'Steven Was Brave and Unlucky, but He Was Not Stupid'

A colleague remembers Steven Sotloff, the latest victim in a war on civilization.

Free Syrian Army fighters in Damascus (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

Michael Totten remembers Steven Sotloff, who was part of a roving band of very brave reporters covering hard wars in a new and terrible age. After the very brave and very smart (and very risk-aware) Danny Pearl was beheaded, I used to argue to colleagues that his death was the exception that proved the rule: Most terrorist groups still wanted reporters to carry their message to the world, or so we told ourselves in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan. No more: The exception is no longer exceptional. The murder is the message.

Totten, a very brave reporter himself, just posted a remembrance of Steven Sotloff. Here is part of  it:

When he lived in Benghazi and everyone was heading for the exits, he told me—and I believed him—that Benghazi was the same old Benghazi, by which he meant mostly fine aside from some unfortunate incidents. Dangerous places are often, though not always, less dangerous than they appear in the media. At least they appear that way.

Maybe that's just a trick of the mind. Those of us who insert ourselves into war zones figure out ways to cope with anxiety and get it to drop nearly to zero. The human mind is extremely adaptable, and it’s easier to neutralize fear when it’s faced voluntarily. That’s why I felt calm in Baghdad most of the time. It’s also why exposure therapy works.  

Steven was brave and unlucky, but he was not stupid. He knew how risky going to Syria was and, according to Ben Taub, he planned to take a hiatus from this nasty business after one final trip and possibly apply to graduate school in Florida.

The Islamic State took that from him, and they took him from us.