Wednesday 17 April 2002

When everybody loves everybody else

From Tim Bowden’s One Crowded Hour: Neil Davis Combat Cameraman 1934-1985

One morning Davis was having breakfast in a soup shop and a North Vietnamese cameraman recognised him and introduced himself. The two men realised that they had covered some of the same battles from different sides. They talked for a long time with the camaraderie of like-minded professionals.

Davis knew that his time in Indo-China was inevitably coming to a close and that he would have to rebuild his life elsewhere after eleven years of close association and identification with Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. As the two combat cameraman reminisced, the North Vietnamese leaned across the table and asked Neil an important personal question.

“Did you enjoy covering combat?” he asked the tall Australian.

The question took Davis by surprise, but he admitted he did. The North Vietnamese agreed he did also, and asked Neil whether he also missed it.

I was not able to give him a good enough answer, and again turned the question back, and asked him if he missed covering battle action.

“Yes,” said the North Vietnamese, “because under those conditions everybody loves everybody else.”

I think he said it best. I built up many close friendships in Indo-China during the war, because they were formed under extraordinary circumstances. When you are with someone in times of stress, the small irritations of people’s behaviour don’t matter, because when it comes to the big things, they behave very well. I found the great majority of people behaved superbly in very difficult situations.

When you are under fire or under attack and everything seems lost and you are facing death, I have found people are naturally courageous.

That is what my North Vietnamese friend also realised, and expressed so well when he said that under those conditions, everybody loves everybody else.

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