Editorial: In remembrance of Steven J. Sotloff and James Foley

(File Photo)

War is messy.

Armies move. Cities fall. Homes burn. People die.

War is an unfortunate, but apparently unavoidable, part of the human condition. And it seems to us that — based on the tragic reports ceaselessly coming out of all corners of the globe this summer — it’s not going away anytime soon.

As with other public scourges, the best approach to defeating war is attempting to understand it. To that end, journalists — whether behind a camera, microphone or laptop — have toiled for decades. Without storytellers at the front, how can we make sense of the madness? How can we understand the true cost of belligerence?

It is with great sadness that we join the chorus of voices mourning the loss of journalists Steven J. Sotloff and James Foley. Both died in barbaric fashion this summer.

The reason? The butchers behind their murders likely would argue it was for some higher reason: geopolitics, diplomacy, religion, the tit-for-tat of war or something else. The truth is those two men were put to death for the high crime of doing their jobs and doing them well.

Reporting from a warzone has never been easy or without risk. Foley and Sotloff join the ranks of Ernie Pyle, Larry Burrows and — more recently — Tim Hetherington. And that’s a very short list of war reporters who have died in combat zones.

The difference is that Pyle, Burrows and Hetherington were victims of the inherent randomness of war. Pyle was killed by a Japanese machine gun near Okinawa in 1945, Burrows died in a helicopter crash in Vietnam in 1971 and Hetherington perished in a mortar attack in Libya in 2011.

Sotloff and Foley were executed.

Journalists, especially those of us based in and around Washington, get a lot of flack. We’re accused of being elitist, biased and hopelessly obsolete in a world where anyone can upload a photo, share a link or post a report from on the ground.

Occasionally, those accusations ring true. But Sotloff and Foley embodied the ideals of journalism. Risking life and limb, they stepped onto the battlefield committed to telling good stories. They were put to death for trying to keep the rest of us apprised of the true cost of war.

They were not combatants. They were the eyes and ears of the world, like their colleagues who remain in some of the most dangerous areas in the world.

We usually end editorials with a bit of advice, a suggestion or concrete steps for fixing a problem in our community. That will not be the case here. We will simply offer our condolences to their families and tip our hat to those fine men.

Salut.

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