Since being offered the post of Grade B Reporter by the BBC in 1964, Martin Bell has spent more than half a century in the unquiet corners of the world, including four years in the surrogate war zone of the House of Commons. It has been a period of rapid change in the way that wars have been fought and perceived, and of equally rapid change in the way that news has been gathered and presented. From Vietnam to Bosnia and beyond, the former BBC correspondent has been in the thick of it.
He has served as a corporal in a colonial army. He has flown on a defoliation mission with the Americans in Vietnam. He has been embedded with the British in the Gulf. He has crossed the Suez Canal with the Israelis. He has been under fire in conflicts from Belfast to Nigeria to El Salvador. He has kept the company of soldiers, warlords, mercenaries and militias. He has attended one of Idi Amin’s weddings. He has been arrested and deported. He has been mortared by the Serbs and robbed by the French on the same day. He has given evidence at the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. He has had a chrysanthemum named after him and a calypso written against him. His travels as an ambassador for UNICEF have taken him to unreported conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. He has been a witness to most of the wars of a turbulent half-century.
His conclusions are first hand and personal. He draws on his memories as a soldier and journalist, his broadcast reports, his notebooks and diaries, and original documents that he extracted from the war zones. He also draws on his poetry when, otherwise, he would have been lost for words.
He writes of the pity of war and (usually) its futility; of the failures that occur when armed force is chosen by politicians who have had, themselves, no experience of it; of the complex and ever-changing relationship between the media and the military; of the dangerous disregard of the lessons of history; of minefields and airfields and fields of fire; of the attempts to establish a system of international justice; of ‘black swan’ events and unprecedented dangers at home and abroad, including Donald Trump; of wars of religion and climate change; of truth and falsehood in news reporting; of great traditions and disgraceful fabrications; of the hazards of the 24/7 news cycle; of a TV news that, being no longer an eyewitness, censors the real world violence and peers across frontiers with the help of unverifiable videos. And of a journalism in retreat – the Death of News.
This is a compelling account, of where we have come from and where we now stand, by one of the most respected journalists of our time. It will be published by Oneworld Publications in June 2017.
“Written with passion and clarity, this book is an essential read for all who value truth and integrity in journalism.” Terry Waite.
“Wry, funny and trenchant – saluting the end of an era.” Kate Adie.
“Maybe the single best book about war and war reporting – ever.” Jack Laurence, ex-CBS News Vietnam
“He was our rock...if Bell could get hurt in the Big City, then no one was safe.” John Sweeney.