Friday, October 13, 2006

Book Review: "The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Iraq" by Phillip Knightley

Excellent History of Biased War Reporting

The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Iraq
Author: Phillip Knightley
Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press; 3 edition (October 5, 2004)

"The First Casualty" is excellent in that it lays waste to the current myth of the need for neutrality in war reporting. The book documents the history of war reportage from the Crimean War up until the Terror War of today.

Since the Crimean War of one and a half centuries ago there has been no shortage of persons eager to go and report from wherever it is that people are being shot, bombs are being dropped, and battles are being waged. For much of this period war reporters have not been concerned about their neutrality. In fact, according to Knightley, it could be argued that there has yet to be a war covered in which correspondents were neutral.

In the Crimean War, the conflict that gave birth to the war reporter beast, William Howard Russell performed admirably, though not as an objective recorder of history. He was definitely a writer who glamorized war with his "Charge of the Light Brigade" being one of history's greatest examples of a reporter's patriotism bleeding from between the lines. Furthermore, Russell, just about the world's first war correspondent, was not afraid to criticize his government and his critical reportage was eventually partly responsible for the collapse of his nation's government. Russell was anything but neutral.

The American Civil War in many ways represents the nadir of war reporting. No one can claim that journalists followed any journalistic ethics, let alone neutrality, while covering that conflict. Journalists lied, invented stories, and recreated events due to laziness, greed, and to support personally held views. My personal favorite is the journalist that was bought off for cigars and whiskey. Knightley exposes all of this.

Though war reporting did improve throughout the end of the nineteenth century and into the first two decades of the twentieth, correspondents continued to see war as an us-versus-them struggle and they all continued to romanticize war. Churchill, Gibbons, Hemingway, and Pyle are all prime examples from the book of reporters who did this. My favorite quote from this era is by Herbert Matthews who covered the Spanish War for the New York Times. He argued,
"... I always felt the falseness and hypocrisy of those who claimed to be unbiased and the foolish, if not rank stupidity of editors and readers who demand impartiality...of correspondents writing about the war... A reader has a right to ask for all the facts; he has no right to ask that a journalist or historian agree with him."

In Korea, American journalists were accused of being too patriotic and of not being questioning enough of their country's role in the war. Knightley believes that correspondents must accept some of the blame for the two million civilians that were allegedly killed in that war.

Soon after, in Vietnam, western journalists began covering the war while supporting America's position. As the Vietnam War dragged on journalists' points of view changed as did their coverage of the conflict. For example, the My Lai massacre was uncovered and helped to accelerate America's withdrawal from Vietnam. Today it is not uncommon to hear that the press was at least in part responsible for America's defeat.

I was not as interested in the sections of the book that cover the conflicts that I actually remember. However, one interesting note from this latter part of the book is Knightley's explanation of Bob Simon's experience of being arrested in Iraq. Knightley wrote:
"The Iraqis released Simon and his crew unharmed at the end of the war."

I recently saw a televised interview with Bob Simon and I doubt that he would agree with the above over-simplified statement. According to the interview that I saw Simon was badly beaten while he was in custody. And beaten for weeks or months (I cannot recall exactly) What really makes the above quotation remarkable is the paragraph that precedes the Simon paragraph. The last sentence of that paragraph says the following about a Time photographer being, "...blindfolded, searched, and held for more than 30 hours by a National Guard unit." Perhaps I am seeing something that is not there, but to me the two paragraphs, one right after the other, give a moral equivalency to the two events that should not exist.

The book at around 600 pages is close to becoming not a book to read but a book to refer to. That is fine in my opinion and I sincerely hope that Knightley continues to update it as wars continue to pop up around the globe.

Good reading,

Andrew Greene
Jakarta, Indonesia

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Oct 6, 2006--The Jakarta Post

This article was first published in The Jakarta Post on Oct 6, 2006

Placing His Trust in God


Friday, September 29, 2006, 7:33 PM Local Time

MAMPANG, JAKARTA – The pain awaits him each morning -- the result of the hours, months, and years spent working on the feet and hands of others.

Half an hour of kneading, probing, and massaging is required to free his hands from this pain. Every day Pardi is his own first patient.

Pardi is a reflexologist. Practitioners of this ancient craft believe in the principle that each foot contains over 7,000 nerve endings. Pardi uses a learned-technique that walks his thumbs and fingers over a person’s feet manipulating these endings. For some of the more difficult to reach nerves the skilled use of rounded and pointed wooden awls and lotion is required.

