Should Journalists be Bystanders or Moral Combatants in Relation to the theme of Conflict?

Encountering Conflict was part of the old VCE English context curriculum prior to 2017.  Students can use these ideas related to conflict as a theme not a context in their essays.

This information is for general information only and is NOT part of the new VCE curriculum from 2017 onwards.

In the VCE English Exam from 2010, the essay prompt was:

‘It is difficult to remain a bystander in any situation of conflict’.

How to Tackle the Prompt?

Purpose of the piece: To explore the degree of difficulty associated with particular types of ‘bystander’ when confronted with defined ‘conflicts’. In an expository piece, you are essentially exploring the connection between ideas.

Examine the prompt:

  1. What is a bystander?
  2. An impartial observer
  3. An accomplice
  4. A reluctant or eager participant

What situations of conflict are there?

  1. Internal/conscience/external
  2. Interpersonal
  3. Mental/physical
  4. Familial/generational/domestic/class/cultural/racial
  5. National/local community/international
  6. Is it difficult?
  7. The nature of the difficulty
  8. The degree of difficulty
  9. The consequences, how individuals/society respond and react

Some ideas about conflict:

What are the lasting consequences of conflict for individuals, families and communities? Conflicts rarely end once the war is over, or the fight has been won. There are winners and losers in every conflict, who remain affected long after the conflict is over. The consequences may range from trauma, physical and emotional pain to more positive outcomes such as change, opportunity and growth. One thing is certain; people are changed by experiences of conflict.

Some ideas about being a bystander:

We are all bystanders. In the process of our development as individuals we have the chance to both observe and participate in the mass of challenges that confront us daily. This will inevitably force us to question and evaluate our own morals in the context of our upbringing and culture. Our responses will also challenge our own sense of pride and dignity and force us to question ourselves. There are times when we will face forces beyond our control but the test of our character will be in how we respond.

The passive nature of some character’s observation could suggest they approve of what is taking place. At the very least it suggests the bystander does not have the moral courage to intervene or is simply scared to break what is an accepted schoolyard practice. This incident is a microcosm of those who watch others being persecuted in society without taking action.

Expository Essay Response Plan


First:                      Outline what the terms are (place any re-definitions you have here.) Add a Hook that brings the readers into your essay showing you understand the bigger picture behind the context and the text.

Second:                State your contention clearly.

Third:                    Outline your arguments briefly and carefully remembering your points will be used as topic sentences in your body paragraphs.

Body paragraphs

Support your argument. The support comes from the examples you wish to use, be that from the text, big ideas beyond the text, history, the world view, relevant current news, a famous person, your own opinion all relevant to the issue. In an Expository Essay you cannot use your own life or friends experiences, as this is more reflective. What do you want to say about the topic & the text studied? You must use TEEL to build your paragraphs:

  1. Topic sentence: In your topic sentence state your argument. The argument must exist alongside the text even though you spend the majority of the paragraph discussing a particular text or example.
  2. Evidence: State the example you’re looking at.
  3. Explanation: Explain how the example shows your argument, giving more evidence as you do so. Include quotes from the text where relevant.
  4. Linking sentence: Link your argument to your contention and use connective words to link logically onto the next paragraph.


Identify the discoveries and insights you have made. These should be clearly evident in your explanation. Use these insights to conclusively state what it is to be a bystander, the specific nature of the difficulties faced and how comparable these outcomes are to the various types of conflicts you have explored. Conclude with your text studied so that your readers are clear on how it is difficult to remain a bystander in any situation of conflict for the characters of the text you are studying.

Using the text Everyman in this Village is a Liar by Megan Stack we ask this question:

Are journalists bystanders or moral combatants when reporting on conflicts?

Consider these 2 questions in your expository or imaginative hybrid essay:

  1. Should journalists ditch the pretence of neutrality and express an emotional “attachment” to the good guys in any given conflict?
  2. If journalists allow themselves to become moral combatants, crusaders against “evil” rather than mere reporters of fact, is there a danger that they will be treated as combatants?

Megan Stack as a reporter of conflict

At first the 25-year-old Stack is avid and “naïve”, as any young reporter maybe, to be thrown unprepared into a war zone:

“I was a reporter,” she recalls, “who didn’t really know how to write about combat, covering America from outside its borders as it crashed zealously into war and occupation… It would be my generation’s fate, it seemed, to be altered by September 11. I got excited and felt that I was living through important times and went rushing in, and years later came away older, different, with damage that couldn’t be anticipated beforehand and can’t be counted after.”

And later, the awareness that to be there, on the spot, brings cachet among peers and the profession: “It was something we strove for, competed for fiercely, a privilege. And when we were done with it we simply went away again.”

In emphasising attachment over neutrality and emotionalism over objectivity, the new breed of attached reporters become more like an activist, an international campaigner, rather than a dispassionate recorder of fact and truth.

They become moral players in, rather than simply observers of, foreign wars. Other people in the media criticise the “bystander journalism” of the past – what was once known as being objective – and praise those new journalists who have self-consciously made themselves into “players” in conflict zones.

Inevitably Stack’s book ends as it has begun, with the line, “You can survive and not survive, both at the same time”. The emotional damage is palpable. There is no “redemption” – a favoured American urge to resolve a narrative – no explicable “clarity of vision” of this Middle Eastern excursion. Maybe, she implies, it will never come.

