Book review: War in everywhere. Is it inevitable?
“In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars,” by Kevin Sites. Harper Perennial. 549 pp. Includes DVD. $15.95 paperback.
By Deirdre Parker Smith
It turns out the toughest part of the Summer Reading Challenge was not the story of the Lost Boys in Sudan, not Teddy Roosevelt’s journey in the Amazon rain forests, but Kevin Sites’ “In the Hot Zone: One Man. One Year. Twenty Wars.”
The title says it all. And if the written account of his year in all the hells on earth is not enough, watch the DVD. You’ll see terrified children, grieving women, dead bodies and plenty of blood.
Sites is a freelance multimedia producer, videographer, writer, photographer and blogger. He has lots of outlets for his work, ranging from network TV news to his own blog, www.kevinsitesreports.com.
This is a book about all the wars you didn’t watch on TV, as well as the ones you did. The most electrifying story takes place in Iraq, where a Marine shoots an injured Iraqi insurgent in a mosque.
Sites spends a lot of time in the book, and on the DVD, in a professional and moral dilemma. He has never seen anyone shot, point-blank. His camera was rolling ó he has the entire sequence. He must answer to himself, to the Marines with whom he is embedded, to his then-bosses at NBC and to the pool of networks, at home and abroad, that NBC is supposed to feed.
There is no good answer. NBC decides to air the tape minus the footage of the shooting. Other outlets air the entire thing.
Sites is bombarded with hate-e-mail, death threats and more, to the point NBC suggests he find a place to hide.
There’s no resolution to the incident even now. The government’s report is not complete, the mosque has been bombed off the planet, and Sites still gets hate-mail.
But there’s no resolution to any of the wars he writes of.
His year begins with an assignment from Yahoo! as their first multimedia reporter. His idea: Show conflict around the world. His goal: Wake people up, especially Americans, to the global horrors of war.
True, most newspapers, news magazines and television networks have cut back on foreign coverage ó way back. No one seems to care very much about it.
But Sites reaches a little too far. No one could stand a year’s worth of man’s inhumanity to man on this scale.
As part of the Summer Reading Challenge, whose theme is “Stories of Courage,” it’s not Sites who’s courageous. It’s the survivors and the peacemakers.
Sites has an obvious need for intense stimulation. He’s an adrenaline junky. Nothing as tame as, say, stock car racing or skydiving would satisfy him. Covering war, while exhausting physically and emotionally, is something he is absolutely driven to do.
If you read “What is the What,” a fictionalized account of one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan, you are familiar with the abduction, rape, torture, slavery, atrocities and horrors of a war without end.
Sites sees the same thing all over the world. He writes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Uganda, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Gaza, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Colombia, Haiti, Nepal, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam.
Misery is global. The horrors are the same place to place. Only the weather changes, and that not much.
Sites is passionate about what he is trying to do ó sometimes with a little too much emphasis on the I ó and if you can stand to read about all those conflicts, you will likely feel that passion yourself.
But, in the end, it’s just too much. No matter how much the reader cares about the awful things that go on somewhere else, the problem is overwhelming. One person might make a difference on the scene, with individual suffering, but the habit of war is too ingrained for much else.
Sites writes what will be often quoted from his book: “At the end of this journey, I wish I could say I am more optimistic, more hopeful. But I am not. I have seen the good in people and their resilience, but our violent nature is a formidable opponent.
“It feeds on the myths and lies we tell ourselves about war, that is about the armies and the combatants, when truly, it is about the destruction of civil life; not just innocent people but our ideals and our humanity. The only hope may come from preserving and sharing the truth.”
So, “In the Hot Zone” is eminently worthy of discussion. Perhaps it should be required reading for all those who decide when and where we will make war.