Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A few thoughts on my profession

Re-reading Anna Politkovskaya's A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya following the courageous journalist's murder in Moscow earlier this month, I am reminded again of the words of my friend George Murer, who, commenting on Politkovskaya's passing, observed that she "did remarkable work because she was dropped, unknown and defenseless, in the middle of a horrible situation that had no exterior witnesses." Or at least very few of them.

Journalists like Politkovskaya, Anthony Shadid (whose book Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War remains probably the greatest portrait yet drawn of the hubristic and disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq as told from the point of view of the Iraqi people) and Alonso Salazar (whose Born to Die in Medellin provides a stunning glimpse into the violence in one of Colombia's largest cities) are invaluable in an age when so many timorous, self-involved political analysts of the left and the right are content to analyze world events from the safety of a desk and a computer. A simple concern with the fate and voices of people in areas of conflict, while exposing those who make them suffer and, hoping against hope, to spur the world at large to some kind of action, seems like the best and most noble pursuit one can have in a profession whose ultimate driving force the the photographer James Nachtwey once summed up thusly:

It has occurred to me that if everyone could be there just once to see for themselves what white phosphorous does to the face of a child or what unspeakable pain is caused by the impact of a single bullet or how a jagged piece of shrapnel can rip someone's leg off - if everyone could be there to see for themselves the fear and the grief, just one time, then they would understand that nothing is worth letting things get to the point where that happens to even one person, let alone thousands.

Adieu, Anna Politkovskaya. There aren't many like you and you will be missed.

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