‘All participants lie in war. It is natural.’ This was one of the many lessons for Anthony Loyd, reporting on the Bosnian War from 1993-1996. From learning to distance himself emotionally from the brutality of the frontlines to coming to terms with his own inner struggles, My War Gone By, I Miss It So recounts Loyd’s initial experience as a special correspondent for the Daily Telegraph and then the Times. Though it was as freelance photographer he first journeyed to Bosnia in 1993, he’s gone on to report on wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Chechnya and Bosnia. The book, written in 1997 and now reprinted in 2015, gives a rare insight into the naiveté, arrogance and confusion of a young man searching for solace in the destruction of war.
The memoir begins in 1993 as Loyd arrives in Sarajevo, but quickly weaves in the story of his past and how he’s arrived there. Coming from a family of military men, Loyd spent five years in the British Army and was disappointed by the lack of action. Wanting to see war, perhaps running away from a tormented relationship with his father and from heroin-addiction too, a spell in Bosnia seemed like the answer.
Through the book, we witness Loyd learning to be a journalist and grappling with his place as an outsider. In the Foreword to this reprint, Loyd laments that ‘the Bosnian war represented a closure of an era of reporting…the days of living and reporting “amongst the people” ended for most Western correspondents.’
From the moment he arrives in Sarajevo, Loyd truly does live amongst them, first in a small apartment with four individuals trapped in the city and later on the frontlines in central Bosnia. This privileged position allows him a view into the war which exposes its endless intricacies: ‘a multitude of separate conflicts, each of a different nature.’ In one poignant moment, Loyd meets a young soldier from the HVO, the Bosnian Croat army: he does not want to fight his ‘Muslim brothers,’ he says, ‘The war was forced upon us.’ Such interactions call into question the nationalist and ethnic divides that came to define the conflict.
Just as Loyd begins to understand the war and to take more political views of it —himself siding with the Muslims whom he sees as the victims (though even this is a complicated position that he grapples with) —he also comes to view violence in a new and detached light. Witnessing a young girl in Sarajevo killed by a mortar, he draws a contrast with seeing a man whose legs were blown off when he was later covering the war in Chechnya. The first encounter with violence leaves him paralyzed; he’s unable even to photograph the scene. In the latter, his camera becomes a way for him to shut out the emotion, remembering that he was ‘so shut down in those moments that a part of [him] even notice[d] that the spread of the other bodies was too wide to allow for a strong composition.’ Yet even as Loyd becomes hardened to the violence, he also continues to question his place as a journalist. ‘Who were we to stand back and do nothing, justifying inaction by claiming with misplaced arrogance that our job was only to report? …What good did reporting ever do in Bosnia anyway?’
As the title suggests, the book is in part about Loyd’s personal conflicts. As he becomes more deeply attached to the violence, his breaks from the war back in London are harder to face and his heroin addiction grows from a hobby shared with West London friends to a crippling disease he must face alone. Heroin, ‘was not just a complement to the war experience…heroin ensured the [he] never had to adapt to the change’ between war and peace. As readers, we watch a young man attempting to understand the evil of human nature and then, unable to communicate this to his friends back home, finding solace in a drug from which only war can save him.
My War Gone By, I Miss It So is a gruesome and honest account of a horrific scale of human violence and hatred. Just as Loyd becomes desensitized to the destruction around him, as a reader you too find the accounts of suffering and conflict turning routine. It’s a powerful, nuanced tale of a bewilderingly complex war and, perhaps most importantly, gives a full account of one man’s relationship with the conflict, helping to bring specificity and clarity to an otherwise convoluted moment in history.
Yet strong as the book is, it’s also told from the particular point of view of a young, arrogant man who ‘”escaped” his own life to witness the destruction of others’. ‘Looking back now,’ Loyd writes in the foreword, ‘I recognize with some amusement the self-involved sense of wisdom that I had at the time of writing. Forgive me,’ he asks, ‘…a young man’s grandiosity in the telling is part of the vanity of youth.’ It’s reassuring to know Loyd recognizes this self-involvement and vanity, for it comes through strongly in his writing.
But you do forgive him – he didn’t ‘short-change Bosnia or its people too much in the tale.’ On the contrary, he gave voice to a conflict largely ignored by the Western powers and his book creates understanding not only of the war, but of the role outsiders and international powers played in letting it continue far too long.
My War Gone By, I Miss It So is available from Amazon, priced £9.98 (£5.99 Kindle). The photo used as the carousel shot for this piece is “Sarajevo Siege Turajlic grave” by Christian Maréchal, available on Wikimedia Commons.