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What Happens When News Reporters Crawl Into The Belly Of The Beast Of Terror?
Is There Life After Terror?
Cliff McKenzie

GROUND ZERO PLUS 1174 DAYS,--New York, NY, Monday, November 29, 2004--Standing over the dead bodies of little children and taking their pictures isn't the dream job most people hope for when they're trying to carve out their future.

But, that's part of the role of war correspondent, and, sadly, the most important part. I served in such a capacity in Vietnam and was also present at Ground Zero on NineEleven.

Recording the horror of war with words and pictures is similar to being a mortician assistant for the living. You walk behind the grim reaper recording and reporting on the living who cry out for the dead, and the dead who cry out to be alive.


The Book of Revelations is all about the carnage of spiritual war
The Book of Revelations is all about the carnage of spiritual war

Reporting on the horrors of war is not a new task. Since the first human rubbed a charcoal stick on a leaf, writing the events of human conflict down for prosperity has been a top priority. In the Bible, the Book of Revelations is all about the carnage of war--spiritual war--but if you read it closely, it's about the carnage and suffering of the last day.

In the center of Rome stand the Trajan Column, a magnificent edifice towering up some feet. Carved from the base to the top is the history of battles fought by Emperor Trajan. Citizens of Rome would walk about the malls surrounding the column and study the pictures much as people sit in front of their televisions today looking at the carnage of Iraq, or the strewn carcasses from a plane crash, or any other horrible tragedy involving the loss of human life.

The Trajan Column depicts Trajan's detailed carvings as a war commentary
The Trajan Column depicts Trajan's detailed carvings as a war commentary

War has been glorified and vilified by various combat correspondents throughout time. The adventures of Ulysses talk about a battle with mythical beings, recording bloodthirsty engagements with creatures who rip, claw, tear, shred and torture their victims before eating them.

Tolstoy's War And Peace and All Quiet On The Western Front leave the reader feeling cold and clammy, shivering to think that human beings will unleash such victimization upon others for the seemingly senseless pursuit of power or righteousness.

Simonides, the Greek poet who immortalized the combat of the Spartans against the Persians 2500 years ago, holds up the warrior as a Sentinel of Vigilance.

War reporting isn't new. Neither is its trauma.

Men and women who participate in the barrel of the gun of war know every twist and turn of its bore. They know the smell of decaying and burning flesh as they might an exquisite perfume. They know the cries of the wounded bleating out pained cries for their mothers as the blood oozes from their wounded bodies and the lights of life grow dim to final darkness.

Butchered innocent  children imprint themselves into the mind of the war correspondent
Butchered innocent children imprint themselves into the mind of the war correspondent

Then there are the butchered innocent imprinting themselves into the mind of the war correspondent. Children without arms or legs, some with half a face, others burned by chemicals so their flesh resembles the desiccation of a fig, or the bloating of their bellies from malnutrition.

If there is a Beast of Terror, his footprints appear most gruesome in the wake of war among the innocent, the collateral damages of all conflict.

The same holds true for tragedies. A train or car wreck maims and destroys human life in the blink of an eye, turning an otherwise rosy world into one dripping with victims' blood. That blood drips onto the pad of the reporter covering it and smears the lens of the camera capturing the horror.

What do news reporters do when they face death and destruction and report on it?

They absorb it in ways different from most. A reporter is a sponge, sucking in all the who-s, what-s, when-s, where-s, why-s, and how-s that he or she can. In other words, every square inch of the horror of any tragedy must be relived in forensic detail by a good reporter to answer all the questions history might ask--the who, what, when, why, where and how of human Terrorism.

It is an act of Terror that three children are consumed in a fire while the mother escapes. The fire is the Terrorist. The neglect--if any--that led to it is Terrorism. The reason why the children were left behind is Terrorism..

A car crash is an act of Terrorism. One vehicle smashes into another. One driver is a Terrorist--no matter what happened. If the driver was drunk it is easy to label him a Terrorist, but if he slumps over from a heart attack and his car bullets into a carload full of children, is he still a Terrorist? Did he not take his pills? Did he not sleep well before driving? Should he have driven? Was he overweight?

There is a Terrorist everywhere in any tragedy, and, often, numerous ones. The reporter hunts them all down, each Terror Cell is denitrified, labeled, shelved, counted, annotated, affirmed, reaffirmed. There can be who, what, when, why, where or how without finding Terrorism littering the path.

