Robert Fisk on journalism: letter from a homeschooler to his father

This is a lecture by Robert Fisk, one of the worlds great journalists, on the subject of journalism. He discusses the use of language in US journalism at counter #650 and makes a very good point. The transcript is below.

(Drag counter to #650)

It continues here:

I’m very struck by the way in which, over and over again, American newspaper editors (this happens elsewhere, but particularly here) bemoan the falling circulation of their papers. And when I come here and read your newspapers, I’m not surprised at all. It’s not just because of the pap that they publish about the major crises and the bloodshed. It’s not just that. It’s not even well written. There’s not even a literary style in it. It’s like they don’t care about words.

I bring this up with you for a very specific reason. I’m going to quote now from a letter written home by a US marine major in Ramadi. He’s writing to his dad.

This is a real letter… He’s trying to get the Iraqis to join in with local government, to participate, in the government of Ramadi. I don’t agree with everything he says, but this man speaks with an eloquence worthy of Joseph Conrad. This is an American Marine:

We are trying to empower [the Iraqis]
to walk post instead of Marines but the graft has not yet taken. There is something culturally childish
in their understanding of basic Western governance and management that
will require immeasurable education and probably several generations to
overcome if they find it of any interest. That education is, of course,
a choice that they have to make on their own. They are not our people.
Our understanding of their tribal governance and its relationship to
formal civic management is equally naive and charges our frustration.
The problem now is that their every inconvenience has become our
responsibility. They act as if they can not comprehend our sacrifices
and are thus ungrateful for them. The reality is that they can not,
culturally, comprehend our altruism or believe our stated intentions.
Even though it is not their desire to offend, we are insulted and it
bleeds us of affection and tolerance. Liberation will compete with
invasion as our legacy but locally we are ideologically irrelevant. Our
presence is, mostly, only of interest to those who seek to benefit from
our contracts and donations. It is a region of people making alliances,
business deals, friendships and enemies one day at a time without a
real concept of sustainable services, resources, or trust. No future.
Just daily survival as they know it. Family and tribe. Our
contributions may be counted long after we have withdrawn but they will
not recount the names of the fallen. So many now. Each wound will be
absorbed into the quiet sadness that we allow to pass beneath us as a
people and a country. Our loss will have never even occurred to most
people here.

This guy also has a sense of humor and again, I’m asking: when did you ever read anything like this in an American newspaper? A US marine writes better than

Here’s the same soldier and here I dare you not to laugh, writing about the provisional government in Ramadi. Remember here he’s writing to his dad.


So what news about the new government you may ask. Well the Provisional
Military Governor was replaced by the Transitional Governor who
resigned under threat and was replaced with another Transitional
Governor. He was then replaced by the Emergency Appointed Governor who
was just replaced by the selected Governor chosen by the elected
Provincial Council. He never made a speech or publicized his views,
never debated the other candidates and was not present during the
selection, never making an acceptance speech. He was promptly kidnapped
by a rival tribe while his tribe fought another tribe on the Syrian
border. The recently displaced Emergency Appointed Governor returned in
hopes of regaining the position however, the Deputy Governor is now
serving as the Acting Governor while the actual Selected Governor is in
captivity. But there was an election so democracy is in full bloom I am
to understand.

We are now trying to force the power of decision onto

the elected Provincial Council and the city officials. It is a
difficult thing to keep myself inactive in matters of governance here.
The instinct to impose order and command the requisite discipline in
the Iraqi leadership must be quelled in order to allow sovereign
stewardship to develop at its native pace and in a native form. I fight
myself to remain insignificant in the process. I haven’t the nature for
passive observation. I share the American fascination with action and
it has consistently betrayed us in our foreign policy. Our continued
involvement will continue the state of dependency and our eventual
departure will leave nothing but cosmetic structure here. Iraq will
return to what it is. Our common sense is not common to this people and
that understanding must be given proper respect. I do my best but I
twitch with an urge for the folly of intrusion.

Yes, he deserves your applause, but we journalists don’t write like that! When have you ever read anything like this in the LA Times, in the San Francisco Chronicle, or the Orange Country Register? This is the problem.

However, in lauding the prose of this “unschooled” soldier, Fisk fails to take homeschooling into account. He does not mention (and perhaps did not know) that Major Ben Busch, the soldier writing to his his father, is the son of Frederick Busch — see below. His prose clearly reveals that homeschooling, formal or not, can indeed play a very significant role in the development of such qualities as verbal prowess.

Frederick Busch

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Frederick Busch (August 1, 1941 in Brooklyn, New YorkFebruary 23, 2006 in Manhattan, New York City) was an American writer. Busch was a master of the short story and one of America’s most prolific writers of fiction long and short.

Busch graduated from Muhlenberg College and earned a master’s degree from Columbia. He was professor emeritus of literature at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York from 1966 to 2003. He won numerous awards, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters Fiction Award in 1986 and the PEN/Malamud Award in 1991.

He is the father of actor Benjamin Busch.

Honours and Awards