Siobhan Darrow '81

Reporting on war, resolving conflict
Writer: 
October 1, 2006
Siobhan Darrow '81

Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times

Siobhan Darrow is no stranger to strife. That's what war reporters do—seek out conflict and share their findings with a global audience that can't get enough. As one of CNN's few female war correspondents in the 1990s, Darrow reported from the trenches of conflict in Moscow, Chechnya, the Balkans, Albania, Israel, and Northern Ireland, the land from which her own mother immigrated to the U.S.

"There was some part of me that thought this was really important work—to shine the light on dark places and tell stories that weren't getting told," says Darrow. "In the news media, we have a special tendency to paint things in black and white, tell stories with good guys and bad guys. I didn't see the world that way. I always felt it was important to tell the unpopular side."

At Duke, for example, Darrow was drawn to Slavic studies at the height of the Cold War and, in 1980, visited the Soviet Union, where she became a "Cold War bride" to her first husband, a young photographer looking for a way out of the dysfunctional Communist bloc.

Growing up, Darrow saw at first hand that wars need not take place exclusively on battlefields between soldiers, but could just as easily take place in kitchens within families riven by culture and religion. Most of her Jewish-American father's family was so displeased by his marriage to an Irish-Protestant wife that they refused to meet Siobhan, her mother, or her sisters.

In retrospect, Darrow believes it was this upbringing that left her comfortable amidst the chaos of warfare, a discovery she made only when writing a memoir of her reporting years, Flirting with Danger: Confessions of a Reluctant War Reporter (Anchor Books, 2002). "I was out there busy telling other people's stories, but I didn't really know my own and, on some level, didn't understand what was motivating me," she says. "When I decided to stop and take a more internal journey, I found during the writing process that the blueprint for the life I was leading came from my childhood, from growing up in a war zone of my own."

These days, Darrow finds herself in Los Angeles, having just graduated from a master's program in psychology at Antioch University and living with her current husband, a former New York Times China correspondent who first saw Darrow through her CNN broadcasts and courted her via e-mail before they ever met.

Now counseling students in a Santa Monica high school, Darrow still hasn't escaped war zones. Recently, she was trying to help her students cope with the death of a sixteen-year-old honor student killed by gang violence. "I have seen over and over how tenuous life is and how this kind of violence affects everybody and tears apart the fabric of a community," says Darrow. "I feel well-equipped to handle the pain."

Where once she reported on conflicts among armies, Darrow now works at the micro level to understand where conflict comes from in an individual and to study how it festers and grows in families, neighborhoods, and then between nations.

Looking ahead, Darrow says she sees a life dedicated to conflict resolution. In the short term, this may mean helping a couple on the verge of divorce learn not to demonize each other, to see that the other side has a history and a rationale for acting a certain way. Longer term, she would like to try to apply her skills on a more global level, no longer reporting on war, but trying to prevent it.