BOOK REVIEW / In brief: Live From the Battlefield - Peter Arnett: Bloomsbury, pounds 17.99

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The Independent Culture
Peter Arnett has a genius for attracting fire. In 1965, one of President Johnson's aides called him 'more damaging to the US cause than a whole battalion of Vietcong', and almost 30 years after Vietnam, reporting from Baghdad for CNN at a moment of the Gulf War when all other television correspondents had been ordered out, the lesson learned in Vietnam - 'to believe only what my eyes had seen' - earned him fiercer criticism still. As Stormin' Norman Schwartzkopf dulled the critical senses of lesser journalists with video cassettes of 'smart' bombs destroying bridges but never lives, Arnett reported from Baghdad on the evidence of his eyes. He patiently testified to civilian casualties, and dared to say that what the Pentagon called a production facility for biological weapons had all the appearances of being just what the Iraqis claimed it was, a factory that had produced nothing more lethal than milk powder.

It was only when other journalists were permitted back into Baghdad that Arnett learned how controversial his reporting had been. He had been denounced on the floor of the US Congress as 'the Joseph Goebbels of Saddam Hussein's Hitler-like regime', and CNN bureaus had been picketed by protestors demanding that he be silenced. British MPs had called him a turncoat.

It is presumably the notoriety of Baghdad that has persuaded Arnett to publish in Britain. But however excellent a reporter he is, and however familiar his voice became during the bombing of Baghdad, it is doubtful whether this book will generate much interest here. Arnett offers no new insights into Iraq, where his minders kept him on a predictably tight rein, and focuses instead on the distant past, reserving almost three-quarters of his pages for Vietnam experiences already chronicled - brilliantly - by such former colleagues as Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam. Writing after them, Arnett all too often sounds not 'live', but a distant echo.

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