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Jewish World Review April 9, 2003 / 7 Nisan, 5763

Roger Simon

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Michael Kelly was a seeker of truth and eyewitness to history


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and so it was with Michael Kelly, whose young life and luminescent career were snuffed out on the 16th day of the Iraq war.

Kelly, 46, was an embedded journalist with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division. On Thursday night, he died when the Humvee in which he was riding plunged into a canal in the darkness near Baghdad.

Kelly became the first American journalist to die in the war, which has also claimed the lives of four foreign journalists, more than 70 U.S. service members and an uncounted number of Iraqis. President Bush expressed his "sorrow and condolences to the Kelly family" on Friday.

Kelly was covering the war as an editor at large for the Atlantic Monthly, where he was editor from 1999 until last fall, and as a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post.

An award-winning writer, he had already earned his bones and proved his courage in the last Gulf War, as well as in Bosnia, Croatia and in Israel's disputed territories. But he went to cover the current war not just because it was a story he did not want to miss, but out of a sense of duty.

Just days before his death, he told The New York Times that he and other journalists were embedding with U.S. forces because "there was a real sense after the last Gulf War that witness had been lost. The people in the military care about that history a great deal, because it is their history."

The first journalist to be killed in this war was Terry Lloyd, a reporter with Britain's Independent Television News, who came under fire in southern Iraq near Basra on March 22. That same day, Paul Moran, an Australian Broadcasting Corp. cameraman, was killed in a suicide bombing in northern Iraq. On March 30, Gaby Rado, a British ITN correspondent, was found dead at an Iraqi hotel, though his fall from the roof appears unconnected to combat. Then Wednesday, a land mine explosion killed Kaveh Golestan, an Iranian freelance cameraman for the British Broadcasting Corp, as he climbed out of a car in the northern town of Kifri.

In the first Gulf War, in which journalists were on their own if they wanted to get close to the action, Kelly and another journalist rented a Jeep and went bounding into the desert, where Iraqi soldiers tried to surrender to them.

This year, Kelly wrote that the new embedding system was a worthwhile experiment because a "system that allows eyewitness reporting across the spectrum of conflict, no matter how constrained, has to produce a picture of war, and of the military that goes to war, more true and complete than a system that seeks to deny eyewitness reporting."

Aware of the dangers that everyone involved in the war faced, he went nonetheless. "I've had one good break after another," he told the Boston Globe last year. "A long series of lucky breaks and good jobs and stories and a life I like living.

Last week, his luck and life ran out. But he died as lived, a seeker of truth and eyewitness to history.

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