I wanted to give you a review of Kevin Sites’ book In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars and its accompanying DVD called World of Conflict. I watched, read & followed his blog (where the material from the book was originally posted, in Yahoo’s no longer available Hot Zone website) a few years ago and thought it was a moving, informative look at places around the world, and the problems people face with war happening around them. I knew nothing about war at the time, and little about other cultures, but the war in Iraq and Afghanistan had piqued my interest, and I wanted to know why such things were happening and where else it was going on.
Kevin didn’t just report it, he spent a year in 2005 following it and living it with just his fixer and blogging tools. He’d take his pictures and his videos and upload them, with his stories, back to the world at home to illustrate what was happening and who he was meeting in the places he was visiting. Through his posts, he showed how war affects people and their families, and truly put a human face on the suffering it causes.
I know that I’ve watched it before, but it was hard to watch the DVD a second time. Not because it’s not well put together. The editing and presentation are great. It was the subject matter. It’s sometimes really heavy, particularly some of the beginning chapters about the Congo and Uganda. I already knew what I was getting into, but I think my brain somehow managed to block out some of the more brutal bits, and left me with just the moral of the story and the insistent urge to pass it on. Watching this brought the stories back, (occasionally with a creeping dread, as I knew where they were going before they were finished) and although some do have happy endings, some are harsh reminders of how amazingly, incredibly, unbelievably lucky we all are not to be living in war-torn areas.
It’s so easy to take that for granted, when you live in a peaceful area, which is why I try to expose myself to books like this, and why I would go so far as to recommend them. I never want to take all I have for granted, and I don’t want to sit around thinking everyone else’s life is just like mine. Thinking that the world is living like I do means it’s a pretty comfortable place, and if it’s comfortable, then I don’t have to try to change it. One of the easiest ways to help is to actually buy the book, as a portion of the authors royalties do go to charities (campaign for innocent victims in conflict, the international rescue committee and save the children) or to just go ahead and donate to a charity of your own.
I read a book, Half the Sky, which I plan on writing a future blog review about, that had a part in it that I can’t help but parrot, and although I can no longer find the exact quote I’ll give you my rendition of the main point:
If someone has the courage to tell you their story, shouldn’t we find the courage to listen to them?
You could go looking for this DVD online and find it, it’s a bit too graphic for me to want to post here, and although it is great at getting its point across in a short time, the book (of course) is better. It has more depth and breadth, facts and figures, and more stories. Reading it, as I said before, can be a bit heavy, but I do think it is worth your time and efforts. It opened my eyes to how war affects people, and it manages to obliterate the romanticism that may exist around it. As Kevin says in his movie, war is more about the people it destroys than the combatants.
Another reason why I recommend Kevin’s book, is that to me, he truly is a warrior for truth. Early in his journalism career he was on an embed with troops in Afghanistan, and as he was filming one of the soldiers shot an unarmed and injured insurgent in a mosque. He did have a personal crisis on how to proceed since he didn’t want to damage the reputation of the American military or have the insurgents get angry and retaliate, causing more harm. But, proceed he did. For this, he got death threats. Hundreds of them. You can read some of them in the beginning of the book. I’m not up for trying to make the military look bad, but I also don’t see the point in blaming the camera man for someone else’s actions. And if he’s willing to get death threats for the truth, then I think he may be worth listening to.
Should you not wish to pursue this book, I totally understand. I think baby steps are perfectly fine for would be freedom fighters – you gotta start somewhere, and if this isn’t it, that’s ok. For those that do want to know, and are willing to have the courage to see what’s between its pages, good luck. I’ll see you on the other side, should your perceptions change like mine did, when you’re done.
And to hear about the project in Kevin’s own words, here’s a clip: