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Journalist Paul Watson on Witnessing War

Canadian journalist Paul Watson won the 1994 Pulitizer Prize for his photograph of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu,Somalia. His war-zone work leaves him suffering from chronic post-traumatic stress, and he says the Mogadishu photo still haunts him. Watson has also reported from Rwanda, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq; he earned three National Newspaper Awards for foreign reporting and photography while at the Toronto Star, and was recently posted to head The Los Angeles Times' Southeast Asia bureau in Jakarta, Indonesia. His new memoir, published Aug. 14 in Canada, is titled Where War Lives.



TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Photographer and writer Paul Watson discusses his
career and new memoir "Where War Lives"


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Remember that famous 1993 photo of a dead American soldier being dragged
through a street in Mogadishu, Somalia, by a mob that danced and cheered while
beating the corpse? That picture was taken by my guest, Paul Watson.
Although he won a Pulitzer Prize for the photo, the picture and its afterlife
still haunt him. Watson has been covering wars and hot spots for nearly two
decades. He won a George Polk Award for his reporting in Kosovo, and this
year he won an Overseas Press Club Award for his reporting on Afghanistan.
He's currently Southeast Asia bureau chief for The LA Times. Watson formerly
worked for the Toronto Star. His new memoir about covering war is called
"Where War Lives."

Paul Watson, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Let's start with a description of the famous Pulitzer Prize winning photograph
that you took.

Mr. PAUL WATSON: This is in the streets of Mogadishu on October 4th, 1993,
at the end of a 16-hour battle, which started on October 3rd between US Army
Rangers, Delta Force Special Forces, and Somali militias. You know, it was an
arrest operation trying to snatch senior commanders, leaders in Mohamed Farrah
Aidid's militia, because they were trying to get to him and arrest him for
allegedly organization attacks on UN peacekeepers. The morning that we woke
up after this long battle with, you know, clouds of smoke swirling and
hundreds of Somali corpses in the streets, we immediately heard rumors that
there was an American soldier that had been captured and was being paraded
through the city. Some days prior to this incident, there had been a similar
incident, but Somalis had paraded pieces of an American soldier. I'd
photographed that and the Pentagon had denied it. When I heard on this
morning that there was a body being paraded, perhaps live, perhaps dead, I was
determined to go and get a photograph of it.

GROSS: Describe the photo.

Mr. WATSON: We had been searching for an hour, two hours. I can't remember
exactly what it was, and we'd almost given up because we'd literally gone
street corner to street corner through this battle zone asking passers-by if
they had seen the body and they would just point and direct us, and we still
couldn't find it. We were close to giving up and just going back to the hotel
when the driver on his own made a U-turn because he had seen a small group of
people on a side street going down a slight incline, and this was the group
that was dragging Staff Sergeant William David Cleveland's body through the
streets. I had worked with this crew that was, you know, driver, gunman as a
bodyguard, and a translator, and an extra gunman on that day. I'd worked with
them for, you know, over periods of weeks and months, over several years, so
we really worked well as a unit. The translator jumped out of the car,
explained who I was. And I was pretty identifiable in Mogadishu because I'd
been there a long time. And he said, `He just wants to take some pictures.'
The crowd parted and I came out of the car and did that.

GROSS: Now you write in your book, `The mob danced and cheered and beat
Cleveland's corpse with such gusto, it seemed that their blood-addled minds
weren't simply desecrating the body of one forlorn soldier but stomping on a
whole defeated army.' What was it like for you to be in the middle of that mob
knowing you were an American, too, and had they been more aware of you, they
might have turned on you as well.

Mr. WATSON: I was terrified but at the same time determined to get that
picture, and it's really hard to describe the state that you go into in a
moment like that. It's cliche to talk about out-of-body experiences, but it
really did feel like I was watching somebody else do it. And when you have a
camera in front of your eye and you're focusing so intently, you know, to get
a sharp good image, you tend to shut out anything that's peripheral. And at
that moment, even though there was the noise of the crowd and the helicopters
and various other things going on in the city, everything went completely
silent and I felt almost what I can only describe as an immediate contact with
that dead soldier and, you know, almost a conversation.

GROSS: What was the conversation?

