Magazine article The New Yorker

MICHAEL KELLY (1957-2003) Series: 2/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

MICHAEL KELLY (1957-2003) Series: 2/5

Article excerpt

A decade ago, a freelance journalist named Michael Kelly decided, with all due respect, to defy the government of the United States. The Pentagon had established such strict regulations on press coverage of the Gulf War that the human truth of the air war was successfully transformed, on the video screens of the briefing rooms, into a kind of bloodless game. Kelly decided that he would see the war without such mediation and set out for the desert. His reports from the front, like this one, in The New Republic, describing a "highway to hell," were boundlessly real:

Even in a mass attack, there is individuality. Quite a few of the dead had never made it out of their machines. Those were the worst, because they were both exploded and incinerated. One man had tried to escape to Iraq in a Kawasaki front-end loader. His remaining half-body lay hanging upside down and out of his exposed seat, the left side and bottom blown away to tatters, with the charred leg fully fifteen feet away. Nine men in a slat-sided supply truck were killed and flash-burned so swiftly that they remained, naked, skinned, and black wrecks, in the vulnerable positions of the moment of first impact. One body lay face down with his rear high in the air, as if he had been trying to burrow through the truck bed. His legs ended in fluttery, charcoaled remnants at mid thigh. He had a young, pretty face, slightly cherubic, with a pointed little chin; you could still see that even though it was mummified. Another man had been butterflied by the bomb; the cavity of his body was cut wide open and his intestines and such were still coiled in their proper places, but cooked to ebony.

After the war, Michael wrote "Martyrs' Day," an extraordinary account of what he had seen, and then went to work at the Times. Between 1994 and 1996, he was on the staff of The New Yorker, where he wrote Letter from Washington. He was a natural choice. Michael grew up on Capitol Hill--his parents, Tom and Marguerite, are both journalists there (his mother still writes a column on parenting for the Washington Post)--and his passion for the city and its politics was fierce. At the magazine, he was a warm and devoted colleague. That was the case everywhere he worked. After leaving The New Yorker, he went on to edit, successively, The New Republic, National Journal, and The Atlantic Monthly. At each stop, he had a reputation as a kind of ideal editor. …

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