Last Christmas break, I dug out the small metal box from a cabinet in the back bedroom of my childhood home. I sat down on my bed in Kansas and removed the dusty lid, revealing a bundle of letters tied loosely with string.The letters are 35 years old. They tell the story of my father, a 20-year-old boy-turned-soldier fighting in the jungle. The postmarks read “Vietnam.”
Until Monday’s hotel attacks in Iraq, this was my only real experience with war. Although the three large car bombs exploded near the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, I felt the aftershocks in London.
On Monday afternoon, in the Associated Press London newsroom, Bureau Chief Paisley Dodds was instant messaging with a reporter in Baghdad. His term as a reporter in Iraq was finally up, and he would soon return to work with us in the London Bureau.
And then he stopped returning Paisley’s IM’s. And then the footage of the blast appeared on every television screen in the room.
We only lost contact with Baghdad for a few minutes before the NewsAlerts started popping up on the wire: “Bomb blasts hit hotel, AP staff forced to evacuate to corridor. No staff killed.”
Everyone in the newsroom knew at least one person who was hiding in that hallway, half a world away. Paisley called the reporter’s wife to assure her that her husband was safe.
I only know a few people who are serving in the current Iraq war. They went to my high school, but they were not my close friends. I don’t personally know people who watch the television news at night, praying their loved ones are still alive.
The first Gulf War is a pale memory for me, faded into the background of an otherwise bright childhood. I remember catching a few CNN snippets of bombs falling in Infared. I remember the tiny yellow cross taped to the corner of my first grade teacher’s desk.
My internship with the AP has forced me to confront a lot of issues I’d rather not deal with. Children starve every day, while I pick apart my healthy meals because I’m a fussy eater. People still die of the diseases I was immunized against as a baby.
These facts make me feel spoiled and sheltered in ways I cannot describe. The guilt of “It SHOULD have been me” quickly fades into the absolute terror of “It COULD have been me.”
As a reporter in the international press community, I can no longer relegate these topics to the back corner of my brain. They show up on the wire with an in-your-face attitude, challenging me to re-think my own attitudes and upbringing.
I finally understand that there are horrors I will never know because I grew up in a small town, had two parents, wore designer sneakers and went to play dates at the roller skating rink. I feel like my insulation has been stripped away, piece by piece, until I finally realize how lucky I am.
London Correspondent Lacey Krause is a senior news-editorial journalism major from Emporia, Kan. She is an intern for the Associated Press.