For foreign desks everywhere, this has been the year of mind-bending bulletins and middle-of-the-night calls, of broken vacations and nights on office couches. It’s also been a riveting, challenging time. Our correspondents have been inside the Bin Laden compound and inside Libya’s rebellion; they have watched joy overpower fear in Tahrir Square, seen the terror visited on patients in Bahraini hospitals; they have watched soldiers fight heroically along the forbidding border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and—just the other day—seen American troops leave Iraq for the last time; they have come face to face with horror in northeast Japan, and face to face with Messrs. Gadhafi, Mubarak, and Assad. Four Arab dictators with more than a century in office between them (Ben Ali, Mubarak, Saleh and Gadhafi) are gone, the Arab landscape seismically changed. Two men who shared top billing on the terror lists—Bin Laden and al-Awlaki—have breathed their last, famine has gripped huge swaths of Somalia, and Europe has flirted (still flirts) with financial disaster. And speaking of seismic, large-scale temblors have battered not only Japan but Christchurch, New Zealand and Van, Turkey as well.
Foolishly, I keep thinking tomorrow will be quiet; it has to stop. The other night I had just finished a game with my children when a call came from the ABC desk. It was a few minutes after ten, on a Sunday that had already seen those last Americans cross into the Kuwaiti desert. Cairo was burning again, and floods had taken nearly a thousand lives in the Philippines. Enough news, surely, for a single day.
But the day—and this wild year—had one more stunner left in store. One more banner headline. One more scramble to staff a huge global story.
“Kim Jong Il is dead,” the desk editor told me.
I suppose, in the last days of this wild year, no headlines or late-night calls should surprise us anymore. Not even the news that a twenty-something dictator-in-training is now in charge of a poor, dangerous, and unpredictable nuclear nation.
It’s enough to start me thinking again about that old parlor game, the New Years’ predictions. What might 2012 possibly bring, to match its predecessor? But then I think, Wait! Not so fast. 2011 probably isn’t finished with us yet.