Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Murray Brewster, defence correspondent for the Canadian Press news wire wrote a book about Canada's involvement in Afghanistan since 2002 called The Savage War. That's the first thing that worked for me about the book, the fact that he wrote it.

I didn't know how involved Canada was in the war in Afghanistan, and I suspect that many other Canadians didn't either. The Savage War opened up my eyes to something I feel was pretty under reported in Canada: that Canadian soldiers were in Afghanistan and they weren't just peacekeeping, they were pretty much involved in a full fledged war.

Canadian bases were targeted by the Taliban. Canadian soldiers had to fear for their lives. They were getting blown up and many of them lost their lives.

Although the book was amazing at telling me things I never knew before, there are some things I would have liked such as a map and a glossary. I'm not super familiar with middle east geography and I think the type of audience that is reading this book isn't either, so a map to all the things referred to in the book would have been very helpful.

Again, as someone who isn't really familiar with the army and ranks, it would have been nice to have a glossary of the all the titles and acronyms Brewster uses such as LAV and FOB. It also would have been nice to have an explanation of the military language often quoted and used in the book.

I didn't like the way Brewster portrayed many of the females in the book. When describing other journalists and media he would say that maybe a male cameraman snored too loud, but when describing female journalists he revealed details such as one didn't close the curtain when she changed and that one claimed she wasn't leaving until she hooked up with a soldier. To me, these are caricatures of women. An example of Brewster stereotyping women is on page 68:

"The fact that Goddard now sat before me in the middle of war zone seemed both remarkable and gently inspiring. It was evident by the conversation that she fussed over them; several times she referred to team as "my crew." 

I don't think he needed to describe her as "gently inspiring." I think if it was a man, he might have been described as just inspiring. Using the word "fussed" seems to devalue he concern for crew as it sounds like a worrying mother. 

Journalists can learn a lot from The Savage War, especially in chapter 20. I learned that reporting on a war can very frustrating, and not just because of what is happening in the war. I thought it was very interesting how much the communications people from the army tried to control the media. The part about a young communications office telling the media that they better write positive stories or else they would lose access to the soldiers was astounding and frustrating. I couldn't imagine being half way across the world, knowing that certain stories need to be told and being threatened not to tell them at the same time. I do think Brewster was very honest about the situation for media in Afghanistan. I learned a lot about war correspondent reporting and I liked those details.

The Savage War made me realize all that I didn't know about the war in Afghanistan and everything that the Canadian army went though. I'm ashamed at my ignorance or something so huge going on with our country. I also felt Brewster's frustration when communications people bullied him such as when they wanted the media to report on reconstruction in the country when he saw there was no plan to.

Recently I've also watched Desert Lions, which is a documentary that was made in Afghanistan during the war. I was skeptical of it since it was paid for the army and made by Mike Vernon, a reservist to the Canadian army. But, I thought the documentary didn't shy away from showing the struggles the Canadians dealt with such as dealing with Afghan culture and even the death of soldiers.

The main difference between the two is obviously visuals. Although I do love the pictures in The Savage War, it's nothing like the shaky video in Desert Lions that really showed what it's like for troops in Afghanistan. The other difference I found was that while Desert Lions based its plots around more personal stories of the stories and their interaction with the Afghan army, the path of the storyline was centered around more politics in The Savage War.

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