after the battle's roar:
the suffering of war journalists

Dangerous Lives: War and the Men and Women Who Report It
Anthony Feinstein
(Thomas Allen Publishers, 224 pages)

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The work of war reporters is once again on prominent display, as the aftermath of 9/11 has put war back in the front pages of newspapers and magazines. Anthony Feinstein’s book on the mental trauma that afflicts the photographers, cameramen, and journalists who report from war zones attempts to explain the roots and damage that exposure to war can inflict on these curiously willing spectators.

This is the crux of Feinstein’s book – the men and women who find themselves haunted by what they’ve seen on the battlefronts and killing grounds of wars in Africa and Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere, are neither innocent bystanders or armed participants, either press-ganged, conscripted or willingly drawn into the ranks of the combatants.

They’re usually people from the democratic, industrial West, places that have been peaceful for at least two, sometimes a dozen generations, who’ve chosen to report from war zones out of an always-varied mixture of fascination, altruism, obsession, ambition, or naïveté. If they return from these places afflicted by the same symptoms of post-traumatic stress that haunts soldiers and survivors, it’s somehow difficult to summon for them the same kind of sympathy.

Feinstein describes men and women who become afflicted by sudden attacks of panic, nausea or anxiety, whose personal lives are effectively destroyed by what they’ve witnessed, who live with the “survivor’s guilt” of those who’ve watched colleagues and friends die, often before their eyes.

Feinstein, a Toronto neuropsychiatrist, began his project as a clinical study (the original paper is included as an appendix to the book), and wrote this book to give a more general view of the topic for the average reader. It’s compellingly narrated, moving from facet to facet of the war correspondent’s experience with ease, but it’s altogether too focused with the most visibly damaged of the profession.

Little is said about those who return from war zones apparently unscathed, though Feinstein admits they’re in the considerable majority. And Feinstein does little to address the self-dramatizing aspect of many journalists, whose motives for covering war and reactions afterward might mitigate the conclusions of his study. In choosing journalists as his object of study, Feinstein should be aware that he’s allied himself with an articulate but notoriously unreliable patient.

©2003 Rick McGinnis