IN EXTREMIS

The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin

by Lindsay Hilsum

At the annual service held in St. Bride’s Church in 2010 to commemorate journalists killed on assignments, Marie Colvin, war correspondent for The Times, delivering the address, stated, ‘We always have to ask ourselves was the level of risk worth the story?  What is bravery, what is bravado?’

     In Colvin’s case, these questions are answered by her friend and fellow journalist, Lindsey Hilsum, exploring the career and complexities of this courageous woman in a well-observed biography.   From her American Catholic childhood on Long Island, her many love affairs, hard-drinking, chain-smoking and endless partying, Hilsum Describes Colvin’s inspiring life spanning the major conflicts of our time:  Israel and Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Kosovo, East Timor, Chechnya, Sri Lanka (where she was hit by a grenade and lost the sight in her left eye, thereafter wearing her trademark eye-patch) each with its own humanitarian tragedy graphically described.

     Colvin became known for her unique style as she focused on the civilian victims of war.   In 2001 she wrote, ‘It has always seemed to me that what I write about is humanity in extremis, pushed to the unendurable, and that it is important to tell people what really happens in wars.’   Her dogged determination led to meetings with Col. Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat, two unlikely friendships.   She felt that by getting close to the displaced, wounded and starving populations she encountered and filing a different type of report from that of the logistics of war, she would alert her readership to real suffering.   She contemplated what kind of service war correspondents perform and what ethical codes they should follow.   Expected by her editor to come up with sensational headlines, hers was a difficult task.

     Despite her frenzied and often exciting work in war zones, she was unfulfilled in her private life.   Twice married and divorced, she took a stream of unsatisfactory lovers.   There is a sadness in her story long before her untimely death.    She relied on her many female friends as sounding boards for the horrors she had witnessed, as well as in her many disastrous personal relationships.

      By the year 2000 she had been acknowledged with three prestigious journalistic awards and, in 2010, was the recipient of the Martha Gellhorn prize.    She had been diagnosed with PTSD before her second time in Homs, Syria, in 2012, her final assignment.   Although called back by her bosses, she was determined to finish her story of the civilian suffering in the seemingly never-ending conflict.   But by the 21st century journalists such as Colvin were exposed to great danger, as use of mobile phones and the internet could be tracked by modern technology and their whereabouts exposed.   Trapped with other journalists, this time death was inevitable as a rocket screamed through the house from which she was about to flee.    Although paying the final price, she had weighed up the level of risk and decided it was worth it, echoing her speech two years previously.   Colvin’s bravery manifests itself in this, her final act, and could never be misinterpreted as bravado.

Review by Jan Pain, Sherborne Literary Society

© 2017 by SHERBORNE LITERARY SOCIETY - Charity No 1168489

Sherborne Literary Society
Sherborne Literary Festival

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