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Crimea and The Worlds First War Correspondent

September 6, 2014

In the past year we have heard about war in Crimea, but most of us were never taught its history at school, that includes me. So I decided to take it upon myself to piece together the history of Crimea and along the way I have learned a lot about war in general and I have learned to appreciate war corespondents, beginning with the first war correspondent in history William Howard Russell.

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Sir William Howard Russell was a British-Irish reporter for The Times, and is considered to have been one of the first modern war correspondents after he spent 22 months covering the war in Crimea. Prior to Russell, those who reported about war were mostly soldiers and the time had come for a more neutral and unbiased approach to the reports.

Russell returned to London and fame. The Times made the gesture every war correspondent dreams of: it put aside his IOUs for advance expenses and told him he could start again “with what tradesmen call a clean slate.” He was placed on the list of Times foreign correspondents at £ 600 a year, providing “you will render monthly accounts of your expenditure showing a clean balance so that we may both know how we stand” (Chestnut, 400). He had breakfast with the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, who, mistakenly believing that Russell’s criticisms of the conduct of the war must have been inspired by his having evolved constructive alternatives, disconcerted Russell by asking him what he would do if he were commander-in-chief of the army. After the war Russell’s dispatches were published in book form, and while awaiting new battles to cover he went on a lecture tour.

Although Russell criticized the lot of the ordinary soldier in the Crimea, he was careful not to hammer too hard at a comparison with that of the officers, to whose social class he himself belonged. Russell made the mistake of considering himself part of the military establishment. The one thing he never doubted or criticized was the institution of war itself. He realized he had hit the right note in criticizing the conduct of the war and that his dispatches suited the The Times’ politics of the moment.

Before the Crimean war ended, the British army realized that it had made a mistake in tolerating Russell and his colleagues, but by then it was too late. The war correspondents had arrived in the world, and when the American Civil War broke out, five years later, 500 of them turned out to report the conflict on the Northern side alone.

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From → History

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