Mr. WATSON: Well, I heard a voice, very distinctly. I've sought psychiatric
help in subsequent years and my psychiatrist said it was my superego. I
believe it was William David Cleveland's voice. And he said, as clearly as
something inside your head and outside at the same time, `If you do this, I
will own you forever.' And then I tried, without opening my mouth, I tried to
say, `Forgive me but understand why I have to do this.' And any of the
soldiers who knew how fast this mission was going wrong would understand only
from those words what I meant.

GROSS: What did that voice mean to you? How did you interpret it when you
heard his voice saying, `If you do this, I will own you forever'?

Mr. WATSON: I took it as a warning. And I actually, you know, the response
that I thought was, `Just understand that I have to do this. I don't have a
choice. I don't want to do this. I don't want to participate in your
desecration.' Because that's what I did. I mean, if someone hadn't
photographed what those Somalis were doing, obviously it would have been real,
it would have happened, but it would have been kept on the streets of
Mogadishu. By photographing it, it became a global image. It became a
repetitive abuse of a man's body.

And you know, I've done a lot of reading after this to try and understand if
this is a religious thing or if there's some taboo that we learn about not
desecrating bodies, but I'm convinced that there's something deeply innate in
the human psyche--no matter religion, creed, culture--that says this is wrong.
We all know not to do that. And yet, I had to photograph what they were doing
in order to tell the truth because the truth was being denied by the Pentagon.

GROSS: What did the photograph actually show? Describe it.

Mr. WATSON: Staff Sergeant Cleveland had been stripped of his clothes. He
was wearing green Army-issue underwear and was naked but for that. His arms
were bound at the wrist and there was at least one rope around one of his
ankles. He had numerous bullet wounds, and I remember very distinctly
noticing, as they flipped him back and forth, that he was limp. And I thought
to myself, you know, `Could he possibly still be alive because rigor mortis
hasn't set in?' And these thoughts are going through one's head obviously
rapid fire, but I was seeing, you know, I was seeing those minute details
while at the same time trying to get enough photographs. And in this instance
we're talking about, I think, three or four frames before my guards pulled me
away and back into the car for my own safety.

GROSS: OK. So you had just like a few seconds really to take these shots?

Mr. WATSON: That's right.

GROSS: Were you thinking, like, `How am I going to frame this? What is the
emphasis going to be on: the body, the mob, a little bit of both?' Or did you
just like snap it without even thinking what you were framing?

Mr. WATSON: No, you know, I was actually thinking, because--and this is an
interesting part of the story. The first shots I took are full body pictures,
and there's an old man to one side who has this cane in full swing, clubbing
Cleveland's corpse with his cane and then people are dancing around him. My
bodyguards pulled me away because they heard people saying things in the crowd
which they took as death threats. And in those frames, it's rather happy,
jubilant faces. When they pulled me back into the car, I was sitting right
next to the right passenger door with two bodyguards next to me in the
backseat. I immediately thought that the--pardon me for being somewhat
graphic--the image showed the underwear slightly askew so part the corpse's
genitals were exposed, a very small part. But I knew from having worked with
photographers on other stories that that's the kind of thing a newspaper
wouldn't print. The violence was perhaps going to be acceptable but the
exposure of sex organs wouldn't be. So the driver was waiting for the crowd
to move off and it moved off around a corner to the left. I immediately
popped open the door and jumped back out, ran around the front of the car, and
then the crowd stopped, and then I took a half body photograph, which is the
one that most people would recognize.

GROSS: Once you took the photos, you had to get them out of the country back
to--who did you have to send them back to?

Mr. WATSON: My first stop was back to the hotel where I basically collapsed,
you know, both hating myself for what I'd done and also wondering who the hell
I thought I was. I really--I literally collapsed, you know, sobbing on a bed
in my hotel room after stuffing--I took the film out and stuffed it under the
mattress. I was sort of berating myself for having taken a risk that was
extreme, because at that moment the significance of what I'd done really
hadn't sunk in. I didn't know whether anyone would print the pictures and I
had a pretty strong feeling that they wouldn't. You know, I...

GROSS: But they did. The Associated Press printed it and so did Time
Magazine but they each did it...