The reason such Terrorism exists is because of the victims. The victims are the punctuation point of Terrorism. They are the pained recipients of the Beast of Terror's wrath. They kneel down in the blood soaked pools surrounding their children's bodies and scream to the heavens: "Why? Why God, would you let this happen?"

The reporters must also ask themselves: "Why would God let these atrocities happen?"
The reporters must also ask themselves: "Why would God let these atrocities happen?"

The reporter must look up and ask the same question. The victim has just told the world he or she has been Terrorized by an Act of God.

Tragedy is a euphemism for Terrorism. A "tragic" event is a "terrifying" event. It tortures the victims with the pain of a branding iron shoved against their chest, burning a giant "V" into their skin.

And, the Terror Reporter, the Terror Hunter, has to ferret this all out. He or she has to be the bullet being loaded, the hammer being cocked, the finger squeezing the trigger, the target it hits, the pain the target endures, the suffering of the victim to death, and then become the victim's loved ones, friends, relatives and a world of onlookers wondering who, what, when, why, where and how it all happened in hopes it won't happen to them.

And what does the Terror Reporter, the Terror Hunter Recorder, do with all the chunks and pieces of Terrorism he or she collects as part of the reporting job?

The final story is only a microcosm of the data collected, a mere grain of Terror on a beach of Terrorism.

The reporter lives with the pain and suffering, with the horror and haunting of the event as does the priest who receives endless confessions of the most vile and ugly nature, as the paramedic does the countless maimed and broken bodies he or she scrapes from pavement, or the mortician who restores mangled bodies to visual wholeness.

Reporter at the Battle of Gettysburg
Reporter at the Battle of Gettysburg

Some people carry Terrorism in bags hanging around their souls because there is no way to expunge it, no true way to ever erase the face of a mother holding her dead son's head in her arms after her village had just been bombed, or extricate the blank stare of a catatonic mother clutching in a death grip the sleeve of her child's pajamas as the fireman try to wrench the charred child's body from the mother's hands.

Then there are the thirteen victims of the World Trade Center attack who refused to accept any payment of any kind from the government or airlines because they felt compensation would cheapen the lives of their departed. Why did these victims refuse to be victims in that sense? Why did they deny accepting there was such a thing as closure? Was it because they knew there can never be an end to the Terror of that day? And, that learning to live with that fact is perhaps the hardest lesson of anyone's life, of anyone's existence?

The Terror Hunter Reporter still hears the wailing of mothers
The Terror Hunter Reporter still hears the wailing of mothers

A Terror Hunting Reporter would have to dig through the souls of each victim to uncover and discover the truth hidden there. Along that journey, the reporter would absorb all the pain and suffering, for to not be able to do that would not result in a fair and just story.

And, coming out the other side, the Terror Hunting Reporter is a bit heavier. The souls and the sadness of those souls have clung to him or her, regardless of how many baths or showers one takes.

I know. I can still hear the wailing of the mothers as they carried their dead children over their heads toward a funeral pyre. There is no removal of them from my mind.

At the University of Washington, there is an attempt to help journalists understand how to face the Beast of Terror when one is called upon or chooses to report on tragedies or war. The Dart Center for journalism and trauma seeks to better understand how to help reporters live with the horrors they witness and record.

That's a step in the right direction.

In the truest sense, no one should have more knowledge about Terrorism than a reporter, for the reporter's job is to crawl inside the belly of the Beast and to understand it from the inside out, and, to have the same knowledge about the Sentinel of Vigilance.

The war reporter crawls inside the beast
The war reporter crawls inside the beast

But, there is one other part the reporter has to know. That is the victim. To understand Terrorism is to be the victim, to wear the victim's shoes, to shed his or her tears, to feel the empty knot in your gut, to absorb the suffering, the pain.

When this is done, the great stories appear. These great stories are wrung from the sponge souls of the witnesses and recorders of such horror, for they know what few others can never know. They know the face of the Beast of Terror. They have been inside him.


The Dart Center for journalism seeks to understand how journalists can best deal with the impact of Terrorism

The Dart Center for journalism and trauma is a global resource that seeks to understand this process, and how journalists can best deal with the impact of Terrorism upon their lives.

In my own humble way I understand it.

I understand that I have to learn to live with it for it will not go away.

Or, perhaps it will. Maybe the day the Sentinels of Vigilance march down Fifth Avenue, the Beast will evaporate?

Yesterday's Story: Tora! Tora! Tora! vs. Pora! Pora! Pora!


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