James Foley and the importance of bearing witness

It’s been more than a week since the world found out — in the grimmest way possible — that American journalist James Foley had been murdered at the hands of ISIS militants.  Foley went missing in 2012 while covering the Syrian Civil War.

I did not know James Foley, but as a fellow journalist I feel a certain kinship toward him. The work I do as an assistant editor at a West Virginia newspaper is worlds away from his work on the front lines of a war.

I’ve dreamed of being a conflict reporter because I think the stories of war and human suffering are immensely important. Someone has to bear witness to the human toll of war. Still I don’t know that I’m brave enough to be a war journalist.

So I’m grateful for him and other reporters who are risking, and sometimes giving, their lives telling of the atrocities of a war that’s claimed more than 160,000 human lives.  So far 69 journalists have killed covering this particular conflict, according to the Committee to Protect Reporters.

I hope it’s some comfort to his family and friends that the work he did matters.

While, as I said, it’s important to bear witness, I don’t think that means viewing the graphic video of his death. If you want to honor the life of a man who died trying to tell stories of war, familiarize yourself with his work. You can find some of it here.


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