Who were your heroes during your formative years? As a child of the 1970s, many of mine were journalists, especially those reporting on war and revolution in Southeast Asia and Latin America. I wanted to be Mel Gibson in The Year of Living Dangerously, James Woods in Salvador, or even Nick Nolte in Under Fire. It was all so exciting and glamorous, but all of these role models were men. As a teenager I idealized that romantic image of the hard drinking, rugged, tough guy journalist. When I read When the War was Over for a college seminar on the politics of revolution, I added a real-life heroine to my pantheon: Elizabeth Becker. She covered the horrors of the American bombing of Cambodia, the barbaric civil war, and the unfathomable brutality of the Khmer Rouge. She was there, on the ground in Cambodia, when so much of the world turned away. Now she has written a book about her heroes, three female journalists who covered the American War in Vietnam, the Second Indochina War, and the way it spilled into Cambodia. You Don't Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War is a profile of these three journalists, but it also works as a narrative of the war in Vietnam and in Cambodia. Obviously, this book genders our understanding of the war and the reporters who told the world about this war.
Like the three women she profiles in You Don't Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War (PublicAffairs, 2021), Elizabeth Becker began her career as a war correspondent in Southeast Asia. She arrived Cambodia in early 1973. Writing for the Washington Post, she covered the American bombing and the war between the Lon Nol government and the Khmer Rouge. She wrote a major exposé of the Khmer Rouge leadership. During the Khmer Rouge regime, she was one of a handful of Westerners allowed into the country and met Pol Pot. She was almost killed by assassins during that surreal trip. She has been the Senior Foreign Editor for National Public Radio and a New York Times correspondent covering national security, economics and foreign policy. She has won accolades from the Overseas Press Club and was part the Times team that won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for coverage of 9/11. She is the author of When the War was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution, which has been in print for 35 years and remains one of the best books on the Khmer Rouge. She has also written Bophana, America’s Vietnam War: A Narrative History, and Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, an exposé of the travel industry. She also served as an expert witness in the Khmer Rouge genocide trials in Phnom Penh.
Michael G. Vann is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Modernity
Michael G. Vann is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 2018). When he’s not reading or talking about new books with smart people, Mike can be found surfing in Santa Cruz, California.