For the past ten years, Kevin Sites has reported on war, conflict and disaster all over the world, for the leading American television networks, and then as Yahoo’s first correspondent.
His second book based on his experiences, “The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Can’t Tell You About What They’ve Seen Done or Failed to Do in War”, has been released today.
Publisher’s Weekly has called the book “riveting and emotionally raw”.
“These gripping stories…are evidence of a profound desire to heal”, the magazine said of the book.
“As journalists we often cover war wrong”, said Sites, who is now an Associate Professor of Practice at the JMSC.
“We define it wrong. We define it by its smallest feature – combat”, he said. “But in war there isn’t always fighting and you can’t always find fighting when you try to. What I have learned from reporting in conflict zones is that the largest feature of war is civilian destruction. It’s collateral damage”.
“In The Hot Zone“, Sites’s first book recounting his experiences, was published in 2007. That book, he said, was an attempt to get war reporting right, by putting a human face on global conflict, and telling the stories of the civilians who suffer from it.
But after exploring the impact of war on civilians, Sites said he became interested in telling the stories of the soldiers he met, who also had to live with the effects of the experience long after it was over.
“If ‘In the Hot Zone’ was about civilian destruction, then ‘The Things They Cannot Say‘ is the flipside – it’s the story of combatants of war. It’s about moral injury”.
Sites has been one of the pioneering “backpack journalists” of the digital age, using digital technology to write, photograph, edit and produce his own multimedia stories for the web.
In 2005, he traveled alone for a year in an attempt to cover every major conflict in the world for his site on Yahoo! News, “Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone.” He said he wanted to look at how the conflicts were similar, how they were different, and to try to find a better way for journalists to cover wars than by just counting bodies.
Sites said that the stories in “The Things They Cannot Say” support a new Veteran’s Adminstration study which indicates that it’s not what people see that causes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in war, but guilt.
“In combatants it’s basically two things”, he said. “One is guilt for what you’ve done. Whether it can be justified as carrying out orders or unjustified when the killing is accidental or a blatant criminal act. Two is survivor guilt. You survived and your friends didn’t. Both things fall under moral injury, which overall can be more debilitating than the physical injuries that (soldiers) suffer”.
“I also had several of these sorts of traumatic experiences while reporting”, he said. “And I wanted to try to answer the question: Is this something that we are able to put away in an attic? Or do we have to live it?”
Among a number of other awards, Sites has won The Edward R. Murrow Award and The Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism. He is the recipient of a Dart Center Ochberg Fellowship for reporting on violence, conflict and tragedy and was a Neiman Journalism Fellow at Harvard University in 2010.
An excerpt from the new book, published on Salon.com, may be read here. Click on the video below to watch a trailer for the book:
More information on war reporting and combat trauma may be found on Sites’s blog at www.kevinsitesreports.com/.