Her death in Syria, along with that of French photographer Remi Ochlik, is a loss not confined to the highest standards of journalism, but also to the very principles of freedom and truth. Blown apart by a missile allegedly targeted at the signal from her satellite phone as she filed copy, her body, or what is left of it, remains unrecovered. Wounded Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy and Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro are in need of medical attention and are far from safety.
Tall, strikingly beautiful and sporting an eye patch as a result of losing an eye in the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, Marie Colvin was never afraid to put herself in harm`s way to report the barbarism of war and oppression. Never one to resort to the “look how brave I am” excitability of some of her more gung-ho fellow war correspondents, she brought us the true horror of inhumanity as we sat before our Sunday morning bacon and eggs. She is also credited with saving the lives of 1500 women and children in East Timor and forcing the attention of unwilling governments to address human rights abuses, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Aspiring hacks who think journalism is rummaging in the dustbins of Z list celebrities and hacking the phone of a dead schoolgirl should really read some of her dispatches. Executives who talk of witch-hunts and the freedom of the press and who define a war zone as attempting to park in Knightsbridge or running the gauntlet of paps when leaving the Groucho Club, will never experience the terrible consequence of incoming artillery. Marie Colvin did, and had the courage to report it.
It is probably true that she would have been furious if any military intervention by the West in Syria was provoked by her death. Her concern was for the countless civilians, women and children, being slaughtered by evil regimes across the planet. Our governments repeatedly tell us that Syria is “different” from Libya so armed intervention is out of the question, particularly with the Russian and Chinese veto at the UN. Syria might not satisfy our business interests, but the artillery shells, tanks and missiles aimed at children are the same and so is the death and destruction. If the life of Marie Colvin is worth anything and if the existence of our fellow human beings is worth anything, the world has to act to stop the slaughter. Words were enough for Marie Colvin. They are not enough for governments.
During the past 24 hours, the address she gave to the truth at all costs memorial service to commemorate journalists who lost their lives reporting 21st century conflict has been quoted and re-quoted. This blog makes no apology for reproducing her words.
“Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction, and death and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash.
And yes, it means taking risks, not just for yourself but often for the people who work closely with you.
Despite all the videos you see from the Ministry of Defence or the Pentagon, and all the sanitised language describing smart bombs and pinpoint strikes… the scene on the ground has remained remarkably the same for hundreds of years.
Craters. Burned houses. Mutilated bodies. Women weeping for children and husbands. Men for their wives, mothers children.
Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice.
Someone has to go there and see what is happening. You can’t get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you.
The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people be they government, military or the man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen.
We do have that faith because we believe we do make a difference.”
Sleep well, Marie. You made a difference.