An online reporter visits some of the world’s nastiest places, where wars rage and ordinary people with extraordinary courage suffer unspeakable pain and loss.
Freelancing for NBC News in 2004, Sites shot the controversial footage seen around the world of a Marine murdering a helpless wounded Iraqi in a mosque. That episode and its aftermath, followed by his coverage of the 2004 tsunami (he happened to be scuba diving in the most affected region), form a prologue to the main story. When NBC offered him a staff job on the condition that he get a haircut, shave his goatee and go to “correspondent ‘boot camp,’ ” Sites turned instead to Yahoo! News to develop his “Hot Zone” project: a website featuring footage, text and slide shows from the world’s most searing spots. From September 2005 to August 2006, he skimmed the globe, stopping for brief periods to interview locals; observe battles; visit hospitals, morgues and ruined neighborhoods; and, when madness threatened, to surf or kick around a soccer ball with some teenagers. On his itinerary: Mogadishu, the Congo, Uganda, Sudan, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Israel and just about every other place where people were killing one another for reasons ranging from religious differences to territorial disputes. Sites believes that a single individual’s story can often be the best way to make us see vast landscapes of brutality and suffering, and so he tells us about people who’ve lost limbs to land mines, entire families to a tsunami, a husband to errant shrapnel, a future to the insidious workings of Agent Orange. “War poses as combat, but is really collateral damage,” he writes. “The actual fighting between armed groups is a small and infrequent element, while the violence they radiate on civil society and themselves will last for generations.”
The snapshot format necessarily risks superficiality, but these images and dispatches from the numberless rooms of hell have an undeniable cumulative power.