Journalism sounds like an attractive career to most: a few interviews with important people, perhaps over a pleasant lunch; write it up in the afternoon; and have it read by hundreds of thousands the next day. But not all journalism is like that, and not all journalists are looking for the cushy numbers.
David Axe is one such journalist. Ditching a perfectly comfortable job reporting on local government for a small-town newspaper, and deserting a beautiful girlfriend to boot, he follows the dream of a lifetime to head over to Iraq and report on the war. He uses the Iraqi elections as a way to persuade his editor of his mission’s legitimacy but still ends up funding the excursion himself, buying the plane tickets and body armour he’ll need for a trip to Hell.
In Iraq he thrives on the danger, cursing the inevitable hanging around and not feeling truly alive until his life is threatened. He witnesses and essentially takes part in a firefight in which civilians are killed, and an ambush on a convoy he’s embedded on. He meets other journalists, such as a BBC reporter who has spent the better part of the last 20 years in war zones, who surprise him with their condition: they seem addicted to war. Will Axe end up the same way?
This is a fascinating examination of the war reporter’s self-inflicted lot. Axe is a real reporter and this book is his autobiographical and no doubt cathartic account of his first experiences of war. Don’t look to it to document or comment upon the war in Iraq in any meaningful way. Instead it’s an examination of Axe’s state of mind, as he thrashes out his reasoning for doing what he’s done, perhaps attempting to justify the knowingly suicidal actions of the war reporter by comparing it to the craving of a junky.
While this lack of specific Iraq information makes the first half of the book feel light, the reader is soon involved in David’s character, experiencing situations through his eyes. It isn’t a long read but it’s impossible to pass through the book without feeling you know Axe a little, and probably like him quite a bit, even if you think he must be off his rocker for putting himself through it. This makes his fatalistic desire to follow violence to the bitter end all the more difficult to read – for the real friends and family he leaves behind, it must be torture.
The one thing that lets it down is the art. The biggest issue is the layout, which occasionally bursts across two pages, with barely defined panels bleeding into one another. Although this adds a certain dynamism, it can also make the story difficult to follow, as the reader is unsure whether to read across a spread, read one panel at a time, or quite where and how the action flows across the page.
Honest, morally ambiguous and far from egotistical, anyone interested in following war and current affairs – in the newspapers or on TV – will be interested by this ‘behind the scenes’ look into a war reporter’s mind, as long as they’re prepared to give the layout the benefit of the doubt.