I don’t know her nor have I met her. But Marie Colvin, like Janine di Giovanni, had a significant role in my life.
It was on my master’s in journalism course at City University where I learned of these two women and what they did for a living. Before London, I was just a provincial young adult in Singapore fresh out of university. Journalism was considered a second rate profession; success meant a job as a banker, an economist or an accountant. Investigative journalism didn’t mean a thing. Allegedly, journalists who ask too many questions and make a nuisance of themselves for the government ‘disappear’.
So when di Giovanni came to talk to our class, I had no idea who she was. She cut a statuesque figure, charismatic and full of presence. Everything I imagined a real woman to be. She talked about her war reporting experiences, and we all imagined ourselves to be the new generation of war reporters.
For the next six months, I dreamed of dodging bullets and filing important copy that would affect society. With youthful idealism always comes feelings of immortality and infallibility. I grew out of it very quickly. On realising my limitations – mostly a lack of physical courage – it became clear news journalism was not my calling. It lay in something far fluffier, and so I entered the world of fashion magazine publishing.
But my war reporter heroes stayed with me. Colvin and di Giovanni, along with Orwell, were too special to remain as a six-month crush. They were brave people who put their lives at risk to tell us the truth about some part of the world which, if not for their published stories, the world would forget about. There was a simplicity and purity in their work. They believed in what they did with unwavering passion and commitment.
What made them head towards the gunfire when everyone else were running away from it? I don’t know nor will I ever understand. But I do know that we are much better off as a society because of it.