Journalist Larry James reflects on reporting during Liberian civil war

Two radio career journalists will attend Allegheny on Monday, April 22 to share their experiences covering conflict in Rwanda, Bosnia, Afghanistan and the Middle East. Reporters from “The Campus” had the opportunity to interview Larry James and Sonja Pace prior to their visit, which will feature a presentation, “Dispatches: Memoirs of War Zones,” to take place from 8-10 p.m. in Quigley Auditorium.

By Natalie Cappellazzo, Contributing Writer

In his youth, Larry James participated in the Vietnam War. Later, James entered the journalism field to cover conflict in more than 50 countries around the world.

James describes his war experiences in his book Unfortunate Sons: A True Story of Young Men and War, published in 2005.
He recalls that he left for Liberia on Aug. 2, 1990, the day Iraq invaded Kuwait.

For approximately three years, James traveled West Africa for The Associated Press. He spent much of that time in Liberia, where he headed from Cairo after civil war in Liberia broke out.

James said many of his friends were also covering the civil war, and one close friend in particular had no previous experience dealing with violence. James’s firsthand war experience, as well as his first-aid skills, granted him knowledge of many realities his friend was unaware of.

James said Western media is too often selective in its coverage of world events, depending on what is deemed the most important through an American lens.

“In the case of Liberia, like almost all of Africa, it’s really unfortunate, but really horrific things can be happening to people in Africa, and newspapers, magazines and other media outlets seem to have the perspective of, ‘Oh, that happens all the time in Africa doesn’t it?’ so it’s not news. But it is news,” James explained.

He notes that one of the biggest challenges he has faced as a journalist is getting editors interested in what is happening in Africa, especially when other things are going on that often take precedent. To him, this is a great shame.

“In more than 30 years as a journalist, I saw more interesting, more exciting, more beautiful, more uglier things in Africa than I probably saw anywhere else,” James said.

When asked what he would tell an individual aspiring to venture down a similar path, James said, “If you want to do it… just go where the conflict is.”