I Don’t Want My Role Models Erased

Roundup
tags: Vietnam, military history, womens history, War Correspondents, War Photographers

Elizabeth Becker, a former Times correspondent, reported from Cambodia in the mid-1970s. She is the author of You Do Not Belong Here, a biography of the women war correspondents of the Vietnam War.

Vietnam, the 10-year American fiasco that foreshadowed the disastrous forever wars of today, was written into history as it happened. The war’s most famous chroniclers — David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan and Malcolm Browne — were young men, all.

But women journalists were there, too, reporting the war and risking their lives to bring back the story. I know because I was there learning from them. I arrived late in January 1973 and profited from the opening they made, and the example they set, by focusing on the humane questions of war.

Kate Webb, a revered combat reporter, taught me how to measure a bomb crater with my feet when we covered the carpet bombing of Cambodia. Ms. Webb rose to become bureau chief for United Press International in the war zone, covering more battles than most of her male colleagues. She was captured by the North Vietnamese in Cambodia in 1971 and held for 23 days. When she came out alive, her story was front-page news. An Agence France-Press prize for journalists working in “perilous or difficult conditions” in Asia was named in her honor. Although filmmakers in Hollywood promised to tell her story, in the United States today her name barely registers with anyone I talk to. Hers is not the only one.

For self-protection as well as the cultural conditions of the era, the women of the Vietnam War did not tell their stories. Male journalists who wrote memoirs about their time during the war either left out the women or belittled their accomplishments, no matter how many awards the women had won.

As I set about reporting a book about the accomplishments of the women who preceded me in Vietnam, I focused on Ms. Webb; Frances FitzGerald, an American journalist and the author of “Fire in the Lake,” a seminal book on the war; and Catherine Leroy, a French photographer. In the mid-1960s, newsrooms largely confined female reporters to the women’s-news section. These three women paid their own way to war, arrived with no jobs, no role models and no safety net. I found private notes these women wrote to themselves about the sting of slights, the unwanted advances, the compromises they made. Going public with those experiences at the time would have brought them ridicule and denial.

 

Read entire article at New York Times