BOOK REVIEW: ‘Under the Wire: Marie Colvin’s Final Assignment’: Brutally Explicit Account of Dangers Facing War Correspondents

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'Under the Wire: Marie Colvin's Final Assignment': Brutally Explicit Account of Dangers Facing War Correspondents
War correspondents are the firefighters of journalism: They rush into danger while others are rushing out. Correspondents — including photographers and TV reporters — face danger daily, as Paul Conroy graphically describes in “Under the Wire: Marie Colvin’s Final Assignment” (Weinstein Books, photo insert, 344 pages, index, $26.00).

Marie Colvin, a New Yorker working for The Sunday Times (of London, part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire) was a veteran of conflicts from Chechnya to Sri Lanka (where she lost the sight of an eye) to Libya and finally covering the rebel side in the ongoing Syrian civil war.

The publisher’s blurb calls “Under the Wire” Zero Dark Thirty meets 127 Hours and I couldn’t agree more. It’s a perfect example of truth being stranger than fiction, a compelling war journal from photographer Paul Conroy, who accompanied Marie Colvin (called by her peers “the greatest war correspondent of her generation”) during her ill-fated final assignment in Syria.

Marie Colvin was an internationally recognized American foreign war correspondent who was killed in a rocket attack in 2012 while reporting on the suffering of civilians inside Syria. She was renowned for her iconic flair and her fearlessness: wearing the pearls that were a gift from Yasser Arafat and her black eye-patch, she reported from places so dangerous no other hard-core correspondent would dare to go. She was as tough as nails as the most hard-bitten male covering wars, a woman Hemingway would love as much as he did one of his wives, Martha Gellhorn. In fact, Conroy, a veteran of Britain’s Royal Artillery, called her the 21st Century’s answer to Gellhorn.

Conroy had forged a close bond with Colvin as they put their lives on the line time and time again to report from the world’s conflict zones and was with her when she died from a Syrian government rocket attack, along with correspondent Remi Ochlik, in February 2012, in Homs, Syria.

When Marie Colvin and Paul Conroy were smuggled into Syria by rebel forces, they found themselves trapped in one of the most hellish neighborhoods on earth. Fierce barrages of heavy artillery fire rained down on the buildings surrounding them, killing and maiming hundreds of civilians.

The dedication says 72,305 Syrians — women, children and men —  have been killed in the war that continues unabated, with the rest of the world standing by doing nothing about Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, assisted militarily by Russia and Iran. Saudi Arabia, among other Arab countries,  has protested about the genocide being committed by al-Assad — but has done nothing with its well trained army to stop the slaughter.

The rocket that killed Colvin and Ochlik tore a hole in Conroy’s thigh big enough to put his hand through. Bleeding profusely, short of food and water, and in excruciating pain, he then endured five days of intense bombardment before being evacuated in a daring escape in which he rode a Yamaha 250 cc motorcycle  through a tunnel, crawled through enemy terrain, and finally scaled a 12-foot-high wall.

Conroy manages to find humor in his experiences with Colvin and others. Colvin snored like the motorcycles employed in the insertion into Syria — and the evacuation of Conroy. She had given up smoking on her dentist’s warning, saying she would never die from smoking — a prediction that came horrifically true.

Conroy’s account toggles between his and Colvin’s experiences covering the civil war in Libya in 2011 and their terrifying experiences after being smuggled into Syria from Lebanon.

“Under the Wire”  is far more gripping than any fiction I’ve read in a long time — and it’s true, the best account I’ve seen of what it means to a be a war reporter in the 21st century. I’d like to see director Paul Greengrass, whose “Captain Phillips,” starring Tom Hanks, is a wonderful thriller, make a movie out of Conroy’s story of  two brave people drawn together by a shared compulsion to bear witness.

Here’s a video of Conroy discussing the battle of Homs — and Marie Colvin’s “Final Assignment:


About the Author 
Paul Conroy, born in Liverpool, is a former British soldier, serving in the Royal Artillery in the 1980s. As a photographer and filmmaker whose work spans 15 years, he has reported on the conflicts in Iraq, Congo, Kosovo, Libya, and Syria.


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