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Authors: Georgie Anne Geyer

Buying the Night Flight

BOOK: Buying the Night Flight





Garrett County Press Digital Edition 2011
New Orleans

Portions of this book were first published, in a different form, in
The Young Russians
by Georgie Anne Geyer (Copyright 1975 by
ETC Publications) and her article "Enemies" in
The Progressive

For more information, please address:

Copyright 1983, 1996 by Georgie Anne Geyer
Preface 2001 by Georgie Anne Geyer
All rights reserved. Originally published 1983 by Delacorte Press as one of the Radcliffe Biographies, a series of lives of extraordinary American women.Updated Edition published by Brassey's in 1996. A University of Chicago Press edition was published in 2001.

eISBN: 978-1-891053-16-0

To John McMeel the incomparable founder of Universal Press Syndicate and the best friend that his "creators" could ever have.


Every once in a while when someone introduces me before a speech, I find my mind wandering and I soon discover myself thinking: "What a strange human being that must be!" Then I realize that I am the person they are talking about.

You see, it just seems so odd all the interviews with the democrats and the dictators, with the heroes and the scoundrels, with the wise-men and the court jesters of the world -- Sadat, Khomeini, Qaddafi, Reagan, Saddam, Fidel (you-fill-in-the-blanks) -- not to speak of all the outrageous places!

I find myself asking: Did I really live with the Marxist guerrillas in Guatemala for a week? Was I really put in prison in Angola under that take-no-prisoners regime? Was it really I who wandered around Central Asia in the dead of winter just after the Soviet Union collapsed, when that remote and unknown world was teetering on the verge of collapse? Or was that someone that I could only vaguely know?

Then, as my mind weaves on, I realize that those recitations of interviews and of events, as curiously amusing as they may be to many, are not at all the way I see myself. I see my life to be a kind of seamless circle, in which interviews with leaders, in and of themselves, are in my own mind actually far less challenging than the entire process of figuring out how to get in and out of countries, piecing together those puzzles that are the perplexing components of all societies and finally writing fairly, and hopefully even felicitously, about what I have seen and done.

But then, I have been doing the foreign work -- first, as a foreign correspondent with the venerable old
Chicago Daily News,
and then as a syndicated columnist with the
Los Angeles Times
Syndicate and the Universal Press Syndicate -- since 1964.

This book itself was originally published in 1983 as part of the innovative Radcliffe Biography Series of women in our times. To my delight, since it is chancy to write about yourself, particularly when you are the "first" woman here and the "first" woman there, it generally received kind and enthusiastic attention and reviews. Readers, both women and men, seemed to find it a "happy" book, perhaps because I was trying not to pose as some ideologue, theoretician or theologian, but only attempting to share what a wondrous a thing it was and still is to me, being "out there" and being privileged to explore and write about the world.

I originally called the book,
You Didn't Have to Be Here,
because that is what soldiers invariably say to foreign correspondents who turn up inexplicably, and without being forced to do so, in war zones: "What in the hell are you doing here?" they would exclaim. "You didn't have to be here." Their words expressed to me the special commitment of the classic foreign correspondent--and the special code of honor that morally compels you to accept being placed in danger if it is necessary to accomplish your work and to place yourself as a fair-minded observer to history. But when my editor urged me to change it to
Buying the Night Flight
, I only thought for a moment and then agreed enthusiastically.

The title came from a quote from the great romantic French flier and writer, Antoine de Exupéry, who throughout all his rich life romanticized the joy of flying alone at night over strange and often uncharted worlds. "There is no buying the night flight," he wrote, "with its hundred thousand stars, its serenity and its moment of sovereignty." And those words--and thus this title -- captured not only the risk incumbent in the work, but explained one of the major reasons the foreign correspondent takes all those supposedly foolish risks: the thrill of discovery.

But why now issue what will be the third edition of
Night Flight
, and why now as a new paperback?

There are several reasons for this new publication by the University of Chicago Press.

I believe that we are close to approaching a crisis in foreign correspondence that could spell deep trouble for our country--in fact, it already has -- and I wanted to reach the open and idealistic minds of our prospective young journalists, diplomats, military officers, international businessmen and businesswomen, and every sort of political analyst. The classic form of foreign correspondence, as exemplified by Vincent Sheean's
and by such classic individuals as Ernie Pyle, Dorothy Thompson and Keyes Beech, is in danger of dying. There are still some extraordinary correspondents out there, risking their lives and their sanity--one need only think of the brave and often sagacious coverage of Bosnia, of Chechnya, of Sierra Leone -- but every year there are fewer of these.

As costs mount for such coverage and as the spurious idea grows in an increasingly inward-looking American journalism that "Americans are not interested in foreign affairs," newspapers and television are everywhere pulling back in the coverage of foreign news. Instead of TV network crews based in every European city, one or two will now work from London or even from New York. Only a handful of the biggest and richest papers have correspondents at all, thus diminishing the diversity of coverage and the richness of interpretation that we receive -- and thus crippling our awareness of our world, even as we impoverish ourselves on a personal level.

