The 10th anniversary this month of the invasion of Iraq will remind most people of a divisive and dubious war that toppled Saddam Hussein but claimed the lives of nearly 4,500 Americans and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians.
What it conjures up for me is the media’s greatest failure in modern times.
Major news organizations aided and abetted the Bush administration’s march to war on what turned out to be faulty premises. All too often, skepticism was checked at the door, and the shaky claims of top officials and unnamed sources were trumpeted as fact.
For Syria’s war is characterised most strongly by absence and collective abandonment. Other than the protagonists and victims the arena is almost empty. There is no foreign military intervention. There are no NGOs or aid workers distributing food and blankets. The media is similarly self-exiled: very few broadcasters or newspapers commit journalists regularly, if at all. A handful of freelance photographers work inside the country, but none of the big names. The middle-aged bravehearts of Bosnia and Afghanistan have grown old and too soft for the hardships of Syria, while the economics of journalism have not allowed their replacement generation to prosper. That McCullin, still a prizefighter despite his years, had hauled himself out to that lonely war zone was inspiring in itself, legitimising the work of the few freelancers already there and challenging the absentees.
Anthony Loyd, The Australian. Parting shots.
That’s right: a 77 year old photographer named Don McCullin recently went to Aleppo to take his last set of photos, 15 years after his last war assignment. See the above article for an account of his trip as told by the much younger journalist in charge of his safety.
There’s no telling which photos from Syria’s revolutionary war will become famous and come to represent the conflict, if any do at all. For a great collection of pictures by other photojournalists in the country, see these. For more of McCullin, who is something of a legend in his line of work, see this bio and a portion of his photography from Vietnam and Lebanon.