These nerve endings, it is believed, are connected to every part and every organ of the human body. When they are correctly triggered they send messages to the brain which in return releases endorphins. These endorphins regulate pain, modify appetite, and result in a sense of euphoria.

Through reflexology, the farmer’s son says, he has helped conquer more than 160 differing ailments. Some of the most common disorders he faces are prostate troubles, high cholesterol, headaches, digestive difficulties, and asthma.

The Yogyakarta native considers himself to be particularly skilled at treating the latter. “Asthma is traditionally thought to be a lifelong condition,” he said in Indonesian. “However, I have been fortunate enough to have successfully cured 100 percent of the more than 200 asthma sufferers who have come to me. I have even cured two medical doctors.”

Pardi never works alone. A practicing Catholic, he silently prays as he works bent over the suffering and gives credit to God for the health that they have together sown, “I am simply a tool. I leave it to God.”

Even with God’s helping hands, Pardi realizes everyone cannot be helped with reflexology. He always recommends to those with third-stage cancer or heart or kidney disease to immediately consult medical professionals.

The grandfather of two came to this healing work late in life after retiring at the age of 60 from Atmajaya Catholic University in Jakarta. Not wishing to stop working completely he enrolled in a 24-hour reflexology course offered through his church. He then started to see patients in a small room at the side of his South Jakarta house’s car port.

Word of this unassuming man’s work spread and he soon had 30 patients a day, seven days a week. At nearly 25 minutes per session his hands were at work close to thirteen hours a day. It was an unsustainable pace. “I had to cut back,” he said with his youthful face smiling at the memory. “Now I won’t schedule more than 12 patients a day. My hands cannot handle more than that.”

A meticulous professional, Pardi maintains color-coded records of the 2,915 patients he has treated since he started seven years ago.

The rainbow of the record cards is stored in tight rows behind the patient’s chair in the same room in which he first started his practice. At the foot of the chair is Pardi’s low leather stool and a worn wooden box containing six dark wooden awls of varying thicknesses along with a small jar of white lotion that he purchases at the local bookstore. To the right, as one enters the 8’ x 15’ room, sits a glass display case holding Indonesian, Chinese, and other Asian health supplements. A stand-up fan moves back and forth in a 120 degree arc uselessly stirring the room’s humid air.

Pardi believes that one of the keys to his success is within these records. “The diagnosis, though difficult, is very important to what I do,” he explained while leaning back on his stool, his back resting against the wall. “If a person complains of an upset stomach I must ascertain what the root cause is. Stress, diet, or more serious matters could all be behind it and they all must be treated differently.”

For 60 percent of his current clientele, his reflexology ability takes a back seat to his counseling and listening skills. “Many people these days are too tied up in minor worries,” he clarified. “It’s difficult to make a living and people often just need someone to talk to.”

Pardi enjoys helping others. He always has. Earlier in life he taught sociology at elementary, junior high, and high schools in Solo, central Java, and Malang, East Java.

He later began his work for Atmajaya University. There he trained Catholics from all over the nation on how to establish and operate social and economic projects that would help the local people. After a year of training the students returned to their home cities and villages and used this training to make differences at the local rice-root level.

Currently running two nonprofit nursing homes and one meditation center on Jakarta’s outskirts, Pardi has not stopped working to improve the lives of others. In fact, at the age of 67 he has no plans to slow down. Spreading his potent non-descriptive hands wide before him, Pardi promised, “As long as God gives me the power, my work will continue.”

A Betawi woman holding her grandchild in black and white.

Sept 17, 2006--All Quiet on the Waterfront.

All Quiet on the Waterfront.

By ANDY GREENE, KAPress Writer

Sunday, September 17, 2006, 9:10 PM Local Time

SUNDA KELAPA, JAKARTA – On a day in which churches were burnt, a nun was murdered, and protests erupted across the Muslim world, business continued as usual in Jakarta’s historic harbor, Sunda Kelapa. Of the ten dock workers and ship hands polled late Sunday afternoon, none were aware of the controversy caused by the remarks made last Tuesday by Pope Benedict XVI in Germany.

During a public discussion at the University of Regensburg about the relationship between Christianity and Islam, the pope quoted the 15th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus by saying, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

These words, quoted at the university where the pope had once been a professor and vice rector, have enflamed many Muslims worldwide.

AP reported seven churches were firebombed this weekend in the Palestinian West Bank. Such attacks are particularly troubling since relations between Muslims and Christians in this region are generally considered to be peaceful.

