Journalist discusses conflict coverage
Conflict correspondent David Axe left a full room of journalism students and faculty staff stunned after saying if he had God’s power then he would not stop wars — simply because he likes covering them.
“War is dramatic. The stakes are high,” he said. “I would be terrified if there were no more wars.”
Axe, a former Free Times staff writer, came to USC Tuesday for its I-Comm week to discuss war, self-censorship and selling war. Traveling quite a distance for his passion, Axe has reported on conflict zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Chad, Congo, Lebanon and East Timor for outlets including Wired, C-SPAN and Voice of America.
He talked about who can be blamed for exaggerating today’s wars in the public eye. He invited the audience to jump at him with questions at anytime, which is exactly what third-year broadcast journalism student Amit Kumar did when Axe made his controversial remark.
“There are a lot of other things wrong besides war. There are a lot things wrong with government in general,” Kumar said. “If you really had the option — yes or no — to end war right at this moment and you just said you wouldn’t, then I think you’re to blame.”
Axe also discussed how war in general has been steadily declining. Despite our on-going wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the waning civil war in Libya, Axe says the perception of war is overblown and there is a lot less war overall than any other time in world history.
“What we call ‘wars’ today are just low-intensified, drawn out little bloodshed affairs,” he said. The kinds of wars fought have significantly altered from the times of interstate conflict, Axe said.
“It is not the invasion of Normandy anymore,” Axe said. “There is no place in the world today where 1,000 combatants will die in a single day.”
He insisted that the occurrence of wars in general have severely plummeted since World War II. Based on the 2009-2010 Human Security Report Project he based his discussion, 20 people out of every 100,000 annually died in wars during the 1940s. Currently that statistic has been reduced to 1 to 2 people out of every 100,000.
Axe suggested that the creation of international bodies such as the United Nations and, ironically, nuclear proliferation may have helped reduce the casualty rate on the chart.
“The spread of nuclear weapons have decreased the likelihood of war because nuclear-armed countries won’t attack each other for obvious reasons,” Axe said. “An increasingly nuclear international community creates a deterrence, diplomacy or a sense of peace.”
One student countered by rhetorically asking that “If everyone has nuclear weapons, what would happen if one country decides to use them?”
“Then the numbers in the chart would go up,” Axe said. “That would be bad.”
Even though Kumar said that Axe’s talk was good, he said he contributes to the very problem he addressed.
“If you ask David Axe, point-blank, ‘would you rather have war or not’ and he would say ‘yes,’ then he has a stake in perpetuating war,” Kumar said.