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Souvenirs of a More Recent War

December 01, 1991|NEAL CONAN | Conan is defense correspondent for National Public Radio. He covered the war in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and was one of the reporters captured and held by Iraqi forces after the cease - fire. He later returned to Iraq to report on the plight of Kurdish refugees

Witness to War: Images From the Persian Gulf War From the Staff of the Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times/Times Mirror Co.: $16.95) has almost no text at all; it is a diary, consisting of pictures of the Los Angeles Times front page on each day of the war, accompanied by computer graphics, maps and photographs. The visuals are well done, but the treatment of the newspaper's principal product is strange to say the least. The back page of the book extols the "encyclopedic breadth as well as the reportorial depth" of The Times' coverage of the war, but we don't get to read any of it.

Eye of the Storm: Images of the Persian Gulf War by Knight Ridder Photographers, edited by Randy Miller and written by Gary Blonston (Knight Ridder: $14.95) and Sygma's "In the Eye of Desert Storm" are so complementary that a way should have been found to combine them. Operating under the infuriating combination of restrictions and access provided by the Defense Department's media pools, the Knight Ridder material is virtually all American. Sygma, excluded from U.S. pools, is heavily weighted toward the allies. Due in part to that novelty, I found Sygma's "In the Eye of Desert Storm" the more interesting.

Taking these books together, it's curious that there are so few pictures of actual combat. There are a lot of reasons for that--access was restricted, the air war was impossible to get to, the ground war lasted just four days--but perhaps military photographers or the soldiers themselves did better. Even more important, there are almost no pictures or reportage from the other side, where Western journalists were rarely allowed and were always escorted by government minders.

It's hard to imagine that Iraqi reporters and photographers are producing the same kinds of books in Baghdad, but much of the drama and most of the tragedy of this war occurred behind Iraqi lines, and there can be no pretense of any objective account of it until we learn what happened there.

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