"Be passionate and be involved in what you believe in, and do it as thoroughly and honestly and fearlessly as you can."
Marie Colvin was a badass, eyepatch-wearing American war journalist who survived more bullet-strewn battlefields in her 30-year career than even the most grizzled combat veterans history has ever produced. Catapulting from one war-torn hellhole of soul-sucking misery to another over a three-decade career evading bullets, air strikes and artillery shells, this fearless old-school newspaper correspondent survived killing fields from Tripoli to Chechnya, drank scotch with the world's most notorious dictators, sat around campfires with ferocious rebel leaders, filed dispatches from brutally-underequipped refugee camps, survived gunfights without so much as ever carrying a firearm, and had a life so friggin' over-the-top that a newspaper story about her life was once titled "Highway to the Danger Zone". Oh yeah, and as long as we're on 1980s action movie references, she did it all while looking like a female version of Snake Plisskin from Escape from New York.
Now, I don't really subscribe to the whole Pen Is Mightier than the Sword thing (the ratio of Claymore-swinging freak-out avengers to professional writers featured on the site should attest to that) but it's hard to argue with the fact that war journalism is easily the most badass writing profession that ever existed. These utterly-fearless combat-authors routinely get right up in the middle of the action, putting their lives on the line right alongside hardened soldiers despite being armed only with some specialized schooling and a laptop – two items that are about as useful in a gunfight as a broken set of iPod headphones – yet a good one doesn't back down from his job no matter how over-the-top insane things get. And Colvin was one of the best. A legend in her field, this hardcore woman was famous for being the first person in to whatever rapidly-expanding world hotspot happened to be ravaging the planet at the time, embedding herself with aid workers, military dictators, freedom fighters, terrorist leaders, grieving civilians, and whoever the hell else was going to give her an interview, and then getting the story out there so the rest of the world can get the point that, "hey, shit here is really fucked up." Anytime seriously horrible atrocities were going down in the world, you could be damned sure that Marie effin' Colvin was sneaking across some random minefield-encrusted, barbed-wire-laden battle line, infiltrating an ultra-dangerous cesspool where journalists are known to be beheaded and/or shot on sight, and somehow finding time to write eloquent dispatches while evading snipers, government soldiers, terrorist attacks, artillery shells, and the occasional off-target NATO airstrike. It's hard to argue that this doesn't take some serious balls.
|"In an age of 24/7 rolling news, blogs and Twitters, we are on constant call wherever we are. But war reporting is still essentially the same – someone has to go there and see what is happening. You can't get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you." |
Coming up through the ranks as the Middle East correspondent for the London Sunday Times, Colvin made her way into Tripoli right at the height of Gadhafi's bullshit in 1986, traveling by camel into a city that was on the receiving end of the largest U.S. airstrike operation since Vietnam and somehow finding a way to make contact with the dictator himself – no small feat, considering that the goddamned SEALs were probably also looking for the dude around the same time, only without as much success. Colvin, a Long Island native who was about as far from her Yale University alma mater as possible, survived a couple run-ins with Gadhafi's personal guards, got the interview, completely eviscerated him in print for his appalling human rights violations (she was notorious for not pulling any punches in her writing – as someone who doesn't have much use for bullshit objectivism, I appreciate this tremendously), but then somehow impressed him so much during their interview that the dude actually invited her BACK for another interview at a later date. They eventually became sort-of acquaintances, occasionally drinking scotch together over the course of the next 25 years, despite the fact that she constantly called him out for his human rights abuses and basically helped tell the rest of the world was an autocratic piece of shit he was.
Colvin embedded with Libyan anti-Gadhafi rebels in 2011.
For the next 25 years, Marie Colvin would spend the vast majority of her time actively taking cover from people shooting bullets at her, desperately trying to get a story and tell the world what the fuck was going on behind the closed borders of some of Earth's most dangerous warzone. In 1987 she smuggled herself into Saddam Hussein's Basra, reporting on the Iraqi dictator's mass killings of his own people at a time when Hussein himself barred any Western journalists from his country on threat of a ridiculously-painful death. Later that same year she was in Palestine, interviewing wounded refugees while Syrian artillery launched rockets into the camp and blew shit up around her. In the early 1990s she was embedding herself on the front lines in Iraq and Kuwait during Desert Storm, avoiding brutal firefights in Eritrea, surviving a civil war in Zimbabwe, traveling around with the Kosovo Liberation Army as they fought against the Serbs, getting married three times, winning a shitload of journalism awards, and maintaining her personal residence in Jerusalem, a place that was probably one of the most ridiculously-dangerous cities in the world in the 1990s. She also once racked up a $20,000 phone bill when she forgot to shut down her satellite phone, which isn't exactly badass but is worth mentioning nonetheless.