Mr. WATSON: That's right.

GROSS: ...differently. Why don't you describe the difference?

Mr. WATSON: AP moved the half body shots, which appeared in newspapers
across America, because , you know, there was long debate by many newspaper
editors about whether these were acceptable or not. But most--and I've spoken
to some of them in subsequent years--decided that they had no choice. That,
you know, it just was too significant not to print. What Time Magazine did,
which is intriguing to me, is they digitally altered the underwear so that
when you look at the full-page photograph in Time Magazine, you don't see any
genitals exposed, but you do see horrific desecration of an American corpse.

GROSS: My guest is journalist Paul Watson. His new memoir is called "Where
War Lives.'

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is journalist Paul Watson. His new memoir about reporting
from war zones is called "Where War Lives."

He won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1993 photo of a mob desecrating the corpse of
an American soldier in Somalia.

This photograph had incredible impact. Tell us some of the greatest impact
you think the photo had.

Mr. WATSON: You know, I'm torn by this because this is what you were
describing earlier. The sense of accomplishment, you know, sank in. I heard
only through a New York Newsday reporter who phoned on the satellite phone,
you know, that night or the next, to interview me about the picture. I had no
idea whether it had been used anywhere. He quickly caught onto that and asked
me, you know, said to me, `You really don't know the impact this picture's
having, do you?' And I said, `No, I've no idea.'

He explained to me that there was a political firestorm, that, you know, the
heat was immediately on President Clinton and his administration to do
something. His choice was to announce the immediate end to the mission to
arrest Aidid and to promise that American troops would be withdrawn. Now,
because of the political impact of the events in Somalia, when it came time to
decide whether the United States should lead an intervention into Rwanda to
save up to 800,000 people who were killed in one hundred days, well, you know,
your listeners would know that the administration decided not only not to
intervene, but not to use the word "genocide" so that they would not be forced
to intervene. And that's directly related, I'm afraid, to that photograph.


Mr. WATSON: Well, Clinton clearly had been burned once by an intervention in
Africa. He didn't want it to happen twice. And, you know, there are any
number of experts who would tell you that they are two completely different
situation. But, for instance, we now know without doubt that al-Qaeda was
involved in the events of October 3rd-4th in Mogadishu. It's listed in the
indictments in US federal court. Bin Laden has bragged about it. His
deputies have bragged about it. I have other evidence which is in the book.
You know, it was a completely different battle that was being fought there.

The second thing which disturbs me more is I get the sense that al-Qaeda
learned a lot from the propaganda impact of that picture. Only 18 soldiers
were killed on that day. You know, it's nothing compared to what would happen
on a bad day in Vietnam. And it's only relatively, you know, bad compared to
what's happening frequently now in Iraq. The difference is it had an enormous
multiplying, you know, it was amplified enormously because there was a
photograph of it.

GROSS: What you're saying is it was used in ways by al-Qaeda to exaggerate
the power of the opposition to America?

Mr. WATSON: That's right. And I think it's safe to say that, you know, take
all the events that happened and then remove the photograph, and al-Qaeda
would not have chased American forces out of Somalia. Bin Laden would not
have been able to tell his followers, `We're able to do this. We only need
small victories to defeat history's greatest military.' Enter the picture, and
they are able to do that.

GROSS: So does all this make you think that you wish you hadn't taken the
photograph, the photograph that you won the Pulitzer Prize for?

Mr. WATSON: I'm still glad I did it because to me the blame lies with the
people who refused to accept the truth, and this is a crucially important

GROSS: Which people are you referring to?

Mr. WATSON: Well the--on September 18th, I believe it was, a Black Hawk
was--you know, we're going back a couple of weeks before the October

GROSS: This is 1983. Yeah.

Mr. WATSON: Black Hawk--that's right. A Black Hawk was shot down. I went
to the scene. There was a burnt out wreckage and Somalis were parading bits
of burned flesh and teeth. I photographed it. It went out on the wires. I
reported it on CNN because, you know, they saw a Reuter's story quoting me and
phoned. And then the Pentagon immediately reacted and said there was no basis
in fact for reports that American body parts were being paraded through the
streets of Mogadishu. If they had accepted at that point the truth, quite
possibly October 3rd and 4th would never have happened. Staff Sergeant
William David Cleveland would still be alive. Bin Laden would not have had a
a propaganda victory. So to me the fault lies in cynical manipulation of the
truth rather than my effort to pin the truth down.

