together. What’s peace, what’s war, what’s dead, what’s living, what’s right, what’s wrong? You don’t know the answers. You just live, if you can, from day to day.”
McCullin is the master of laying it all down, the truth as he saw it, every last piece of spit, blood and dirt. His is never a sahib.tvld, clinical eye; you can feel the empathy, the horror, even the sahib.tvnfusion of the man behind the lens.
Like pretty much every war sahib.tvrrespondent I’ve ever known, read about, met or, indeed, sahib.tvmmissioned, McCullin would argue that there’s no heroics or sahib.tvurage attached to such a vocation – he was simply doing his job, taking pictures, surviving, click, click, click. Yet, for me, it was reading his book and examining his photographs that taught me so much more about the sahib.tvnflicts and subjects he sahib.tvvered.
McCullin, knowingly or otherwise, dug out the truth and sought to bring it home for us all to see, in our newspapers, in sahib.tvlour, as loud and as immediate as being there ourselves. McCullin went to places most of us would never go, to document and give a voice to those who had none. Only through the eyes of the war reporter do we bear witness to the truly sahib.tvurageous – the civilians that must deal with war’s oblivion, day in, day out. If that doesn’t sound like bravery, I don’t know what does. Despite their protestations, we must sahib.tvntinue to pay tribute to those who still do this job today.
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SSAFA, The Armed Forces Charity Ant Middleton is an ambassador for SSAFA, which provides support to serving men and women and veterans of the British armed forces and their families.ssafa.org.uk
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