This book is a remarkable record of the 48 years Charles Arnot spent as an American journalist covering every hot spot in the world from World War II through the Middle East and Vietnam. The same lucid reporting style which made "Charlie" a popular TV foreign correspondent coupled with a deep understanding of the culture and the ways of each people and region make this book a compelling read for anyone studying international developments and how international news is reported.
While the author seems to have targeted an audience of "old and new" journalists in the way the book is structured and the subjects covered, it is of great interest to international and regional scholars as well. The book was certainly significant to me as a Middle East scholar. Arnot spent many years covering the Middle East from Cairo and came to appreciate the area, and in particular the Arab world. His treatment of regional politics and how people conduct their daily lives is especially noteworthy.
But Arnot was more concerned with journalism. He writes about practically every journalist he met during his far-flung assignments. They included some very important names, some who played a double role as intelligence officers. Arnot wanted the book to be a memorial to the 244 journalists who lost their lives serving the Fourth Estate. He did not shy away from expressing strong opinions about the present state of journalism and the newer styles of writing which the new crop of journalists seem to be adopting.
The Middle East part of the book is particularly strong. I served in Cairo at the same time Arnot was there, even had offices in the same building, the Societe Orientale du Publicite, at Rue Galal. I worked for The Egyptian Gazette while Arnot headed the INS (then the UPI) office and finally became the ABC correspondent.
In April 1956, I was asked to join Arnot and a number of Egyptian journalists on an investigative trip to Gaza, then administered by Egypt. The three of us - Arnot, Major Mohsen Abdel Khalik and I (p. 190) - drove to Gaza from Cairo in a Volkswagen Beetle. Arnot, over six feet tall, had to squeeze himself into that small car. We visited a hospital which had recently taken casualties when it was hit by Israeli shells. We also visited the front line near Khan Yunis and refugee camps and listened to a number of fedayeen relate their recent exploits behind enemy lines.
In line with Arnot's inquisitive mind, the book is a trove of firsthand information. I must leave it to others to evaluate the part of the book which deals with areas other than the Middle East, but his discussion of the Vietnam debacle made me nevertheless feel I can now fathom what happened there.
Arabs have always complained that they do not receive proper coverage in the U.S. media, and that this explains why Americans do not fully understand the them. I found an incident in Arnot's book (p. 186) that might provide a good explanation. He pointed out that he once complained to Bill (William Randolph) Hearst that his dispatches never seemed to receive as much play as the Tel Aviv dispatches, to which Hearst responded, "Well, Charlie, look at it this way. Just how many Arabs own big department stores that spend money advertising in our papers?"
On the same note, I remember the following story that Arnot related to me. He had returned to New York from Cairo to report to ABC and was interviewed by the network about the Arab-Israeli question. He pointed out that he felt Nasser of Egypt was Israel's best bet for peace. The next day the Israeli consul-general in New York invited him for lunch and quizzed him on his Nasser statement. This was during the period when Nasser was being demonized. The Israeli consul-general wanted to make sure that Arnot's TV comment would not sidetrack that campaign.
It is difficult to produce a perfect book, however hard one tries, and this is not an exception. I could not understand how Arnot could hear bombs exploding at Almaza airport considering its distance from his downtown office (p. 192). The Cairo Conference created the state of Iraq and the Emirate of Transjordan, both as British Mandates, but did not create the "independent" states of Iraq and Transjordan (p. 190). Any Middle East specialist should know that Haj Amin Al Husseini did not "come out of prison and get himself elected mufti of Jerusalem by letting it be known that the other candidates had better withdraw-or else." Under the British, the high commissioner appointed the mufti; and it was Sir Herbert Samuel, a Jew, who brought Haj Amin back from Transjordan and appointed him mufti. Later Sir Herbert, who became Lord Samuel, wrote that this was a mistake he made while British high commissioner (p. 198).
Arnot always appreciated the good life and had his good share of it. He must have known that there were two famous Egyptian belly dancers, Tahia Karyoka and Samia Gama), but there was no Tahia Gama) (p. 205). Finally in defense of the Cairo cops, they do not trumpet a foghorn. At night they would whistle to each other at specified times to determine whether they were safe and at their assigned beat (p. 207).
I strongly recommend Charles Arnot's book to every person interested in the Middle East, and, I must add, to any journalist or international-relations scholar.