Micheal Ware has been called the most courageous Aussie journalist of his generation. He spent more time in Afghanistan and Iraq than almost any other journalist; he also has the other dubious honour of being the only Western journalist to have been captured by Al Qaeda, but then released.
He’s got a broad Aussie accent and a knack for storytelling that was clearly schooled in a pub somewhere in Queensland. I’ve never met him, but I’ve seen and heard a swag of interviews and while I was struck by an ironic mix of blokishness and sensitivity; there was also a clear impatience for bullshit alongside a nuanced intelligence.
He worked for Time magazine and then for CNN, but all the time he carried a hand held video camera, capturing the horrors of multiple wars. Since he finished reporting in 2009 he’s been putting together a film of his experiences, the result is Only the Dead.
The suggestion that ‘only the dead have seen the end of war’, is a painfully pessimistic view of human nature and Ware concedes that his journalistic quest was driven by a fascination in the human capacity for extremes of good and bad.
We can see these feats of barbarism and/or heroism on our TV screens any day of the week in multimedia technicolor, stories trimmed and sharpened to effect us in very specific ways, and most perversely, it’s this repetition that makes it all seem somehow acceptable.
Ware spoke in depth with Richard Fidler, on his podcast, and after listening to this historical account of the Afghan/Iraq wars I was struck by how different his perspective was, moreover, how much it changed my perspective.
The individual drip feeding of these battle reports allows them to each individually fit into some generic and predictable narrative, but it’s not until it’s all laid out and examined as one farcical series of events, of aggressive miscalculations and misinformed assumptions, that we see the painful truth of these wars. That instead of driving extremists from these foreign lands, we destroyed the land’s cultural foundations and we sewed the seeds of even greater evil; fertilized with a healthy dose of revenge.
I’m alluding of course, to the fact that it was in a bid to oust Saddam Hussein that the US invaded Iraq. It was argued that Saddam and Al Qaeda were working together, a fact that Ware refutes vehemently; it has become clear that their religious beliefs were at polar opposites. Similarly, the case for WMD’s has been widely shown to be false. Ousting Saddam made way for a far more dangerous gang to take control.
Ware is a unique individual. He offered an unmatched devotion to his mission, he admits there were times when he readily viewed himself as being Afghani. He learned the language and the history; he earned the trust of those in power and it seems it was for this reason that a young Abu Musab al-Zarqawi called on him to be his messenger.
Ware was the Western journalist who would be trusted to share the first gruesome video of a ritual murder by a group that we would soon come to know as ISIS. They got the world’s attention by making their own videos at a time when viral marketing was changing the way we consume media.
The temperament of the true Aussie bloke is rare in this world and I can imagine how much of an odd sight it would have been to those Arabian chiefs, Ware is at once burly and confident like the US Marines, but with a disarming smile and a self deprecating sense of humor.
Saddam’s regime relied far less on the martyrdom that became the hallmark of ISIS, a new breed of religious warriors that would use the one weapon that was most feared on the battlefield; not fearing death.
But of course Ware was not a soldier, he put himself in harms way with a camera in his hand and not a gun. I’ve always marveled at the bravery of the war correspondent and while there’s the cliché of these types being adrenalin junkies, desperados who couldn’t live any other way, I see more depth in Ware.
He speaks of his frustration at the blatant lies being told to justify war, while at the same time offering respect to both the soldiers and the locals in equal measure.
There’s morbid glamour in reporting live from Afghanistan in 2003, but it takes real commitment to stick it out and still be there in 2009.
But of course this war, or should it be wars, are not yet over. Despite what George Dubya told us back in May 2003.
Ware speaks of the stark change he saw in the fighting and the tactics with the arrival of Zakawi and ISIS, but for us outsiders the battles blur together. It’s only with a wholistic view of this decade of fighting that we see the mistakes that were made in throwing fuel on the fire. Let’s just hope we don’t make the same mistakes again.