Freelance Japanese journalist Kenji Goto covered war and conflict in the Middle East and Africa before he was executed by ISIS in Syria on Jan. 30, 2015.
Prior to his capture and murder, Goto filled his website Independent Press with thoughts about his experiences reporting around the world. He wrote about a trip to the Sinai Peninsula in July 2014, a post that perhaps gives insight into why he worked as a journalist:
[To be or not to be]
“What can I do?”
“To be or not to be…”
Why are there so many conflicts in the world, and why can they not be stopped? On the other hand, I have new understanding about the jadedness and disappointment brought on by globalization.
For example, [when confronted by this harsh reality] most people become defensive and think “there are so many things that we really do not know about” or “we alone are in a safe place compared to the rest of the world…” or “my family is the most important thing to me.”
In situations like these, all I can ask is: “What can *I* do?”
Even before Japan’s Self Defense Force (JDF) was sent to Iraq to support the reconstruction of that country in January 2004, Goto started writing articles on his website from Iraq in November 2003.
Goto discussed why he thought it was important to work as a Japanese journalist in Iraq.
After the government sent the JDF to Iraq, Japanese citizens did not have opportunity to know what is really happening here.
If we do not have information, how can we discuss whether the JDF should stay in Iraq or come back?
Iraq is changing. It is not as simple as the fall of the Berlin Wall. Iraq is instead in the process of the reconstruction of a new country under occupation.
When the history is being made, wouldn't you want to document images and write down what is happening?
When we explore history by examining images recorded in the past, we learn from history and are moved, aren't we? Isn’t this what we want to leave for future generations?
After civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Goto travelled to that country to interview residents of the war zone. Goto wrote on his website:
I met some Sunni Muslims who still live in this city.
There is no electricity or water. To live here, the residents need to pump the groundwater and use scrap wood to make fire.
There's a man who remains here by himself because he wants to protect the family house and their livestock. He already asked his wife and children to take refuge in a city far away.
Another couple said that their family has been broken because their children had fled to other countries.
“When there are no government helicopters we pump the groundwater. When we worked in the farm, they attacked us.
We cannot tolerate this kind of life anymore. They will expel all of us from our country. Our children have already fled to other countries.”
Goto also described how Syrians tried to protect themselves:
The government force changed their strategy from ground attacks using tanks to air strikes using bombs. As a result, the soldiers who used to be in the city disappeared, but the military bases attack villages and cities nearby with mortars.
The sounds of mortars and air strikes can be heard from everywhere 24 hours a day.
People make jokes about the Free Syrian Army: “They are difficult to deal with.” In the cities and villages, family members cling together.
These small groups bound strongly by the blood ties of and their belief have their special advantages compared to the government forces. However, what they fight for isn't domination but for protection of their own city or village.
In the war zone, Goto was forced to face the death of his own local friends, and he expressed how sad it made him feel:
Why must they be killed? They are supposed to have bright futures with hope and great potential. They should have had the opportunity to meet women, get married, have children and build a family.
These people who suffer from the war say, “The dead ones are the lucky ones. They do not have any pain any more. They can sleep peacefully now. Being alive is a horrible thing.” These words are ironic, but this is what they really think.[…]
And then there was Hamza, a young clever fellow who helped charity organizations deliver bread to about 1,000 war orphans and needy families. He was killed by air strikes on July 10. Every time when I asked him for help he always had a big smile on his face. We drank tea together and ate sweets together. To thank him, I gave him a watch made in Japan, a small digital camera, and other presents. During wartime, it is nice to have the opportunity to give presents to someone.
In the war zones, how many people who have helped me have been killed?
But I am still alive. I survive and go back to my country and focus on my work to tell people what is happening here.
I never thought that they would be killed.
Now I can still remember Hamza's smile clearly.
No matter how lost I am in reverie thinking about “why,” they will never come back.
God, please give them peace.
Witnessing so many sad stories, Goto said in a tweet in December 2010 that all he can do is to keep working as a journalist:
— 後藤健二 (@kenjigotoip) diciembre 1, 2010
We need not shed tears when reporting on assignment. I just need to record what I see clearly: the stupidity and ugliness of humans, the injustice, the sadness, and the life-threatening conditions. However, pain is still pain, and it torments my soul. If I do not speak to myself, I cannot do this job anymore.
After Goto’s death, one of his tweets went on to be retweeted nearly 40,000 times in remembrance of his work in the Middle East and his belief in peace:
— 後藤健二 (@kenjigotoip) septiembre 7, 2010
Close your eyes. Bear it. If we become angry and yell, we are doomed. This is like prayer. Hate is not what humans should do. Judgment lies with God. That is what I learned from my Arab brothers.