In Somalia, there is concern that the murder Sunday of an elderly Italian nun is tied to furor over the pope’s comments. According to the AP, gunmen standing outside the hospital where the nun had worked since 2002 shot her four times in the back as she was going to lunch. The murder took place hours following a top Somali cleric’s public condemnation of the pope’s remarks.

All was not silent in Jakarta. Less than 30 miles from picturesque Sunda Kelapa, approximately 1,000 Indonesian demonstrators rallied to denounce the pope. “Only Muslims can understand what is jihad,” protest organizer, Heri Budianto was quoted by Reuters as having said. “It is impossible that jihad can be linked with violence, we Muslims have no violent character.”

Chief Indonesian Muslim Cleric Sheikh Marouf Amin was also, according to ANTARA news agency, disturbed by the pope’s quotation and said, “Such insulting and hurtful statements should not be made by a man of such high stature as the Pope.”

However, Catholic priest Benny Susetyo did not believe that those who were angry completely understood the pope’s message. He told The Jakarta Post on Saturday that the media was responsible for the uproar by failing to fully explain the context in which the pope had made the remarks. “It would be better for us to read the complete text first,” he said.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged the 240 million citizens of his nation to remain clam. Quoted from Havana, Cuba by Asianews, he said, "Indonesian Muslims should have wisdom, patience, and self-restraint to address this sensitive issue. ... We need them so that harmony among people is not at stake."

At least on this Sunday afternoon, in Sunda Kelapa, the president’s wished-for harmony was thriving. With the salt air wet and heavy from the aroma of clove cigarettes and the rough banter of seafaring humor, the men of the harbor were only concerned about their unloading of the shipments of tropical iron wood that was piled high aboard the double and triple mast wooden clippers roped up to the quay. For these men, toiling beneath the tropical sun, the pope and the world’s problems remained a world away.

Sept 13, 2006--On the Street Poll

Bush isn’t Heard in Jakarta


Wednesday, September 13, 2006, 4:39 PM Local Time

JAKARTA – A person-on-the-street poll conducted today at lunch time in Jakarta’s bustling business district failed to find a single person who agreed with American President George W. Bush’s recent claim that the United States is in a “struggle for civilization.”

Asked whether they agree with the president’s statement, 100 percent of the respondents answered negatively. According to some of the responses to this limited-in-scope poll the president is actually in a struggle for creditability.

“The truth is the opposite,” one young businessman said. “It should be that he’s in a battle to destroy civilization. He has made numerous problems throughout the world… I do not think he respects other cultures and civilizations.”

The Hezbollah/Israeli conflict was sited by one middle-aged lady in today’s noon-time poll as a reason to not support the president’s opinion. She said, “Civilization is alright. His words are just to get more support for what he did, like attacking Lebanon, and what he might do next. Who knows? He may, may, want to attack Indonesia to save our civilization. His words are only camouflage.”

America isn’t in a struggle for civilization,” another respondent replied. “[Bush] is in a struggle for power, for his power and to spread America’s power over the world.”

A Japanese housewife who said she has lived in the tropical nation for nearly three years seemed shocked by the question answering, “America thinks that its democracy is the best way for all countries. But it’s not right. There are many different types of traditions and governments that work for different countries.”

In the address from the Oval Office, Bush made the comment towards the end of a demanding day in which he had honored the memory of the attacks by visiting New York City, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. Rocking the world, these attacks proved to be the genesis to the lengthy and controversial war against terror. “This struggle has been called a clash of civilizations,” the American leader said. “In truth, it is a struggle for civilization.”

The president’s address continued, “We are fighting to maintain the way of life enjoyed by free nations. And we're fighting for the possibility that good and decent people across the Middle East can raise up societies based on freedom and tolerance and personal dignity.”

In the congested streets of Jakarta, the president’s definition of the war on terror failed to resonate. None of those questioned said that they were even aware of his speech which had been carried live on cable and satellite international television channels in this capital city of twelve million.

The results show that there may have been a backslide to the recent climb in support for America in Indonesia. In a nationwide poll by Terror Free Tomorrow conducted throughout the world’s largest Muslim country at the end of January 2006 support for the United States had risen to 44 percent. This was the highest it had been since September 11, 2001. This increase had largely been accredited to American humanitarian aid to tsunami victims 12 months previously.

Today’s poll was carried out by KAPress with one Japanese and nine Indonesian adults being questioned on Jalan Sudirman Boulevard in Central Jakarta.