If we can't even protect our own volunteers in these remote corners of the world, what are we doing there? Although the majority of former volunteers consider their time in the Peace Corps to be a highlight of their lives (and would do it again) we've come a long way from the "ugly American" days of the 1950s. Besides being a resume enhancer and surefire pickup line, to what purpose is the Peace Corps today?Hamilton Nolan, again pivoting off the Lara Logan attack, says the right thing:
Fifty years ago, ecotourism did not exist. "Lonely Planet" did not exist. Global Crossroad and Volunteer Abroad did not exist. Now you can teach English as a second language, after making contacts at Dave's ESL Cafe. You can immerse yourself in a culture, and put some muscle into spreading kindness wherever you go...
In the last decade the American military has moved toward the Peace Corps model. Hearts and minds, schools and bridges...
Maybe it's time to recognize that peace and war are not on opposite sides of the spectrum. In some countries, we can make peace instead of war. In other countries, perhaps we'd best not send our daughters unless we send soldiers with them.
Reporting, in certain situations—wars, revolutions, assorted uprisings of all types—is an inherently dangerous business. To the extent that we mitigate that danger, we often mitigate the value of the reporting, as well. Embedding journalists with a battalion of Marines is safer for the journalists themselves than roaming free; it also severely limits the scope of their reporting, and tends to encourage a sort of Stockholm Syndrome that's not conducive to free and independent journalism. Likewise, covering a revolution from a hotel balcony, or covering the Iraq War exclusively from inside the Green Zone, means being willing to leave unknown such a large part of the story that your entire justification for being there is thrown into question.It's hard to imagine integrating into the village with a bunch of machine-gun toting toughs following you around at all times.
So, intrepid reporters go out in the streets to cover the story, as they should. And it's dangerous out there. And sometimes reporters get hurt. Would a ring of bodyguards help? Maybe. But the more conspicuous they were the more they'd interfere with the reporting, and the less conspicuous they were the less effective they'd be. Besides that, maximizing safety would seem to involve just doing things that all competent media outlets already do: hiring good local fixers, listening to security consultants, etc.
So what's the bright idea that will keep a Lara Logan incident from happening again? It doesn't exist. We have no magic solution. All we have are a series of choices, trade-offs between safety and freedom of movement, between protecting the reporter and letting the reporter do his or her job to the fullest. Do we want to stop sending female reporters on dangerous assignments? No. Do we want to surround female reporters with ostentatious brigades of bodyguards? No.