Under the Wire, by Paul Conroy (Hardcover, 2013)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you
want a hardcopy)
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
As someone who opted out of newspapers in 1982, opted out of television in
1990, and doesn't do online "news" sources, I don't know who the
newscasters or war correspondents are. My rationale for this is explained after
this review; narrowed in scope to how it's relevant to this book in particular.
Because of my "opt out," I had never heard of Marie Colvin before
coming across this book. My decision to read it wasn't based, then, on a desire
to follow up on a familiar face or name. It sounded like a story that would be
interesting and perhaps informative. It was. I enjoyed this book. Immensely.
For those who do follow news, you probably know who Marie Colvin was and
would like the real story as seen from someone who was there. This is that
And it is so well-written, you'll have a hard time putting the book down
until you've finished it. In my own case, I was going to read from page 140
to 160 due to time restrictions, and just did not stop reading until page
302 (by then, I really had to go so stopped until later). Rare is the book
that can get me to exceed my plan by even 5 pages. There's an endorsement
Let me explain about "well-written." Writer's Digest and other trade
publications for journalists have talked about "using elements of fiction in
non-fiction." This has also been a frequent topic at writing conferences.
The idea behind it is that the truth doesn't need to be boring.
Why is that crime novel so interesting? The factors that make it so can
be translated over to non-fiction writing. For example, write in the active
voice, provide details that help the reader feel like s/he is actually
there, build tension, and provide strong transitions. It doesn't mean make
things up from whole cloth, and I'm pleased to say that Conroy didn't do
Because of its subject, this book would have been interesting even with
mediocre writing. But at this high level of writing skill, the book was
downright gripping. The author is a photographer, not a columnist or
reporter. The high caliber writing might seem anomalous, but if you know
what goes into telling a story with photographs (as Conroy does) then you
also know a person who excels at that (and Conroy is a genius at it) excels
at many of the skills required for good writing.
This book is realistic partly because of the sheer grittiness of the
writing. But that grittiness is a double-edged sword, because there's a lot
of foul language in the book. So it's not appropriate for all audiences.
Then again, it's about war so to me reading "foul" words is much less
shocking than reading about a 10-year old with his legs blown off. I give
Conroy a free pass on the foul language.
Another issue here is the culture of the folks engaged in war reporting
(what I glean of it from Conroy's comments). Conroy, as part of that
culture, seems to glorify smoking and drinking. These behaviors cause
immense human suffering (not that war doesn't, but why pile it on?), plus
they are very costly to the society that picks up the very high medical tabs
for people who have the self-inflicted diseases resulting from these
behaviors. I don't like it when people encourage this behavior.
An issue that may arise with some reviewers is this book has no
bibliography. My opinion is that such a thing would actually be a detriment
and I am glad Conroy didn't go there. Ditto for getting after the fact
interviews. Those secondary/tertiary source practices would have indicated a
revisionist after the fact rewrite, instead of the factual account we got.
This is a primary source work, and such works by definition do not draw from
other works. He isn't researching a topic, his experience during Marie
Colvin's Final Assignment is the topic.
The subtitle is surprisingly accurate, considering the common penchant
today for misleading subtitles. This subtitle is exactly what this book is
This book runs 319 "can't put it down" pages of hard-biting text. It also
includes several pages of outstanding photographs (not included in that page
count). My own photos have graced several magazine covers, so when I say
someone's photos are outstanding that carries multiple meanings that go
deeper than might be indicated. The subject, composition, and technical
elements are all top-notch. From these photos, it's clear why Conroy is a
highly respected photo journalist. I think he put these skills to work when
composing the text, as well. I could see events in my mind as I read.
Just a quick summary of the story line (written at 1/10th the brilliance
of Conroy's writing). Conroy and Colvin take an assignment to document the
war atrocities in Homs (a town in Syria). Getting there is problematic and
dangerous, the problem being solved by using a very long underground tunnel.
