The Secret Life Of War
This book was in gestation for four years, and is the culmination of almost a decade and a half of travelling to war zones. It was finally written over a period of two years. With so many books concentrating on the politics and blame and ideology of recent conflicts, I felt passionately that there was a need for a reminder of how war is experienced personally in individuals’ lives. I wanted to describe the sights, sounds and emotions and relate them not to history, but to what it is to be human. That is what I have sought to do, seeking out stories of the killers and victims, the innocent, the not so innocent and the guilty, to explain how conflict functions, altering everything it touches. It has not always been an easy process. Both the writing and the researching of this book have been painful. I have lost friends and colleagues and seen so many others I have come across damaged. I have intruded into moments of grief and anguish and fear yet almost always been received with grace and forbearance. It has also been a deeply personal journey. I have realised how much I have changed myself by writing about conflict, sometimes in ways I do not feel comfortable with. For that reason this is my own story as well.
I also knew from the beginning that I wanted to write a book about the nature of those kinds of modern conflicts I had encountered during my career – ambiguous, intractable, long-lasting and very largely unresolved affairs which amounted to chronic afflictions of violence. When I began I was clear that what I wished to do was to give back a voice – or rather voices – to those affected by war, free from the organising justifications of those who order conflict. This book belongs as much to those extraordinary voices as it belongs to me.
I have been anxious to convey – as far as possible – a sense of the immediacy of the things I saw as I saw them and the ideas as they occurred to me. The result is that the vast majority of these pages were first drafted in situ in guesthouses and hotels, on camp beds and bunks, from Gaza and Iraq to Afghanistan, either in my journal, notebooks or on to my laptop. For the less recent sections I have relied on extensive notes and photographs that I took as well as dispatches written at the time. Armed with these, I hope I have faithfully reflected what I can recall.
Finally, and perhaps inevitably in a book of this nature, I have been forced to confront my own role as a witness – and therefore participant of a kind – in the conflicts I have visited. If I have learned anything, it is that there is no hiding behind the artificial conceit of the dispassionate observer. No excuse for editing out war’s true, fundamental nature. No excuse for accepting that war is inevitable.