GROSS: Now here's a kind of bizarre effect of your photograph. Aidid, who
was like the chief warlord opposing the United States in Somalia, sent you a
thank you message because your photo helped inspire Clinton to stop the effort
in Somalia. So Aidid sent you a thank you message and invited you for dinner,
and you figured you'd accept and interview him. What was the dinner like?

Mr. WATSON: You know, just hearing you say that, the shame just washes over
me. I should have just said no thanks, but I was intrigued because I wanted
to get an answer, really, to one question. I don't even remember the dinner.
It was me sitting alone with him with one of his close aides. I don't
remember if I even ate because there was one question rolling over in my mind

During the arrest operation I had gone to the, you know, in earlier days,
during the arrest mission, I'd gone to the house of Osman Atto, who was
Aidid's bag man and arms supplier and possibly was working for the CIA, many
people thought playing both sides. He had been snatched and taken off to an
island, you know, somewhere in the Indian Ocean, I think, and I was going
through his house with a colleague trying to see if we could find any
interesting things. And as we left the house, a beat-up small car pulled up
in front of the gate and it was packed full of women, and I just took a peek
sort of into the rear window as I walked past. And it was, of course,
surrounded by gunmen. And I saw a man, a bald-headed man, sitting, you know,
slouched down in between these women in the backseat, and immediately the
guard started screaming at me. And as I walked away, I really thought they
were going to shoot me in the back. I didn't have long enough to look to know
that it was Aidid but I suspected it was, and that's what I wanted to ask him
at dinner. So I did, finally, when he finished talking. And he smiled and
said, `Yeah, that was me.'

GROSS: You felt so bad about taking this photograph of the mob dragging the
dead soldier through the streets of Somalia because you felt like you were
participating in the desecration by creating a public image of it that would
be seen around the world. And you felt so bad, years later you tried to
apologize to the family. Do you think that the photograph made things worse
for the family of the dead soldier?

Mr. WATSON: I've no doubt about that. I actually tried to see his mother.
This is about 10 years after. And I was not able to speak to her directly.
Her son responded to my--I'd left a message on her voicemail. And the sense
of anger in his voice was really quite disheartening. I had this sort of
fantasy that they would welcome me into their home and we could, you know,
sort of cry on each other's shoulder and reach some sort of reconciliation,
but they wanted nothing to do with it.

GROSS: Paul Watson will be back in the second half of the show. His new
memoir is called "Where War Lives." He's now the Southeast Asia bureau chief
for The LA Times.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with journalist Paul Watson
His new memoir, "Where War Lives," is about covering wars. This year he won
an Overseas Press Club Award for his coverage of Afghanistan, and he won a
George Polk Award for his coverage of Kosovo, but he's best known for the
Pulitzer Prize winning photo he took in 1993 on a street in Mogadishu while a
mob desecrated the corpse of an American soldier.

Given all of the personal and global repercussions of your photograph of the
mob dragging the body of the American soldier through the streets of Somalia,
were there photographs that you later decided not to shoot because you were
worried about what the consequences would be?

Mr. WATSON: Yes. There was an incident soon after the October 4th picture
when things had settled down a fair bit. And, you know, all these events are
taking place in South Mogadishu, a divided city. In North Mogadishu,
commanded by a different warlord, Islamic courts had just started setting up.
And your listeners will know that in recent years those Islamic courts, which
some and certainly the American administration believe are affiliated with
al-Qaeda--have become a much more significant problem. They were in their
early stages in those days.

I was invited through my translator to come and witness the first stoning to
death of a man found guilty of rape by one of these Islamic courts, and so we
made our way across the green line into this other zone. And I immediately
when we showed up for the court proceeding to begin, the guy in charge said,
`He doesn't have his camera.' And the translator translated all this. And he
said, `You know, they'll hold the trial for you to go back and get your
camera.' And I said, `If they want me to take pictures of this, I'm not going
to do it.

