Scoop Review of Books

Lamb to the Slaughter

Small Wars Permitting: Dispatches from foreign lands by Christina Lamb
Harper Press Reviewed by SARAH CHANDLER


Written over a twenty year period, Small Wars Permitting is an assortment of around 40 newspaper articles by the British war correspondent Christina Lamb.

Now in her forties, Christina Lamb has been reporting from the world’s hot spots since she was just 21. Having survived many perilous situations, she says she believes her life must be charmed: “I have spent twenty years living on the edge … I’ve been pinned down by Russian tanks … kidnapped by Pakistani intelligence … survived car crashes and emergency landings in planes held together by tape, and come under sniper fire in Iraq”. She was also a passenger on the then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s bus when it was bombed in Pakistan in 2007.

Like other war correspondents, Lamb ended up with a favourite or “pet” country to report on, and it is Afghanistan for which she developed an ongoing affection: “As a foreign correspondent your first war, the first story you get involved with, is like your first love affair – for me that was Afghanistan”, she says. Travelling back and forth to Afghanistan from her base in Peshawar, Pakistan, she has lived among the Mujahideen and still frequently returns to report on breaches of women’s rights under the Taliban.

In other dispatches in the collection Lamb recalls meetings with an American bounty hunter seeking Bin Laden in the wake of 9/11and describes staying with white farmers living in fear of Mugabe’s men in Zimbabwe, (Zimbabwe, she says, “is by far the most heartbreaking story I have ever covered”). While Lamb laments that the pen has not been mighty enough to prompt true power shifts in the world (“otherwise the likes of Mugabe would not still be in power”), she believes the role of the war reporter is to persist in telling the stories of the people on the ground during times of conflict.

Although some of the articles in this book are more than 20 years old, rather than appear dated or no longer relevant, they provide an excellent background to the issues facing contemporary Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe.

Christina Lamb was recently in New Zealand as a guest at the Wanaka festival of Colour. A broadcast of her contribution to the festival can be downloaded here


Sarah Chandler is a writer with the Defence Communications Group