Books: “Unembedded”
May 15, 2009

Author: Scott Taylor
Douglas & McIntyre: January 2009
Pages: 400 List: $34.95

Reviewed by LGen Steve Lucas
© 2009 FrontLine Defence (Vol 9, No 3)

Scott Taylor’s latest work “Unembedded – Two Decades of Maverick War Reporting” delivers what you might expect from this self professed gadfly of the establishment. It contains plenty of action, some unique insights and lots of contrary views, making it a worthwhile read for those interested in the many conflicts of the past 20 years. Well-known in military circles, Scott Taylor has been involved in and around the Canadian Forces for more than two decades, and his book contains first hand observations and insights that should intrigue students of world events. Largely an autobiography, the book focuses on a select number of national and world events in which Scott was personally involved – very involved.

The reader’s interest is immediately piqued as we become immersed in the ­harrowing events of September 2004 Iraq when Scott and a Turkish reporter were taken captive by a succession of mujahedeen groups for five nerve-wracking days in war torn Iraq. It is compelling reading.
The meat of the book captures his first hand involvement in four major events of the past two decades – the Balkans, Somalia, Iraq and finally Afghanistan.

The title tells the tale – Taylor has always chosen the path less travelled. Not for him are the well-managed battlefield glimpses that are the life of many embedded journalists. He puts himself in harm’s way to find stories that otherwise rarely get covered.

Taylor’s Balkan adventures are split into two parts – in the first he begins to report on the shades of grey in that complex and dangerous conflict. Using contacts made during his days in the military – he pieced together just how much like war it really was – in what was reported for so long in Canada as just another middle of the road peace keeping mission. Although this story has been recounted elsewhere – the author’s personal experiences help this come alive.

A large section involves those dark days for Canada’s military (the mid-nineties) – specifically, Canada’s military involvement in Somalia – the torture and killing of the young Somali Shidane Arone, and subsequent cover-up and inquiry that resulted in the demise of the Airborne Regiment. Here again the author has unique perspectives having been personally involved in breaking the story and sustaining it when it threatened to disappear below the radar.

Much has been written by embedded journalists of the U.S. and its allies. Scott has chosen to deliberately take a different perspective by travelling to areas on his own – accepting more risk than most journalists.

In covering the Balkans, Taylor chooses to tell the story from Belgrade as NATO bombs fell, providing another perspective for a more complete understanding of that complex tale.
Woven in and around these recountings is how he started and kept publishing Esprit de Corps magazine. I have to admire his tenacity in the face of so many obstacles.

To those interested in a more complete understanding of those four stories, Unembedded is a very useful supplement. As a first-hand account from a single point of view it cannot and does not tell the whole story, but much of what has been written on these events does not tell the whole story either. It will be some time before a more complete and balanced understanding is achieved. Until then, books such as this help provide more of the untold story.

The book is at its best when it reveals insights that the author’s unique experiences allow him to provide. His challenging travels to besieged Belgrade during the NATO bombing campaign and subsequent visit to Kosovo are most worthwhile. And he raises excellent questions regarding the questionable treatment of the Albanian Kosovar Agim Ceku, whose barbaric actions in the Medak pocket were well known by Canadian Forces but who appears to have been given a free pass by NATO and subsequently seems to have facilitated more atrocities during the Kosovo conflict.

The book does have its weaknesses as well. A number of unsubstantiated allegations could have been better explained or other sources provided, includ­ing his assertion that, in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, U.S. commanders went out of their way to allow the Republican Guard to rearm. He also makes claims regarding the Iraqi recovery of Silkworm missiles from Kuwait and the subsequent U.S. response. Given the seriousness of these allegations, it would have been useful to provide more substantiation. Although it contains a number of photographs, most are small and grainy and don’t really add much to the experience.

“Unembedded” is a worthwhile read for those who seek a more complete understanding of certain high profile events of the past 20 years and of the ever-­developing art of war reporting. Taylor has written from the unconventional perspective and has thrust himself into the most interesting of places – his unique insights will help expand horizons for those whose only sources are the mainstream media.

Steve Lucas, a former Chief of the Air Staff, enjoyed a CF career of nearly 38 years.
© 2009 FrontLine Defence