Marie Colvin: The Life of a War Correspondent

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Marie Colvin: The Life of a War Correspondent

Marie Colvin

Often referred to as a war heroine, Marie Colvin is one of those journalists who have made a mark on countless people around the world. Her striking image, a blonde woman with a black eye patch over her eye, is recognizable to anyone familiar with the industry.

But who exactly is Marie Colvin and what impact did she make on the world?

Colvin’s childhood

Marie Catherine Colvin was born on January 12, 1956, to a Marine Corps WWII veteran and an English teacher. She had four siblings, two brothers named William and Michael, and two sisters named Aileen and Catherine.

Growing up, Colvin had always had a strong and independent personality. She was confident and brazen, but she retained a sense of humor that endeared her to many people near her. When she was in her junior year of high school, she went overseas to Brazil for an exchange program. She later attended college in Yale University, choosing to major in anthropology, the study of humans and human behavior. From a young age, she was already fascinated with humans and why they are the way they are.

However, her love for writing was undeniable, which led to her taking a course with John Hersey, an American writer and journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for his war-based novel, A Bell for Adano.

Breaking into journalism

Shortly after graduating, Colvin told her mother that she decided she would become a journalist. At the time, she was already writing for Yale Daily News, her university’s official student publication.

Her first foray into the world of journalism brought her to United Press International, an international news agency based in the United States. By 1984, Colvin was already the bureau manager for Paris. A year after, she started writing for The Sunday Times, a British newspaper agency with the largest circulation in the whole world. In 1986, she became the Middle East correspondent for the agency, often tasked to report on wars and other conflicts.

Colvin had to do many difficult assignments throughout her career. Although she dreamed of a stable life with her friends and loved ones, her passion for journalism was even stronger. She had no problems going to war zones and reporting on unspeakable crimes, even if it meant risking her life. It may seem idealistic, but Colvin genuinely hoped that her work could help make the world a better place. She reported on war crimes in Lebanon, where she had her first big assignment. She was the first one to interview Muammar Gadaffi, Libya’s then-leader for the Revolution. She covered conflicts in troubled areas like Chechnya, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe. Colvin risked her life doing what she loved and she had no hesitations doing so.

She had released several documentaries during her time, such as Arafat: Behind the Myth for BBC. The documentary film Bearing Witness also featured her in 2005.

Unsurprisingly, Colvin received many awards recognizing her journalistic work. She was named Foreign Reporter of the Year by British Press Awards for three years, as well as Journalist of the Year by Foreign Press Association. She was given the Courage in Journalism award by the International Women’s Media Foundation for her work in Kosovo and Chechnya. Lastly, she also received the Anna Politkovskaya Award from Reach All Women in War in 2012.

Life as a war correspondent

Western correspondents were often hesitant to take the most dangerous assignments, but Colvin took them all. She was often put into dangerous situations, at times willingly, and not just for the sake of journalism.

In 1986, Colvin was reporting from the Libyan capital when it was bombed by the US. It was the largest aerial bombing to have ever occurred after the Vietnam War.

In 1994, Colvin joined Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on his return to Gaza. Over the years, and through several interviews, the two developed a special relationship. Arafat’s own wife, Suha, could attest to that. “Arafat trusted Marie like no other journalist,” Suha had once said. “If he wanted to say something, he would tell her exclusively. We felt she was one of us and not an intruder.”

Colvin accompanied rebels in Chechnya in 1999 as they crossed a 12,000 ft icy mountain during their escape from Russian troops. During this time, they had to escape Russian jet fighters, hide from Russian paratroopers, and fight off Caucasian bandits. The journey took eight days in total.

While covering war crimes against Tamils in Indonesia in 1999, Colvin showed exceptional bravery by refusing to leave around 1,500 women and children who were hiding at a compound from forces employed by the Indonesian government. Sources say that they would’ve been killed had she not stayed with them, and Colvin personally believed this as well. She knew she made a difference, and it empowered her to try harder in her next assignments.

Colvin would also report on East Timor’s breakout from Indonesia in 1999 and on war events in Iraq in 2004. She was most alive when she was on the field, reporting about things that would make anyone’s knees buckle.

Despite her bravery and courage, Colvin didn’t always escape these places unscathed, sometimes in a literal sense. In 2001, she sustained an eye injury in a grenade attack during the Sri Lankan civil war, leaving her blind in her left eye. Her black eye patch soon became a big part of her identity, and according to one of her friends, it even changed her outlook entirely. She started wearing different clothes after the accident, claiming that her previous wardrobe no longer matched how she viewed herself and that she would rather focus on her outside appearance because “there were some things that were too dark within to look at.”

Colvin was plagued by nightmares from the war. A common symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), this is not at all uncommon for soldiers and correspondents such as herself. She told friends that she would often wake up from a recurring dream. In her dream, she was back in the warzone, about to get shot. Right at the moment that the bullet would hit her, she’d wake up.

But like many other journalists dealing with unimaginable horrors, Colvin got into a habit of drinking. When not working, she was often downing excessive amounts of alcohol in order to forget about her problems.

An untimely death

Colvin died in Syria on February 22, 2012, at the age of 56. The Syrian government had bombed the media center that Colvin and her companions were staying in using an improvised explosive device that was filled with nails.

One of her companions, French photojournalist Remi Ochlik, died alongside Colvin. At first, the Syrian government tried to hide their participation, saying that it was terrorists who planted the device. However, another photojournalist, Paul Conroy, rejected the Syrian government’s initial explanation. It was soon revealed that the attack was planned and executed by the Syrian Army themselves. Worse, it turned out that the journalists were specifically targeted using their phone signals.

In January 2019, an American court ruled Colvin’s death as a targeted assassination. The Syrian government was ordered to pay over $300 million in punitive damages to Colvin’s family.

Colvin’s funeral in 2012 was attended by around 300 mourners. Her body was cremated and half of her ashes were scattered off Long Island, while half of it was scattered off River Thames, where she had last lived.

Marie Colvin’s legacy

Marie Colvin may be gone, but she left a mark on the world that will never be erased.

After her death, two films were made in her memory. The first one is a documentary called Under the Wire while the second is a biographical drama called A Private War. Both were released in 2018, six years after Colvin’s death.

There have been many war correspondents in the last century, bearing witness to all the horrors of war. But in this digital age where it’s easier to report from safety than from the field, few really deserve the title. And one of them is the brave and admirable woman by the name of Marie Colvin.

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