GROSS: Why, if they want you, wouldn't you do it?

Mr. WATSON: Well, it just was obvious that they wanted propaganda.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WATSON: And I wasn't going to photograph the execution by stoning of a
man simply to feed the propaganda interests of an Islamic court. You know, if
you ask about regret, I regret that I didn't take the picture.


Mr. WATSON: Well, after the story appeared, I got a phone call from--I was
back in South Africa at this point. I got a phone call from London from a
woman at Amnesty International, and she said, `You know, this is really a
stunning story you've written.' You know, half implying that it sounds a
little fantastical. `Do you have any photographs.' And I said no and I
explained, just as I have now, why I didn't have photographs. And she, you
know, as well as said, `Thanks very much,' and hung up. The truth is, there's
so much deception and fabrication out there that if you don't have
photographed evidence of it, people just won't believe it. And, you know, to
have photographs of a brutal event like that would tell people a lot about the
Islamic courts movement in Somalia.

GROSS: My guest is journalist Paul Watson and he's now based in Indonesia for
The LA Times. He received a Pulitzer Prize for his 1993 photo of a Somali mob
dragging an American soldier's corpse through the streets. He also received a
George Polk Award for his reporting from Kosovo.

You know, we've been talking about the repercussion of your photo of the
American soldier's body being dragged through the streets of Somalia. You
were attacked by a mob yourself in Iraq. What happened?

Mr. WATSON: This is in the early stages of the conflict, soon after--I think
either the day of or the day after the entry by US Marines into the city of
Tikrit. I was in Mosul, to the north of that, and most of the reporters had
gone down to Tikrit. I was simply driving around in Mosul trying to find a
story that day, and we happened upon a large demonstration in front of the
governor's building. You know, we got out of the car. I was working with a
fresh translator because I'd lost two or three who had quit before this
because they didn't like the risks I was taking, and so I was trying to break
him in a little and thought that this was just a noisy protest.

Within minutes of arriving at this thing, we saw a French TV vehicle speeding
through the mob being stoned and, you know, almost getting stopped and the
crew pulled out, but they managed to get away. And then, as this mob of
several thousand people was pressing closer to the governor's building, US
forces, Marines and others were firing, you know, heavy weapons--machine guns,
assault rifles and such--into the crowd to keep them back. I was quickly
taking photographs and I had what I thought was a pretty good one. It was a
boy, maybe eight, seven-eight years old, who was running right up to a Marine
vehicle with a .50-caliber machine gun on the back, that pounds like a
jackhammer, and throwing rocks at it. And it looked like something from the
West Bank, you know, except that it's US troops firing at close range and not
Israelis. And I'm the only person on the scene for this. And remember, most
of the images at the time were celebrating Iraqis. And here I had what I
thought was much closer to what was going to be the truth about Iraq, Iraqis
attacking US forces and being shot.

As I was taking these photographs, a small group of people carrying a wounded
man came past me trying to run to get him medical care, and he had a deep gash
from a bullet wound straight across his forehead and across the top of his
head. And someone in that group that was carrying him saw me with cameras,
stopped, and made a clicking motion, as if to say, `Take a picture.' I had a
long lens--I had two cameras, one camera where the batteries had gone done. I
had to switch a long lens to a shorter lens to get the photograph because they
were so close to me. When I had the lens between my knees, moving them back
and forth, this small group of men suddenly realized, `Hey, what's this
foreigner doing among us?' And then they were upon me. Before I knew it,
there were about 300--I was riding on a sea of about 300 people, who were
kicking, you know, kicking at my back, punching me, stoning me. They stripped
me of my cameras, and then they got me down onto the ground and continued to
stone me and pummel me. Because I had seen other people killed in this way in
other countries, I pretty much thought that was it.

GROSS: How did you mange to survive?

