And in the middle of this tumult, I came back to the relative calm of my hotel room in the Hotel Palestine. There was no electricity. Sunlight slanted horizontally into the dusty, dim corridors and I saw at the end of the passage, outside my room, two figures silhouetted against the white glare of the sun. As I approached I saw that they were soldiers, their uniforms stained with the mud of the Tigris valley, Americans, for they were cradling US Army assault rifles in their arms.
They were an intimidating presence. Until they spoke. “Sir,” one of them said, and there was a quiet, shy deference in his voice. I saw that they were young, achingly young, perhaps 19 years old, lettuce-fresh faces above long, lean, loose-limbed frames – no more than boys in the grown-up garb of desert camouflage. “Sir,” he went on, “we heard that there was a satellite phone in this room. We haven’t been able to call home in four months.”
They were the first in a little trickle of young US servicemen who would come to my room for this purpose in the weeks that lay ahead. What struck me with great poignancy was this – that almost always they phoned their mothers. From the other side of the room you would hear the phone sound in some far place in Kentucky or Idaho. The boy would say “Hi Mom!” and then you would hear the excited, disbelieving scream of delight echoing down the line.
—BBC correspondent Allan Little recalls a memory from the spring of 2003, during his time covering the war in Iraq. Little’s essay explores the role of civilian correspondents from the battle front, as well as the “magnetic pull that war has on the young male imagination.”
Image: “Paths of Glory” by Christopher Nevinson, via Wikimedia Commons. The painting, which depicts a World War I battlefield, was deemed bad for morale and immediately censored.