Mitch reminds us that yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the death of war correspondent Steven Vincent, killed not in the heat of battle but in cold blood by Islamic “warriors” who targeted him because of things he had written (I believe we’re still waiting for the New York Times to be outraged).
Interestingly enough, today happens to be the birthday of one of America’s first embedded reporters, Ernie Pyle. I read a lot of Pyle’s writing, and writing about him by others, when I was in junior high and high school. It was a time when war was a fascinating subject for me and I read voraciously about the Civil War and World War II, cutting my teeth on Richard Tregaskis and the Landmark Series put out by Random House and moving on to Pyle and many others.
Pyle was a native of Indiana, where I lived at the time, which may have made him more interesting to me at first. What stands out now for me, however, is that his coverage of World War II may have been the first reading I had done that pierced the romantic cloud of glory and honor and all the glittery trappings that can so easily mask the reality of war when viewed from the distance imposed by geography, or experience — or willful ignorance. While there was certainly plenty of glory and honor in Pyle’s stories, it was tight-lipped and gritty as he related the activities of men who didn’t fight for a cuase so much as they fought for each other and for the chance to see another day, and sometimes paused to consider what they may have lost in the process. A great collection of Pyle’s columns can be found online here.
From Pyle I began to get a picture of men who hated what they were doing but knew it had to be done, which I later learned also pretty much described his own feelings about his calling. Though he won a Pulitzer for his reporting and was able to leave the war for awhile, Pyle chose to re-enter the storm and was subsequently killed by a sniper while covering the action in the Pacific.
Steven Vincent was a worthy successor to Pyle and there are many others today such as Michael Yon who carry on the tradition of giving the reader a chance to see the picture up close. That is an invaluable perspective because it blows away the camouflage that others (pro and con, left and right) so easily create for those who prefer to watch from a distance.
In the process some of these correspondents die too young. At the same time, something very important lives on. I urge you to check out the above link to the Pyle collection and rediscover (or discover) the power of a compelling story, expertly told.