Live from the Battlefield: From Vietnam to Baghdad, 35 Years in the World's War Zone
Bloomsbury, $39.95 pb
The celebrated journalist Peter Arnett’s new autobiography Live from the Battlefield partly solves one mystery for me. For the last eighteen months, whenever I discussed Arnett and his forthcoming memoirs with my husband (who was trying to research Arnett’s relationship with news network CNN after the Gulf War), I found myself constantly and inexplicably analysing Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and the characterisation of the ambitious, fragile Becky Sharp.
Now, reading Arnett, I learn that on the ninth day of the Gulf War, when he was visiting the bombed town of Al Dour in Iraq, he found in the wreckage of a home a torn paperback edition of Vanity Fair. It belonged to Raeda Abdul Aziz, a University of Baghdad student who was killed in the raid and who had written on a separate piece of paper, ‘Rebecca Sharp was not a kind, forgiving person. She said all the world treated her badly. But the world treats people as they deserve to be treated. The world is a mirror ...’ Arnett adds, problematically, ‘I took the battered novel back with me as a souvenir, but I did not plan to mention it in my broadcast. I knew I would take a great deal of heat by reporting a controversial bombing of Iraqi civilians in the existing climate of disapproval.’ Such moral withholding is minor here, of course: his objectivity in the Gulf War was usually luminous and impeccable.