Under the Wire: Marie Colvin's Final Assignment
Witness to history
By Steven Martinovich
If there is a stereotype of a typical war correspondent, Marie Colvin likely fulfilled all of them. Tough as nails, brave to a fault and just as capable of mingling with the average soldier as she was with the men who commanded them. For over two decades Colvin covered wars around the world, motivated by a desire to get the story and reveal the effect that conflict had on the innocent. It is what sent her to Syria in 2012 and it is what took her life when a hail of artillery hit the building that she and French photographer Remi Ochlik were taking cover in.
Colvin's last days are the subject of Under the Wire: Marie Colvin's Final Assignment. Written by Paul Conroy, the photographer who was assigned with her to cover the uprising in Syria, it chronicles their attempts to penetrate the city of Homs, which at that point had been under relentless siege by Syrian army, and report on the horrific casualties that the population was sustaining.
Their mission wasn't easy: The Syrian government had little desire for the international press to report on the slaughter and increasingly targeted them either by intercepting their attempts to sneak into the country or with violence if found on the battlefield. The only way into Homs was through a tunnel several kilometres in length, with the necessary dodging of Syrian army units both before and after that avenue was taken. Snipers seemed to be present on every street and artillery fell like the military had an endless supply. It was clear to everyone that the government planned to invade Homs at any moment and wipe out its rebellious population.
Conroy writes what is virtually an hour by hour account of their time in Homs, of the rebel fighters that ferried and protected them, the civilians that were being slaughtered by the relentless bombardment and the few souls left that attempted to help the situation – doctors and nurses that couldn't keep up with the torrent of injured that appeared in makeshift hospitals. Interspersed with that story are flashbacks to his and Colvin's time in Libya covering the uprising that eventually claimed Muammar Gaddafi. Death and humour are present in equal amounts as Colvin and Conroy take enormous risks to tell the world what was – and is – happening in Syria.
Colvin was of course killed in the endless bombardment of Homs – most believe the government deliberately targeted the house that the journalists had turned into a media centre – and Conroy suffered a grievous wound to his leg. It wasn't until five days after that he was able to make a daring escape with government forces on his trail in an attempt to silence him. Colvin and Ochlik's bodies were eventually repatriated with the Syrian government maintaining the pair were killed by an improvised explosive device planted by terrorists.
One can understand why a soldier inhabits the hell of war – they have little vote in the matter – but the mindset of a war correspondent might be more difficult to fathom. To willingly thrust themselves into the most dangerous places in the world and make themselves targets is something most people would consider foolish. It certainly wasn't merely to get the story – though that is obviously one of the key motivations of any journalist. As Conroy states, their choice to cover war was also to bear witness to the price of war both on the soldiers who fought them and the unfortunate civilians who paid what is likely the heaviest toll.
Under the Wire is a gripping account of Colvin and Conroy's attempt to do so and does much to underscore why Colvin was widely considered the finest modern war correspondent. Conroy has penned a fitting tribute to his friend, one who will be missed not only by the members of her profession, but by a public who relied on her skill at telling the story. It is said that journalism is the first rough draft of history and thanks to Colvin and Conroy we were allowed to witness it on the most visceral level.
Steven Martinovich is the founder and editor of Enter Stage Right.
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