The correspondents who do go out are often the aptly-named "parachutists." Since they are in El Salvador one day, Buenos Aires the next and Beirut the day after that, they can hardly be blamed for overly-violent coverage which, since they often lack any cultural depth or knowledge, is in fact the only thing they have the competence to describe.

Walter Lippmann once said with posed cynicism that, "Journalism is the last refuge of the vaguely talented." Today we might paraphrase that to read: "Foreign coverage is the last interest of the many overly-ambitious young people who want only to climb ladders in place of flying on night flights."

I hope therefore that this version of
Night Flight
can serve to inspire some young professionals -- some of those who may yet be wavering in the tension between striving only for personal ambition and demanding the joys of pure experience -- to again see foreign work as the greatest challenge in journalism; to make them think anew about the utilitarian ambitionist mode that has taken over so much of American journalism (next year, city editor; the year after that, managing editor; and no time for journalistic adventure, thank you!); and to exercise those incipient romantic and idealistic propensities that have always come naturally and so blessedly to the young.

Since that old
romance about the world seems to be withering on the vine of that pure ambition, I also hope that this book will give young journalists (and, indeed, men and women of any age who still have the capacity to dream!) an idea of the sheer, wondrous romance that stirs within so much of it.

Now, the dictionary defines "romance" as anything dealing with "the remote in time or place, the heroic, the adventurous and often the mysterious." And there
still romance in the world. When Humphrey Bogart fell so hopelessly but nobly in love with Ingrid Bergman in a chance wartime meeting in Paris during World War II -- and the love affair was exquisitely told in the great film
after the war -- the very word "Casablanca" came to mean more than a film and infinitely more than simply arriving at an unusual place on the map. For when the couple met again, this time accidentally in the corrupt, war-torn city of Casablanca, it was clear that their romance signified an exaltation of feeling and a heightened perceptibility that is at the very heart of the romantic spirit. But it takes special eyes to see the romantic, and it takes an enlivened soul to feel it.

Of course, being a romantic foreign correspondent is even more dangerous today than it always was. These ugly new "ethnic" conflicts and savage militia wars hardly present one with even the satisfaction and heroics that came with covering wars of olde; and of course, on the practical side, it is harder for male correspondents to go abroad with wives who today will not easily settle back and wait in Beirut or Hong Kong or Warsaw with the children while he goes off to cover the world and the wars. Yet, that too can be dealt with, as many couples now share foreign correspondent posts, often with substantial success.

Most important of all, too many Americans -- and even many in the American journalism profession -- are fooling themselves these days about the rest of the world.

How constantly -- over and over and over! -- we reiterate that we are now an integral part of the entire world and that no part of the world can be closed off and hidden away any more. How proudly we praise democracy, preferably our exact form, for opening up foreign countries to the rest of humanity. We cite soberly how capital flows bounce from country to country, and we properly wonder at the ability of men of power to send their accrued wealth across national borders, unheard and unseen. We speak with sober respect about the "Internet World" and about the "Information Revolution," as if they were indeed magical new genies whose word and power slips across the world as did the predictions of those old genies who sprang out of lamps in Baghdad or Aleppo and granted you your most precious and perfervid wish.

We see ourselves as the "indispensable nation," as the "only super power," and as the "hope of the world," while in the same breath we choose not to know about the world we are so rhetorically and immodestly avid to dominate! Thus, in truth we choose not to know it. And now we too often risk living in virtual worlds of our own imagination, even while we deny the genuine trajectory of history.

Surely this is not a way for serious people to look at the world -- and we have ourselves already paid for this lack of sobriety in Yemen with the deaths of 17 American sailors in the fall of 2000 and in Somalia years earlier with the deaths of still more of our soldiers. Others, of course, have paid far more heavily for this lack of seriousness, with 250,000 dead in Bosnia in large part because our own government wrongly analyzed the roots of the cause and 800,000 dead in Rwanda because our own leaders and the officials of the U.N. would not act in time. It is also worth noticing that, in every one of the recent conflicts since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the press almost always got the story right but was unable to convince our political and military leaders of the real roots and causes of these conflicts. Being there and being fair still makes all the difference.

Finally, we come to the Internet World, which is being substituted by too many Americans for the real world of responsibly filtered and processed information. Surely the Internet, when used with even a modicum of common sense, can be a great force for education and understanding. But many Americans today look upon it as a magical thing. They do not want to understand that human beings -- and very often faulty and limited human beings at that--are the ones who put that information on the Internet. Indeed, many young people seem to think that anything they read on the magic machine is automatically true. There is no process of culling out, as there is in the traditional press or, indeed, in any traditional organizational structure.

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