So you really do see a huge amount by being on the ground, and you don’t always realize how much you’re seeing at the time until you then go and sit with another unit and you go, “Wait a minute — they’re doing … .” So that’s why I keep going back, because the more you know, the more you know. When I think about how little I knew to start with, it seems a shame to give up now when I actually know something and know better questions to ask and have seen three and a half years of this. On the other hand, you have to ask yourself, “Are you getting a little nutty?”
It takes hundreds and hundreds of stories to get a point across, to get a reality across, to a country the size of the United States. And if reporters start dwindling in numbers here, it’s going to be harder and harder to get across whatever is happening here, whether it’s good or bad.
My big worry is that the audience sometimes doesn’t know what they are missing because we as journalists didn’t all know what we were missing, because we were unable to function as we would anywhere else in the world. You are unable to just go and chat with people in coffee shops. You’re unable to just drive up to a town an hour north of Baghdad, a mixed Shiite and Sunni town, and chat with people about sectarian division. You are unable to do all the things that you felt you should have been doing. And my worry always was that we didn’t know how much we were missing.
The Boston Globe
The most personal thing I have to say about this probably is that when I first came into Iraq, it was really a feeling that a Band Aid had been ripped off the skin of Iraq — that everything was raw, everything was new. It might be a little painful or disorienting, but people were starting to talk, and people were spilling out these stories. People had many hopes and many fears, and it was the most dynamic experience I’ve ever experienced as a reporter, or personally. There’s a lot of sadness when I look back on that, when I look back on what might have been. And not to give the wrong impression — readers should know that Iraqis still are, in fact, going to work every day and going to the market. But the overarching fear and uncertainty I’m sure they didn’t know would last has lasted three years and counting.
But Iraq had suddenly broken open and all these things — both therapeutic and really ugly — were bursting out of people, and literally these bodies were bursting out of the ground. And people were digging up, on their hands and knees, digging up the ribs and the femurs of their relatives that had been buried by Saddam. They were finding them in these graves. At the time you had this idea that it was going to be like the end of the Soviet Union, and people were going to start reexamining their own personal choices in having condoned or supported or tolerated that regime, and that that would be a healthy process for the country.
But instead, the ugliness of what came out from things that were buried, physically and metaphorically, was just too much. There was so much anger that had to come out. And when you combine that with the failures of the American occupation to provide a safe environment for those things to be worked out, you got the situation that we have today.
There is a sort of cumulative [effect] to being there. It just hasn’t reached the point yet that I just want to stop finding out what is going on. The more time you spend there, the more you learn about the place, and the more you learn about the place, the harder it is to let go of the story because you become more entrenched in it, you become more entwined in it. It’s kind of a matter of seeing where the movie ends up.