Mr. WATSON: Well, and, you know--I sound like a bleeding heart, but the
truth of these places always turns out to be the same. Good Iraqi people, not
knowing who I was--I could have been a CIA spy. I could have been any enemy
element. They risked their lives to save mine. They immediately formed a
circle. It would have been about a dozen people. So about a dozen people
against a crowd of 300 pressing in. And, you know, after all these 12 were
part of that crowd in the first place. They formed a circle around me and
tried to push the crowd back. And we were close to a row of shops all of
which had shuttered down because of the protest. There was one open, which
was a tea shop, and as we moved along, you know, with the mob pounding against
these metal shutters, the tea shop tried to close theirs because they thought
the whole place was going to be torn apart. These guys tried to save me.
And, you know, there are men with homemade knives that were about a foot long
of rusty steel trying to come over the top of the circle of men defending me.
As all of this is happening, they're pulling the shutter back up and got it up
about a foot, a foot and a half and then shoved me under it.

GROSS: So you were protected in the tea shop?

Mr. WATSON: Right. I got into the tea shop but then the mob tried to rip
the metal shutter off the front of the store. A man went up to the roof with
an AK-47 and fired down into the crowd. And then the shop owner said, `Look,
you know, I'd really like to help you but would you mind leaving my shop?' So
we ended up going out into the middle of the street and, you know, bowed down
at order of the Marines with our hands up, and they eventually were persuaded
to let us into the compound.

GROSS: Is death by mob attack the most frightening form of attack you can
think of while covering war?

Mr. WATSON: It is. To this day crowds scare me to death. You know, and for
a simple reason, I think it would be poetic justice for me to get torn apart
by a mob.

GROSS: When you say poetic justice, you mean because you captured that photo
of the mob in Somalia dragging the body of the American soldier and felt like
you had somehow participated in his desecration by taking the picture?

Mr. WATSON: That's right. I've always had this sense that Cleveland is, you
know--`Remember, if you do this, I will own you forever.' I just get this
sense that he may be waiting and watching. I certainly had it at that moment,
that, you know, `So here's how it ends. I watched your desecration. Now here
comes mine.' That's what I thought.

GROSS: So would you never, for instance, like go to a stadium concert or, you
know, a sports arena because of this fear of crowds?

Mr. WATSON: You know, I might go to a sports arena but I really tend to be
solitary. You know, I stick to my family, my wife, my son.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WATSON: Because, you know, I was treated by a psychiatrist for
post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic depression years before this
incident and actually after this incident. And it's the cumulative effect of
all of that that just makes me, you know, all sense of trust has vanished. So
I find it very difficult to be among people in, you know, ordinary social
events, dinner parties, that kind of thing, I tend to stay away.

GROSS: My guest is journalist Paul Watson. His new memoir is called "Where
War Lives." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is journalist Paul Watson. He is now based in Indonesia for
The LA Times. His new memoir is called "Where War Lives." He won a Pulitzer
Prize for his 1993 photo, a very famous photo, of a Somali mob dragging a dead
American soldier through the streets. He won a George Polk Award for his
reporting from Kosovo.

You know, you think that your photo of the Somali mob, you know, dragging the
American soldier's body through the streets helped stop the Clinton
administration from intervening in Rwanda to stop the genocide, and you were
in Rwanda covering the genocide. I want to ask you about something you write
about Rwanda, and I should mention here you saw horrible things. Like one
example, you write that at one church in Rwanda, and in its small Catholic
school, you walked among as many as a thousand corpses. You also write that
one day, standing on a bridge on Rwanda's border with Tanzania, you lit up a
joint and got high as you watched the evidence of genocide spill across the
border. And when I read that I thought, `Wouldn't like--there were certain
kinds of highs I would imagine would make the horror much, much more vivid,
much worse.' So I guess as I read that I was really wondering, like, why would
you get high then and how does it change the way the whole experience
registers on you?

Mr. WATSON: At that part of my life, I was really on a fast moving
treadmill, going from killing in the townships of Johannesburg and elsewhere
in South Africa, up to Somalia and then down to Rwanda, and it was just
endless. And the only way I could deal with it was to self-medicate, so I
would drink myself to sleep at night and I would smoke dope during the day.
And it, you know, I moved--I only know it now because I'm clean and sober and,
you know, I'm much more responsible in the way I work. But as I was going
through it then, you know, I was on autopilot, really, and I was clear
thinking. You know, don't get me wrong, I wasn't wondering around in a fog.
But the only way I could deal with it was to try and smooth the edges off
everything. You know, I think ordinary people would understand this. If you
have one shocking event in your life, it takes a long time to over it.
Imagine if you're having shocking events day after day after day. The only
way you can get through that, seems to me, is to, you know, smooth out the
edges, self-medicate.