Going through that tunnel is no picnic, due to having to walk bent over for
an extended time while breathing oxygen-poor air. Try walking in a duck
squat across your lawn while holding your breath, and you will (barely)
begin to understand this ordeal.
Due to an alert the city will be under a vicious assault from govt forces
(including drone-guided bomb and mortar attacks), they retreat back through
the tunnel. But then the assault doesn't happen. However, everyone knows it
is going to. All of the other journalist teams wisely refrain from going
back through the tunnel. But Marie insists on going back. Conroy has a gut
feeling that it can only end badly, and his gut has never been wrong. But he
can't desert Marie to go back by herself. So they go back through together.
And it ends badly.
Relating the details of that final trip and its aftermath is presumably
the goal of this book. But I have to tell you that Conroy doesn't waste page
space warming up to that. The part of the book that covers the buildup to
that trip is also edge of your seat stuff.
So as you can tell, I really liked this book and highly recommend it for
any adult looking for some good reading.
One reason I don't do news is it is so biased. This book illustrates that
aspect, with Conroy's frequent laments about the bloody regime and how the
world was just standing by letting the slaughter happen. He didn't present
the other side of the story, which is that a sovereign government was trying
to hold on to its sovereignty (right or wrong, that's what it is).
I am not saying he was dishonest. No, he was quite honest and I have no
doubt that every fact he stated is true and what he said happened is exactly
what happened. It's just not the whole picture. Not that it needs to be, but
for the purposes of his personal commentary about the situation there's a
gap in this book. It's the interpretation that shows bias, not the
accounting of what happened.
Let me put that into perspective that Americans maybe can understand.
In our own history, banksters manipulated things to get their illegal War
Between the States. This was our bloodiest war ever, the first truly
mechanized war, and the first war in which the primary strategy became the
infliction of massive civilian suffering and casualties. That last part
sounds about like what Paul described as going on in Syria.
This war resulted in a totally different form of national government when
it was over. It was a war of aggression and invasion against states that had
lawfully seceded (the first having done so several years prior). It does not
fit the definition of a civil war (and General Grant never called it a civil
war), in which armed insurgents attack to seize the means of governance.
"Honest" Abe Lincoln deliberately misappropriated that terminology in the
Gettysburg Address as a form of war propaganda.
How would today's foreign war correspondents have viewed Lincoln's War?
The answer is obvious.
Typically when people call for "other nations to help" they mean they
want the most indebted nation in history to go even deeper into debt to get
involved in something that's not germane to our national interests. The USA
now has real total national debt that exceeds the GDP of all nations
combined--three times over. And we're ruled by an oligarchy that added $6
trillion (source: GAO) more to that debt last year alone (not, as Obama
stated, "only" $1.2 trillion).
As horrible as things are in nations going through civil unrest and war, it
is not imperative that the USA do anything about it. We have our own civil
unrest and war (for example, the south side of "criminal protection zone"
Chicago is a de facto war zone and there's a higher rate of violent death there
than in Iraq) to contend with. We also have a brutally oppressive regime, though
it manages to mask the various acts of oppression through deception and
Examples abound, from the many unreported IRS atrocities to the
badly reported atrocities at Ruby Ridge and Waco. And a Navy UDT instructor
flatly stated the Oklahoma bombing story simply could not be true because
the technical facts don't support that story; other evidence points to that
as an action of our own "government" in an attempt to discredit those
calling for lawful government.
Also, we have huge infrastructure
deficiencies. Nearly all of our bridges have been rated as unsafe. Two of
them spanning the Mississippi River collapsed in recent times, sending many
innocent tax-paying Americans into the water to experience the agony of
drowning because the tax dollars aren't going toward bridge repair. They are
going to wars we can't afford and various measures to protect big banking,
big oil, and a few other special interests (read, "Confessions of an
Economic Hitman"). Oh, and they are also going directly to big banksters;
the Federal Reserve gave (not loaned, gave) the largest banks $49 trillion
(49 followed by 12 zeroes) between 2008 and 2012. Stealing on steroids
leaves the victims broke. We can't pay for "helping" in Syria or anywhere