The Toll Of Covering Conflict

Apr 20, 2011
Originally published on May 23, 2012 11:57 am

Joao Silva. Lynsey Addario. Tyler Hicks. Tim Hetherington. Chris Hondros: the names of photojournalists grievously wounded, kidnapped or killed in the line of duty since October 2010. The names and casualties of journalists harmed during conflicts seem to be mounting, leaving many of us who knew them or who have worked with them or - even those a few steps more removed - feeling a bit more vulnerable.

Nearly all journalists in conflict areas, or areas of disaster, take risks. Photojournalists, I think, are the biggest risk-takers for the cause because they must be more proximate, and the lens attracts attention.

If you knew the cause would take a limb or your life, or leave you beaten or raped, would you do it?

Phil Robertson, a New York based writer, has been close to Chris Hondros since they covered Afghanistan together beginning in 2002. As he told me today, "Conflict is a meat grinder and it destroys people's lives. We've seen way, way too many people get killed or injured, but this is OUR part of the war. It makes me realize more and more what the local civilians go through and how they feel."

I agree. And not only them, but the many local journalists who work for foreign organizations – like NPR. War is a terrible, uncertain, lethal condition. There will be other Misratas and Fallujahs and Korengal Valleys. I think the legacy, the honor, is to remember the people who put faces and feelings and emotions in front of us from those places, and reflect that there have always been stories, songs, and images of war and disaster. Perhaps their details blend over time, but we would not have the details except for those brave enough to gather them.

Robertson is writing a book at home now, in New York. He's the father of a toddler. But he has certainly taken risks and is thinking of Chris Hondros today. They shared rides in Afghanistan and a terrifying open-air truck ride in Fallujah.

And he and Hondros shared another ride. "He drove my wife and me and our new baby home from the hospital the day after our daughter, Zaina, was born in 2009," he said. "We were together on the most terrifying and beautiful days I have ever known."

Jacki Lyden is a correspondent and host for NPR.

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