GROSS: I'm thinking what a weird experience it must have been. You were
covering Rwanda, and you think that America's reluctance to intervene in
Rwanda had to do in part with the horrors that you showed through your
photograph of a Somali mob dragging the American soldier's body through the
street. And in Rwanda you find out you won the Pulitzer Prize for that
photograph from Somalia, and you fly from Rwanda to New York to accept the
prize. And I'm just thinking, like, I don't know, does it get more surreal
than that?

Mr. WATSON: Right. I mean, that was also part of the treadmill. I remember
the feeling distinctly. I was, you know, I picked up a jacket and some
trousers at the Brooks Brothers and they didn't fit particularly well, and I
had shoes that were new that also didn't fit. And I didn't really felt like I
belonged in that scene. And I was with a big boss from the newspaper eating
canapes, and all I wanted to, you know, the only place I really wanted to be
was back in Africa.

GROSS: Now you've talked about how you've suffered with chronic depression
and went through a period of like self-medicating while you were covering
wars. Do you think that the depression is a result of being exposed to
atrocities all the time during your war reporting, or do you think that maybe
because of chronic depression you put yourself in the position of covering
wars where your life would always be on the line and everything would be in
extreme all the time?

Mr. WATSON: Yeah. I think you've got it exactly right in the latter. One
of the reasons I wanted to write this book is that it seemed to me that the
wars in human hearts are just as important and are certainly connected to the
larger wars we watch on our TVs. In the course of writing this book, I wanted
to go back as a journalist to make sure that I had scenes accurately, I had
remembered events accurately. And I ended up interviewing the translators
and, you know, other people I'd worked alongside in different countries. I
went back to the psychiatrist, he went through his notes. That sort of thing.
And strangely enough, as we discussed the project I was working on, they
started to open up themselves. And in each case, they started to tell me
their own stories of their own inner wars. And, you know, that led to the
title "Where War Lives," which quotes Albert Camus, you know, the Algerian
French philosopher-journalist-writer, who at the start of the second world
war, as he's writing in his notebooks, says, `I've found the answer to the
question where does war live? It lives in all of us.' And to me that's the

GROSS: You know, you quote Brendan Behan. Each of your chapters has a
terrific quote to kick it off, and one of the chapters starts with this quote
from Brendan Behan: "A bit of shooting takes your mind off your troubles. It
makes you forget the cost of living."


GROSS: So getting back to suffering with chronic depression before becoming a
war correspondent. Do you think that that's part of it, you know, that war
takes your mind of your own inner war?

Mr. WATSON: Yeah. And you know there's probably an even better one in my
situation, quoted in there to the effect of, `Men start wars because, you
know, it helps make sure the women don't laugh at them.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WATSON: You know, the...

GROSS: How do you interpret that?

Mr. WATSON: Well, in my case it made me feel bigger than I really am.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WATSON: I mean, it doesn't take a lot to put your life on the line and
take pictures or write stories. All you have to be willing to do is to die.
The rewards are huge. People think you're courageous and heroic and all those
things which you really aren't. You're more sick than anything, I mean, in my
opinion. So the payback is big. And each time you get away with it, you
think, `Wow, you know, I'm pretty cool. I'm better than everybody else
because I can get away with this.' When, in fact, you're simply lucky. Lucky
that you're not dead, and unlucky that, you know, you're suffering a mental

GROSS: Are you saying being a war correspondent is a form of mental illness?

Mr. WATSON: I think it is. I've spent enough time around people who do this
a lot. And, you know, in my opinion--and I include myself foremost in this
group, it's a lot of misfits, people who are seeking self-esteem through risk.
You know, the standard question is, `Why do you do this?' And the standard
answer usually is, `In pursuit of the truth.' Well, anyone who's done this for
any length of time doesn't have to think very hard to see that the truth is
really not getting out. The amount of obfuscation and deception that's
carried out by militaries, governments that we're trying to cut through is so
enormous that the work a war correspondent does, you know, it may shine a
little light but I, you know, I really don't think we're knights on white
horses, that's for sure.

