Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How not to respond to a story

I was devastated on Sunday to hear that a friend of mine had been killed in Afghan. Sunday Mirror defence correspondent Rupert Hamer was a wonderful man who really cared about those he was writing about. It came across in his work with soldiers, senior military figures, families and charities. Tributes poured in after the news was announced because he was a man who was a joy to work with and a pleasure to know.

He knew the risks of being out on the front line but also knew that if he was going to do his job properly that meant leaving the perimeter fence of Camp Bastion.

Some people, however, can't just leave it at that. They have to use his death to promote themselves. Mr Eugenides points me towards this article today from a young lass who thinks that she was the first journalist to die in Afghan. She didn't actually die, of course, because she's still alive. Still, if it helps her get copy, eh? I won't go through the entire article because frankly reading it once was enough. I was lost for words, except a few choice sweary ones. Rupert died on Saturday: have some fucking respect.

ON 6 JULY, 2008, for four minutes my heart stopped. In those few moments, I was briefly the first British journalist to die in the war in Afghanistan. I had already been declared a fatality by soldiers on the ground after collapsing with acute heatstroke in the frontline town of Musa Qala while on foot patrol with British soldiers and US Marines in temperatures of 54C.

Yes, it's bloody hot out there and dangerous. Lots of people decide to prepare for their embed by doing a lot of phys and making sure their body is in tip top condition. The last thing a foot patrol needs is someone who will be a liability because it takes four people to carry a body on a stretcher and the Chinook which comes in to collect casualties is a target when it does so.
That Hamer has assumed the title that so nearly befell me is a tragedy. I did not know him personally, but I understand he was one of the best – skilled and dedicated to what he did. Both he and Coburn were seasoned professionals, veterans of both of the dusty wars our armed forces have fought in the past decade.

Assumed the title? The bloody title? He hasn't been awarded a peerage, he died in ghastly circumstances and leaves behind a wife, young children, friends and colleagues who will miss him dreadfully. Can you imagine having to explain to your children why daddy isn't coming home? He was a professional and I cannot imagine him ever using the death of someone else to get coverage no matter how much it's wrapped up in statements proclaiming the bravery of our troops and MERT. We know that because we read all too often of the deaths, the casualties and those people who save their lives. The Royal Army Medical Corps have 27 Victoria Crosses awarded to their numbers with two out of the three VC and Bars being awarded to soldiers in the Corp.
I will always bear the scars of what happened to me in Afghanistan. There are the nightmares, the occasional flashback, and the knee injury which my doctor keeps nagging at me to get physiotherapy for.

But these are minor scratches. Just over 18 months on, what has left the deepest mark on me is the profound respect I have for the British military, for our soldiers and for those journalists who, like Hamer and Coburn, accompany them into battle.

I think, love, that they're nothing like the scars that other people carry. They're minor, yes, but still rather handy when you want to dash out a piece to illustrate just how brave you are, it seems. Other people who don't write about their 'tragedy' in the papers just days after a father to three young children was blown up.

I suggest that if you want to really do something for the troops then it's probably worthwhile you fundraising for a charity of their choice rather than put pen to paper because frankly, this article is repulsive. Bad choice, Scotsman; Bad choice.

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