While that was more excitement and danger than most people see in their entire lives combined, for Marie Colvin it was just the first half of the decade. The later years of the 1990s, Colvin spent some time living with the newly-installed Taliban regime in Afghanistan – a group not particularly well-known for being appreciative of Westerners, women, or freedom of the press – and when that became too tame she spent a couple months following a dangerous rebel leader around Chechnya while the Chechen guerillas fought off a full-scale attack by the entire friggin' Russian army. Her assignment in Chechnya was cut a little short when a Russian fighter jet streaked through the skies and blew up the jeep she was riding in with an air-to-ground missile. Colvin crawled out of the wreckage of the burning vehicle moments before the fighter returned to strafe the busted-to-hell vehicle with a few million 20mm cannon rounds, then she hid motionless in the snow for nine hours until the coast was clear. With the road up ahead blocked by Spetsnaz paratroopers, Colvin and the surviving Chechens fled through a 12,000 foot-high mountain pass, moving deep into the Caucasus through chest-deep snow without food or proper clothing. She survived altitude sickness and starvation, crossed into Georgia, and then got herself extracted to London by UN helicopters, which is of course totally badass.
In 1999 Colvin went to East Timor, where she spent a lot of time working in a refugee camp that housed about 1,500 wounded and displaced civilians. When the camp was surrounded by the Indonesian Army (who claimed it was housing terrorists and needed to be shelled into a fucking crater) she received orders both from the United Nations and the Indonesian government to get the fuck outta there before the entire place became a gigantic charred ruin packed with dead bodies. She refused, defying the Indonesian government to blow up a Western journalist who worked for a prominent London newspaper.
They caved. All 1,500 refugees survived.
In 2001 Colvin went to another East Asian warzone, smuggling herself through the jungles of Sri Lanka to link up with a rebel group known as the Tamil Tigers. She followed their leader around for a few months, but eventually found herself on the wrong end of a brutal firefight and ended up standing a little too close to the splash-damage radius when an RPG round exploded in her face. Colvin crawled through the battlefield bleeding from her eye and mouth, got to safety, and then filed a 3,000-word report while she was being wheeled into surgery. She lost the use of her eye, then decided to wear an awesome-looking eyepatch, presumably just because that's totally fucking badass. When the Tigers were making their last stand a few months later, the last call their leader made was to Marie Colvin. He asked her to try to personally broker a surrender with the Indonesian government.
Colvin devoted a lot of ink to the plight of civilians in East Timor.
Being shot in the face with a rocket launcher kind of made Marie briefly rethink some of her life choices, but after a short stint working a miserable brain-melting copywriting desk job that she hated, she said, "fuck this," and went back in Afghanistan, entering Taliban-occupied territory just a few months after losing her eye to a rocket-propelled grenade. Colvin pops up again in Baghdad in 2003 during the Iraq War, when she was embedded with an Iraqi Army force searching for Saddam's WMDs – when she wasn't avoiding IEDs, airstrikes, and insurgent snipers, Colvin lived in a hunt club belonging to Iraqi Army officer Ahmad Chalabi, sleeping in a concrete room that used to be an interrogation chamber, her only possessions a chair, a table, a laptop, and a half-empty bottle of scotch.
The rest of the 2000's were spent interviewing rebels in Sierra Leone, working with Palestinian hospital staff during Israel's 2009 attacks in Gaza, and running for her life through a back alley in Cairo while being chased after by an angry anti-Western mob. She was there during the 2011 Arab Spring revolt in Egypt, sailed into Libya a few months later to cover the story on the Libyan rebels, and traveled to Syria in 2012 despite a standing order from the ultra-corrupt Syrian Army to kill any journalists who set foot on their soil with ultra-extreme prejudice to the max, filing reports to her UK readers from a bombed-out hotel as the government shelled the city.
A bullet and shrapnel-strewn house in Homs, a few blocks away from where Marie was filing her reports.
Colvin had been sent to the city of Homs on a two-day mission to report on how the Syrian government were being assholes and blowing up their own people, but when she saw how goddamned insane everything was out there (and realized she was the only British newspaper journalist in the entire country), she decided it was her duty to get the world out to the rest of the world about what was going on there. The 55 year-old war journalist defiantly refused to evacuate, resolving to stay through the conflict even as artillery and rockets rained down on the city.
Unfortunately, Marie Colvin had already cheated death too many times in her life, and the danger of her job finally caught up with her in Syria. She and her photojournalist, Remi Ochlik, were killed on February 22nd, 2012, when government forces pasted their hotel with a ten-round salvo of artillery and tank shells. A tragic end, perhaps, though for a woman who lived her entire life in a constant stream of war zones, one that she was prepared for. Anything less dangerous would have been too boring for her.
|"Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice. We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado? Journalists covering combat shoulder great responsibilities and face difficult choices. Sometimes they pay the ultimate price." |
Tigers Begged Me to Broker Surrender
Final Dispatch from Homs
New Yorker Tribute
Colvin: Fearless, Committed Essential
Daily Mail Obituary
Highway to the Danger Zone
The Complete List
About the Author