A reader writes:
I take issue with the contention that George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” is “a model for modern war journalism.” I don’t feel that Orwell can accurately be categorized as a “journalist” in the Spanish Civil War. Orwell fought on behalf of one of the belligerent parties, and actively participated in the frontline battles of the POUM, the Trotskyite militia. He recounts trench warfare in the mountains, night raids, and his other combat experiences. It certainly provides a gripping, fascinating look at the inept manner in which the war was fought in his mountainous sector; his accounts of the attitudes of the population and his other observations are also invaluable, and I don’t mean to disparage their importance.
But I don’t think they provide a very good model for modern war journalism, assuming that we want our journalists to have some semblance of objectivity. I can remember the howls of derision with which many treated reports from journalists “embedded” with American military units in 2003, because those journalists frequently sacrificed objectivity and overtly favored the soldiers with whom they spent all their time.
Well, Orwell took that a step further, and became one of those soldiers. While I appreciate and value the information Orwell provided, I hardly think that his perceptions, opinions, and analyses can fairly be considered “objective,” given that he purposely set that objectivity aside and risked his life to help one side in the conflict prevail by attempting to murder the soldiers on the other side of the conflict. If that is a model for modern war journalism, then we might as well stop sending journalists to cover the wars at all, and simply let some of the more-erudite soldiers from each side send back their own anecdotes and experiences, complete with their own pre-existing ideological and personal biases of the type one acquires from trying to murder the enemy and from having that enemy try to murder you.