In a former life I was a war movie fan. Black Hawk Down, Jarhead, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers – the more realistic and accurate, the better. I also thought I wanted to be a war reporter. I ate war news reports for breakfast. But that's a different story.
Fast forward to today. War movie on? I turn it off, particularly if it has anything to do with conflicts of the last 20 years. And if anyone dies. Or bleeds. Or risks death. Or looks afraid.
[Only exception to this rule is Act of Valor, by the way].
The same goes for the news. Maybe this is why I’ve taken to listening to so much NPR – because I can still get my news without being assaulted with the images of war. Sounds don’t have the same impact on me … but those pictures and video launch my imagination into a place I don’t want it to be:
“Is that what my husband is doing?”
“Will I end up like that military spouse, going through [insert hard/horrible thing]?”
“Will my husband get injured like that?”
“Are these the horrible things my husband has seen?”
As a news reporter I understand why networks run these sorts of stories – they honestly think they are doing people a service by showing them the images of war, reminding the American public what is going on over there. And maybe they are. People need to be reminded that we are fighting.
But they are not doing me a service.
When, as a reporter, you see something incredible and real, you get excited to share it. You get gleeful and proud, even, that you witnessed this thing that you now get to share with everyone. … Whether that thing is a local elected official pulling some sort of stunt at a city council meeting, or real live war.
So when I saw an ABC News war story transcript this morning, I knew where they were coming from … but I was pretty glad to not be accosted with the actual video on my TV. The link is not available, but here is the beginning just to give you an idea of where this was going:
DAVID MUIR: We're going to turn now to an ABC News exclusive here, some dramatic moments on the battlefield. American troops training Afghan soldiers, when suddenly, they are ambushed by the Taliban. It put those newly trained Afghan soldiers to the test when suddenly the American forces have to jump in to help, all of this as those American troops prepared to start coming home. Our Muhammad Lila was embedded with the troops as the gunfire broke out and here’s his exclusive reporting tonight.You can tell they were excited to be reporting this – to be giving America a window into Afghanistan. But I am not excited to be seeing (or, in this case, reading) it. I need to protect myself from this stuff before my imagination runs wild.
And so here are my two steps to avoiding war image overload.
1. Turn off the TV.
2. Walk away.
Can you handle war reports? If not, how to you avoid them? Is your method as easy as mine?