Under The Wire; Marie Colvin’s Last Assignment by Paul Conroy

For me this was a real page turner of a book which is an experience I have been missing for a couple of years. I have read books by journalists going into conflict zones. The first one I read was by Sandy Gall. Then in quick succession similar books by Jeremy Bowen, Martin Bell, John Simpson, Kate Adie and Martha Gellhorn. All of them were full of the adventures of reporting on the seemingly endless insanity of mankind as it constantly enters into conflicts that wreak havoc. All of them told gruesome tales of atrocities and deprivations but none of them managed hit me quite as hard as this one.

Paul Conroy, the photo journalist who accompanied Marie Colvin on her last assignment and who wrote this book, acknowledged that adrenalin did play a part in driving journalists into these danger zones. But, what was more of a driver was the desire exemplified by Marie Colvin of getting in there to get the truth out to the wider world about the suffering taking place.

Marie Colvin died in 2012 when the civil war in Syria had only been going on since March 2011. If Marie Colvin had hoped to report the truth and create a desire for change to alleviate suffering then sadly her death may have been in vain. In the ensuing four years the civil war has intensified; millions of people have been displaced creating a migration crisis in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey that is spreading to the rest of mainland Europe with increasing severity during 2015 and drawing in more military resources from outside the region.

I did lend the book to a colleague at work a couple of weeks ago. Each morning after I had leant the book he would give me a precis about how far he had got through the story while making the teas and coffees. He had not realised just how bad life was in Syria. He had not realised that the current President of Syria was the son of the former President and had not been democratically elected. He had not realised just what it was like to be a journalist in a conflict zone. Or, how they work to get the stories on to our TV screens and into our newspapers. He was genuinely amazed by the story because he had not realised just how much journalists put themselves in harm’s way in order to get the story published.

His reading time was after he had put his two daughters to bed safely. It took him six evenings to complete the book. When he returned it to me he thanked me and told me that having read it that he would be watching the news from the Middle East more critically than before. He also told me that he considered himself very lucky to be able to put his children to bed every night knowing that in the morning he and his family would not have to be worried about where the next bomb was coming from or whether or not they would have to pack up only the possessions they could carry and start a trek across open country to escape conflict.

Marie Colvin and of course Paul Conroy did not manage to change the apocalyptic progress of the war in Syria but there is at least one legacy from their work. One more person has gained a greater understanding of the Middle East region.

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About alangrenville

I live in southern Britain near the fabulous New Forest. While studying for a BSc in International Studies I have developed a strong belief in 'NIBAW' or 'nothing is black and white'. Hence my favourite saying "Too often we...enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought" (John F Kennedy).
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