The pen is mightier than the sword, but when writing about the war, who is the better record keeper? The veteran who replaced the gun with a pen or the professional writer with an objective and distant perception?
Watching Kathryn Bigelows ‘The Hurt Locker’ which is based on a screenplay by Mark Boal (who won an Oscar for the script), makes you wonder how to truly capture war as a writer. Boals curriculum vitae reveals he is a non-veteran, but went to Iraq for research, giving him the experience needed to turn his writing into an intensive and realistic portrayal of the incidents on location. But does the military agree as well? Is it more important to be a writer or a veteran? Who does the better job? And what is a good job in war reporting anyway?
The pen writing about the gun: Covering war in Iraq
It is proven that brilliant articles have been written by several non-veteran writers or Fobbits in history but journalists with a war background do emphasize that serving during the war in Iraq has given them a deeper understanding and the proficiency to really get the story down on paper. There is a huge gap between the everyday life at war and the civilian populace. The media coverage overwhelmes the average person, no one knows if what is said on TV is true and even though the access to information online is easier than ever, most people do not know which source is reliable or they merely swallow bits of information, small enough to be digested easily, many times paraphrased from other sources, without giving insight on what is truly going on in Iraq. With a profound war experience the gap between those two worlds is easier to bridge, claims a journalist and ex-veteran in Iraq. Behind a sterile monument dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives during war are countless stories of real people.
Experience matters, always
The other side is the subjective opinion about what has happened. Being at war with a group of soldiers lets the men bond in a strong way, repressing or altering events in a personal desired way. It has happened that Iraq soldiers asked journalists who travelled among them to not take pictures of certain incidents, write about certain stories. A journalist who has not developed a group-bonding as strong as the soldiers is more resistant to distort reality.
Journalists without war experience certainly need to do much more research on the topic. The homework needs to be done whereas the veteran has already access to his acquired knowledge. In either way writing about war means risking his life or at least getting hurt physically and psychologically. A Post Traumatic Stress Disorder happens on a regular basis, journalists have lost legs and arms and eyes, got kidnapped and even killed. It takes courage to risk your life to bring home a story about war in Iraq.
The mighty pen?
Many people have transferred experiences and impressions of war into stories for those who remained at home. Online, offline, with a camera or a pen: Writing brings awareness of what happens in Iraq, makes people understand that behind every soldier is an actual human being, a person with feelings and loved ones. Writing about war changes the perception of people. In the case of ‘The Hurt Locker’, the movie makes the audience believe that war, in the end, is a bigger drug than spending time with your own child.
The movie starts with a quote by Chris Hedges, war correspondant for the New York Times. “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”
In the end any writer, if he has been a veteran or not, can be an excellent intermediary between war and peace. He can create shattering and moving feelings, describe places and fights, friendship and loss. But he can never make normal people understand what a soldier truly goes through. For when it comes to personal war experiences, the sword, unfortuantely, is mightier than the pen.
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