Rare Medium

The Sorry and the Pithy

A new compendium by a journalist who's spent the last two decades visiting earth's various hells.

Book Cover Though mayhem, war, mass murder, civil unrest, homicidal acts of God (known as natural disasters), famine, plague, and genocide seem to be growth industries, the population of brave men and women (naysayers may say "thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies") who report the news (before service journalism infected a once-honorable calling) seems to be dwindling. One could speculate on the reasons for the diminishment of this endangered species, but cutbacks in news organization budgets or disaster fatigue in the audience would not be among them.

I have had the pleasure to be acquainted with a few such stalwarts--Jon Lee Anderson, Sebastian Junger, Anne Garrels, Alma Guillermoprieto, Francisco Goldman, James Nachtwey, Ruben Martinez, and Saira Shah--and a sense of decency and concern is no small part of the makeup of such people. I might add that a conscience seems to be a component of their makeup. Mark Danner is certainly an exemplar of this small but mighty band and as his new opus, Stripping Bare the Body: Politics, Violence, War (Nation Books), shows, he has been to and seen some of the worst of recent history.

In what I took to be a singular act by Tina Brown, she made Danner's expose of the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador the cover story of the Dec. 6, 1993, issue of the New Yorker. Later it was issued as a book, The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War, of which historian Frances FitzGerald opined: "Mark Danner's account of what happened in El Salvador is a gripping account on three levels--that of the massacre, that of the official cover-up and that of the press. It is also a brilliant piece of writing."

Since then more of the same has flowed from Danner's mighty pen (if I may be allowed an anachronism)--from Haiti to Abu Ghraib to U.S. policy on torture.

As Louis Begley (no stranger to the human dark side) offers in the book's foreword:
The publication of Stripping Bare the Body is a timely act of public service and a literary event, bringing together Mark Danner's luminously intelligent and engaging narratives and stories from the world's war zones...they are both a moral history of America's engagement with the world over the last generation and an account of a twenty-three years' journey through hell on earth by an ideal observer: Danner is endowed with a passion for truth, great physical courage, a muscular writing style, and a heart as big as a barn.
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