GROSS: My guest is journalist Paul Watson. His new memoir is called "Where
War Lives."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is journalist Paul Watson. His new memoir about reporting
from war zones is called "Where War Lives." He won a Pulitzer Prize for his
1993 photo of a mob desecrating the corpse of an American soldier in Somalia.

You know, at the same time that you talk about your chronic depression and why
you put yourself at risk to cover war and genocide, you now have a kidney
problem. How do you handle the risk that your own body is putting before you
compared to the risk that you willingly take when you go to a war zone?

Mr. WATSON: It's funny. I don't, you know, I said to someone the other
day--it wasn't really the other day, it was some weeks back in
Afghanistan--you know, who was talking about some risk that we shouldn't take.
And I said, `Don't worry about it. I'm already dead.' And really I have that
sense that I've lived longer than I should have, so if my kidneys give out, no
big deal.

GROSS: So you're not a worrier about your body, in that respect?

Mr. WATSON: Not really. I mean, I want to live because I want to see my son
grow up and be happy, but I know that I'm going to die. So if it's tomorrow,
it's really no big deal. I really have a sense that I've lived much longer
than I should have in the first place.

GROSS: So does that mean, like, you're putting yourself at even greater risk
now because you figure, `What the heck?'

Mr. WATSON: No. I'm more reluctant. I still will do it in situations where
I think there's a truth that has to be told, and I don't mean that in a normal
sense. I mean it more in the sense of I'm just sick of being lied to. And I
take it as a personal challenge to make sure nobody's lying to me, which
simply means going out there and looking for myself. I continue to do it.
But, you know, with financial pressures on newspapers and people talking about
the bottom line and all that sort of thing, it's very clear in my mind that
bleeding out on the side of the road in, you know, southern Philippines and
leaving my son fatherless for the rest of his life would be a pretty silly
thing to do given the reality of the industry I work in.

GROSS: We haven't talked about the fact that you were born with one hand. Do
you have a prosthetic that you use on your handless arm?

Mr. WATSON: I used to, but it was too hot and bulky, and just it didn't do
enough to justify the weight and heat, so I wear nothing. I have, you know,
so it's a shorter arm with a small wrist and a very small palm.

GROSS: How do you think it's affected the decisions you've made about risk in
your life, to be someone who is probably seen by a lot of people as being more
vulnerable because you lack a hand and a full arm?

Mr. WATSON: Well, you know, it's helped me a lot, because, for instance,
guerilla fighters think I'm a wounded war veteran, so it gets you a little
street credibility, you know, which I wouldn't normally deserve. And in the
Iraq incident I was describing, when that small group of men were risking
their lives to save mine, one of them...

GROSS: To save you from the mob?

Mr. WATSON: That's right. One of them actually raised my disabled left arm
and shouted out in Arabic--because I had a tape recorder and I got someone to
translate it later. He shouted out in Arabic, `He's innocent! He's
innocent!' And his evidence for my innocence was that I was disabled. You
know, so it has had helped a lot. But more important, growing up in this
condition forced me to understand and see through the eyes of the weak, so I
relate to and I understand the position of the weak in the world. And I feel
much more comfortable around those people than I do around the powerful.

GROSS: What have you been focusing on in Jakarta, where you're based for The
LA Times?

Mr. WATSON: I've been trying to do lighter, you know, more interesting
stories because, quite frankly, it's made clear to us that the public is
really becoming tired because of the burden of what's going wrong in Iraq and
such. I eventually though--and this will happen soon, I expect--have to start
dealing with another front in the war on terror, which is the Southern
Philippines-Southern Thailand, which is really getting quite serious in recent
weeks. Where al-Qaeda, some of them affiliated forces and others not
affiliated, are increasingly, you know, carrying out attacks and--both
conventional against Philippine-Thai forces and also terrorist attacks.

GROSS: Paul Watson, it's really been great to talk with you. Thank you very
much. Be well. Thank you.

Mr. WATSON: Thank you for having me.

GROSS: Paul Watson's new memoir about reporting from war zones is called
"Where War Lives." He's currently the Southeast Asia bureau chief for The LA


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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