Thursday, December 17, 2009

"In Harm's Way" by Martin Bell [16]

Chapter 18: Arm Your Children

I had a difficult time figuring out how to summarize and review this chapter because at first I could not quite grasp what it is about. And then I realized--it is a brief summary of the post-Cold War world and what the Bosnian conflict signaled about its challenges, communicated through a brief synopsis of Bell's career from 1989 through the mid-1990s.

Bell, who had been assigned to BBC's North American beat for over a decade, was in 1989 reassigned to Berlin to cover the fall of Communism. He got to see a lot, but he also experienced the pressures of political correctness when he was discouraged from filming examples of nascent neo-Nazi groups in the former East Germany as Romanian Gypsies and other outsiders began pouring across the newly opened borders.

In Bosnia, he again faced the PC pressures to avoid words and images which might offend when he referred to mental patients trapped in the no-man's land between Muslims and Croats during the 1993 civil war by using the word "madhouse." One would think this was quite fitting--the patients were left to their own devices because they had been abandoned by the staff. But "madhouse" might offend, and we can't have that.

Bell also recounts how the longer he reported on Bosnia, the harder it became for him to to adjust during his periodic returns home, an experience shared by many. One person whom he sympathizes with in this regard is General Lewis MacKenzie, who adjusted (in his opinion) by throwing himself into civilian work after finding post-Bosnia military duties unfulfilling. This book was published in 1995, so we will forgive Bell for not being aware that MacKenzie would use his new position as a front for covert Serb nationalist proselytizing.

And so the chapter moves--quietly, patiently, and finally unexpectedly--into a rumination on the responsibilities of the international community--and the journalist--in the face of genocide. Bell is quietly convincing here, since he has taken pains not to be a crusading journalist or to engage in polemics, but he believes that journalists have an ethical and moral obligation as well as a professional one. Genocide has consequences. Lessons will be learned. It is the responsibility of the international community to take actions to ensure that those lessons are the right ones.

1 comment:

Owen said...

Sorry, Kirk, the word "madhouse" is an offensive cliche to use in relation to mental health. As a journalist Bell has no excuse for the sort of sloppy writing that confuses outdated images with the substance of reality - straight from the same old laundry bag as "ancient tribal hatreds".