August 18, 2004 5:20 p.m.
Lots of sirens and terror arrests in London. I've heard several people say an attack here is only a matter of time. On the subway, known here as the "tube," a large man of probable Middle Eastern descent got on my car. Despite the heat he was wearing a large jacket with two strings coming out near the waist. I looked at him for a few moments then just before the tube started I stepped off, back onto the platform.
In the first Chechen War access was easy. You lived with Chechens and they wanted you to film them fighting. You could walk up with them as they went to attack a tank. The Chechens had no fear of tanks. I remember on one occasion several of them, in white clothes to blend in with the snow, were actually laughing as they approached the tank. Tanks did not do well on the narrow streets of downtown Grozny, especially the ones that ran out of gas or ammunition. The Russian defense minister promised to take the city with one division of paratroopers in two hours. Instead the tanks were slaughtered from rocket-propelled grenades and bombs from the surrounding buildings.
The war began in the two weeks around Christmas and New Year's, when no reporters wanted to work. I had never reported before. It was a scary thing to stand in front of the camera, more difficult in a way than being in the war zone, as it was less familiar. A few images stand out in my mind. First was a Russian soldier sitting on a fallen tree, opening a can of meat. The Russian MRE's (meals ready to eat) were just cans, one can of potted meat.
He sat on the tree by himself in the snow, in the cold, and ate the meat out of the can. He was about 19, from somewhere in Siberia, far away. The Chechens I lived with could go home for lunch during a break in the fighting. They had their families around, warm inside their houses, and they ate hot meals of beef, rice and tea. Most had normal jobs — policemen, teachers — and they felt they were repelling an invader. When you sat down in a circle on the carpeted floor, men put down chains of bullets, grenade launchers, and hunting rifles all over the room. Some of the weapons were antiques. During one report I used the term "David and Goliath." A boss called up and said not to use that phrase anymore. It was not, he said, a David and Goliath story.
I remember I asked the war correspondent Peter Arnett when he knew the Americans were going to lose in Vietnam.
"After about two hours," Arnett said. "We were in the jungle, my first patrol, and the Americans had big packs on, and they had to hold each others' hands just to keep together. That's when I knew they were going to lose."
Your article on "911: I Never Really Got It" was right on target. The office where I work is directly across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. My co-workers and I were in our director's office watching the twin towers billow with that thick black smoke when we heard and felt the concussion from flight 77 as it slammed into our Pentagon. Our world came to a halt. It was no longer something that was happening in someone else's backyard, something we were watching on a 26 inch color t.v. screen — It was pounding on our front door and incessantly ringing the door bell like a madman at 2 am - WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP!. It was surreal. We found ourselves with the grizzly task of holding front row tickets to the carnage that ensued. It was now our friends, our co-workers, our family members that were being murdered. It is an experience that is seared into our memories for life.
Keep up the good job Steve, we appreciate you putting yourself in harm's way to give the American public an truly objective view of what we're doing doing in Iraq. Stay safe.
— MSGT PATRICK
I was stationed on a Navy ship off the coast of India on the way to the gulf when 9-11 happened. It was so surreal looking at the video. It was like watching a special effects scene in a movie. Like you, we never could relate to the carnage that took place. We were isolated. The same can be said of civilians who watch the war on TV. It's just not the same as being there. It's too unreal for their minds to comprehend.
— Marcus (Yokosuka, Japan)
— Laurie & Steven (Irving, TX)
I really enjoyed your story about "White Cat." It really touched me. I've always been an animal lover - all kinds of animals. But I think this goes further than that. No matter how bad things get in this world, how terrible people can be to one another, we are reminded of the joy in simple things and not to take them for granted. Yeah, I'm a romantic at heart and maybe an optimist, too. Thank you for sharing this story. It made me smile.
— Linda (Citrus Springs, Florida)
Thanks as always for your wonderful blogs. I am printing them — you are now in a three-ring notebook. When your blog novel ends, I might bind you in duct tape; seems appropriate for our times.
First I must tell you my Mother has said "I really don't want him to go back to Iraq." She's pretty much telling you that you can't go. But you know how Moms are. I live with my Mom and she was leaving on Sept. 11 to help her 90-year-old sister move. She left just as the first plane hit. When she got there, her sisters did not want to watch, not having grasped the big picture. I was alone watching with disbelief as the events unfolded. It's strange how these things are so compelling to watch on TV, so far removed in Kansas, but something that will change your life forever.
As always be safe and thanks for all your good work. — Donna
I really enjoyed reading 'White Cat.' You're doing a great job of personalizing your experiences over there. I hope you stay safe and I hope your 'white cat' stays safe, too.
Steve, I've watched you with admiration from the start of this war. You're a gutsy guy, a stalwart. You report concisely and with passion. I'm easily old enough to be your mother, and I worry about you as well as all our people there. Stay safe.
— Vera (Monroe, CT)
Your story reminded me of Nam. There were few dogs and no cats. We wish there had been a cat. The cat would have kept the rats out of the barracks and trash which would have meant we wouldn't be killing them. I used a drawer once and a piece of chain link fence another time. I'm glad I was successful each time. Of course there were some that got away.
Lou (USA Ret), Colorado Springs, CO
Steve, I appreciate your blog. Today our 19-y/o is flying to Iraq to serve his first mission as a Marine. I am determined to see the glass as half full when I hear of news on the war on terror in Iraq and anywhere. It is difficult because each day I hear so much of the negative, which, I find out later, isn’t always negative, and this makes it unfair and unbalanced! When I hear something of the positive, I say, why didn’t we hear THAT 50 times like we heard the BAD, negative story 50 times!! When the positive IS there, I am determined to see it! Thank you for your part in getting it out to us.
— Jeannie, a mom
Steve Harrigan currently serves as a Miami-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.