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Home > Publications > Quill > Reporters show all sides of war


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Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Reporters show all sides of war

Journalists find powerful ways to tell the story of violence in Iraq

Commentary by Jon Marshall

I’m amazed by the tremendous efforts that reporters and photographers are making to tell the biggest story of our time. The examples below show how journalists are doing great work, whether it’s in the chaotic streets of Baghdad, an Army base, a military hospital or American homes where families navigate the rugged aftermath of war.

The troops

The Detroit Free Press has made a strong commitment to telling the story of Michigan’s troops. The Free Press sent writer Joe Swickard and photojournalist David P. Gilkey to Iraq to live with Michigan’s 1st Battalion of the 24th Marine Regiment. Meanwhile, writer John Masson and photojournalist Stephen McGee have covered the Marines’ loved ones on the home front.

The resulting “Michigan’s Band of Brothers” is an impressive look at the different facets of military life. It includes a story about Christmas in Iraq, letters from the troops to their families and coverage of a 22-year-old Marine’s funeral. 

The children

In “Iraq’s Young Blood,” Newsweek’s Christian Caryl shows us how Iraqi children are responding to the bloodshed and brutality that has surrounded them. Caryl deftly describes some of the estimated 1 million Iraqi kids whose lives have been damaged by nearly constant strife. The accompanying photo gallery by Khalid Mohammed, Daniel Berehulak, Chris Hondros, Karim Kadim, Wathiq Khuzaie, Ahmad Al-Rubaye, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad and Karim Sahib is haunting. 

The healers

“In Iraq ‘It’s Us Versus Death,’”  by Colin Nickerson of The Boston Globe describes the heroics of a medical unit trying to heal the physical wounds of soldiers and ordinary Iraqis. Nickerson uses heart-wrenching details to show us a day in the chaotic life of the 399th Combat Support Hospital, a Massachusetts-based Army Reserve unit stationed in Mosul. 

In this scene toward the end of the story, a surgeon reacts after a patient dies: 

For a moment, Hueman seemed lost, stunned. He stripped off his bloody surgical gloves and tossed them toward a trash bin, shaking his head when the latex tangle missed the target.

He took a deep breath, eyes focused nowhere. Then snapped on another pair of gloves. And turned to the next patient.

A slideshow with photos by Dominic Chavez and narration by Lt. Col. Joaquin Cortiella adds to the emotional impact.

The wounded

Daniel Zwerdling of NPR reports that the emotional pain of soldiers is sometimes ignored when they come home. His “ Soldiers Say Army Ignores, Punishes Mental Anguish” describes how officials at the Army’s Fort Carson often fail to take care of the nearly one out of every four soldiers who returns from Iraq with serious mental health problems. Zwerdling details how some soldiers with severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are told they must wait more than a month for help and are hazed by their sergeants.

The family

Andrea Gurwitt of the Herald News in northern New Jersey writes about what it’s like for the families of soldiers living with post-traumatic stress disorder. Her “Casualties of War” introduces us to Joseph Villabol, who returned from Iraq with severe symptoms of stress, and the family that struggles to heal him. She shows how Joseph and his wife desperately try to keep their marriage together. Gurwitt mixes vivid descriptions of the family’s frayed life at home with explanations of how and why post-traumatic stress disorder occurs. 

The journalists

The November/December issue of the Columbia Journalism Review contains an astounding collection of first-hand accounts from reporters and photographers in Iraq. “Into the Abyss -- Reporting Iraq 2003-2006: an Oral History” shares the stories and observations of 47 journalists who’ve covered the war. I first picked up the article thinking I would skim it, but from the first word by Dexter Filkins of The New York Times through the last vignette by Chris Hondros of Getty Images, I was hooked.


Read these masterpieces and more: http://spj.org/blog/blogs/newsgems/

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