English / Journalism / Media

A job to die for?

There are very few things worth dying for in this world (ideologies and religions included), and still fewer to justify killing another person. I’d like to think the vast majority of the human race would agree that life is a precious gift.

We can imagine sacrificing our own life to spare a loved one, a terrible test faced by an unfortunate few. Surely, there are jobs worth dying for. Soldiers, firefighters and police are killed in the line of duty; it’s a known occupational hazard. They risk themselves for all of us, and we should honor them at least as much as we need them. Motorbike racers and mountain climbers die often enough, and we admire their nerve while questioning their reasoning.

Journalists also give their lives for their work. Worldwide, some 1,074 journalists have been killed on the job from 1992 through 2014, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. More than half were reporting on wars or human rights issues.

The question I’ve been gnawing at, since the murders of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, is simple. Does the job justify the risk? Is this war, or any story, worth dying for?

Bearing witness to tragedy or atrocity is noble work. A renowned Irish philosopher, Edmund Burke, wrote, “They only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Even good people can’t help what they don’t know, however. In the end, I suppose, journalists must answer that question for themselves, and their individual conclusions will vary. It comes down to a calculation of risk and reward, a talent which doesn’t come naturally to most of us. I know that here at CELSA, there are journalists who have gone to Syria (for example) to report on the civil war there, and I admire them, but I wouldn’t do it myself. What about you? Feel free to share your thoughts by commenting.

Another obvious question, especially given the current clamor within the United States for military strikes, is whether the murders of these two reporters justifies retaliation. Clearly, it does not. Foley and Sotloff are but two of some 200,000 people killed in this civil war. The fact that they were American journalists does not make their deaths any more or less important than the rest. They knew the risks, and went willingly into the fray. So far as anyone can tell, both Foley and Sotloff were motivated largely by compassion. It seems unlikely they would want to be avenged with bloodshed and bombings. There may be good reasons to attack the Islamic State militia, but the very fact that they seem so eager to provoke us should give us pause.