The "War Reporting" Misnomer

In a war that was in many ways the most dangerous ever for a reporter to cover, Kandahar was the most dangerous theater of the war. Its desert land was flat and cluttered with land mines. When [Soviet] MI-24 helicopter gunships swept in low after their prey, you could run but you couldn’t hide. Because you didn’t have to walk, the Kandahar area was physically less demanding than everywhere else in the country. But never in the mountainous north did a reporter feel as scared and vulnerable as when jammed inside a Toyota Land Cruiser, slowed down by deep pockets of sand, with Soviet helicopters in the sky. The Kandahari guerrillas, more than the other mujahidin, had a reputation for reckless bravado. When mines and helicopters were reported ahead, they slammed on the accelerator.

Kandahar really got to me; it wiped out what was left of my so-called objectivity. Being there made me think that the western media really were a bunch of pampered, navel-gazing yuppies, too busy reporting illegal detentions and individual killings in South Korea and the West Bank–before dashing back to their luxury hotels in Seoul and Jerusalem–to bother about the nuclearlike wasting of an entire urban center by the Soviet military. The throngs of reporters in places like Israel, South Korea, and South Africa, and the absence of them in Kandahar, or even in the Pakistan border area that abuts it, made me think that “war reporting” was fast becoming a misnomer.

Blazers were replacing flak jackets. The warfare most often videotaped and written about was urban violence in societies that have attained a level of development sufficient to allow large groups of journalists to operate comfortably. The worldwide profusion of satellite stations, laptop computers, computer modems, and luxury hotels with digital phone and telex systems was narrowing the media’s horizons rather than widening them. If there wasn’t a satellite station nearby, or if the phones didn’t work, or if the electricity wasn’t dependable, you just reported less or nothing at all about the place. Although the South Africans, for example, merely curtailed your movements, the Soviets tried to hunt you down and kill you. So you covered South Africa while at the same time denouncing its government for the restrictions it placed on your work. But you didn’t fool around with the Soviets, because they were serious about keeping reporters out. I couldn’t think about Kandahar; I could only rant and rage about it.

SOURCE: Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Robert D. Kaplan (Vintage, 1990, 2000, 2001), pp. 184-185

Soldiers of God is a thoughtful, insightful, highly readable book. Battlefield smart, rock solid.” –Dan Rather

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