Journalists as Passive Bystanders to Stakeholders

When reporting a story as a foreign journalist, at what point do journalists transform from being a passive bystander to a stakeholder in the story being covered? The tension between these two identities raises questions that journalists have searched their souls about for generations: When does the reporter put down a notebook to try to change the outcome of a tense situation? Or is it enough simply to describe what others are doing? When should a photographer drop the camera and intervene? When is snapping the picture a way of intervening, rather than just a form of recording? Does the risk of an emotional wound bear on whether the journalist should act or stand by?

The idealistic journalists, with a moral conscience, may put aside the camera or notebook when there’s a reasonable chance their actions will help others or prevent harm. In the process, they can recognize the symptoms of stress and emotional injury in themselves and others, and they can better convey the emotional dimension of their stories.

People who are not willing to be bystanders in conflict

In Every Man in this Village is a Liar Atwar Bahjat a female Iraqi reporter is an example of a journalist who was not prepared to be a bystander but a moral combatant. It is individuals like Atwar Bahjat who act defiantly, and yet non-violently, in a regime that tries to repress them that must be recognised for their nobility. The horrific and suppressive nature of conflict has the ability to suspend individuals in fear and immobilize any chance of societal progression. It is this paralysis that oppressors in a conflict rely on to ensure that they can maintain the way of life that they demand.

Megan Stack’s memoir documents the ongoing religious conflict in Iraq, a country “united in fear”. She exposes the degradation of women and the divide between Iraqi Sunnis and Iraqi Shiites. Western readers are overwhelmed by the violent and bloody history of Iraq and are confronted with the peculiar perception that it is an accepted part of life. However, Stack challenges this perception and shows that just as in any conflict, there are insurgents that are essential to leading the way for societal advancement.

Atwar Bahjat, a female, Iraqi reporter, is symbolic of a united Iraq; undivided by religious differences. Regardless the restraints put on her as a woman in a patriarchal society, Bahjat used her access to the media as a means to stimulate discussion of an alternate future for Iraq. Although Bahjat’s death may be perceived as a failed attempt for change, her presence in Iraq was essential to stimulate discussion and demonstrate the courage required to peacefully challenge the status-quo.


Writing an Essay on Conflict

Image result for picture of conflict

This information is related to the old VCE English curriculum context Encountering Conflict and is NOT part of the new VCE English curriculum from 2017 onwards.

The Challenge When Writing an Essay on Conflict

The challenge when writing an Essay is to think outside the box when it comes to the IDEAS that the prompt is based on.

Ask Yourself Questions about Conflict

The Context Encountering Conflict asks you to question the types, causes and consequences of conflict.  There are many different types of conflict, ranging from:

1.            Internal conflict: When a person is confronted with a difficult choice to make. It is a mental or emotional struggle that occurs within a character‘s mind.

Think about the movie A Separation by Director Asghar Faradi and the internal conflict of conscience Nader, Simin, Termeh and Razieh encounter searching for truth and justice.  The choice each one takes in order to deal with conflict has an enormous impact on the way they relate to each other and the final resolution.

2.            Conflict of conscience: When a person struggles internally either because they have done something they feel is wrong, or are being asked to overcome their conscience and do something that they feel is wrong.  See notes above on Internal Conflict.  The movie A Separation brings up other issues to consider: Conflict and expectations of society and the family / Conflict and individual’s perspective.  As the movie title suggests, people are literally ‘separated’ from each other and themselves by their different experiences with conflict.

3.            Cultural conflict: When people from different cultural backgrounds disagree, find it difficult to live with one another or even fight because of their inability to understand one another (either literally, in terms of language, or because of different beliefs, traditions and cultural practices)

4.            Interpersonal conflict: When two or more people disagree or fight

5.            Physical conflict: When there is a conflict that leads to physical violence

6.            Familial conflict: When there is conflict between people from the same family

7.            Generational conflict: When there is conflict between people from different generations (this often overlaps with familial conflict)

8.            Class conflict: When there is conflict between people of different social classes

9.            International conflict: Conflict between countries.

Think about the text Every Man in this Village is a Liar by Megan Stack where conflict in the Middle East is on a regional level that involves countries after 9/11.  Think about the complexities and issues of Conflict and nationhood / Conflict and political power / Conflict and cultures / Conflict in paradox / Conflict without hope or despair /Conflict and conscience.

10.          National conflict: Conflict within countries, such as different ethnic groups.  See notes above on International Conflict.

11.          Local community or neighbourhood conflict

12.          Science and Religious conflict: Conflict between science and religion is based on two conflicting ways of knowing, one based on faith and authority and the other on observation, reason and doubt.

Think about the text Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht where the great religious powers of the Catholic Church bring all their ideological firepower to battle against Galileo’s science because he was a threat to their supremacy in the universe.  Think about Conflict and power / Conflict and morality / Conflict and truth / Conflict and the individual.

In terms of more recent conflict with the Catholic Church have a think about writing on the Royal Commission Investigation into Child Sexual Abuse in not only Catholic institutions but also other groups who abused children.  Think of the consequences for the victims of conflict and the emotional stress and trauma taking on the might of the Catholic Church and other authorities long after the physical conflict is over.

Think about How Conflict Arises

What are the causes of a particular conflict, or conflict in general?  The causes of conflict may range from ignorance and prejudice, to self interest and fear, to the struggle for power, justice or truth.  One might even argue that conflict is an essential or inevitable part of human life.

Finally, Think about the Consequences of Conflict

You might like to think about how individuals, or a society as a whole, respond and react to conflict.  The way an individual or a community responds to conflict reveals a lot about them, especially their strengths and their weaknesses.  You might also like to think about the lasting consequences of conflict for individuals, families and communities.  Conflicts rarely end once the war is over, or the fight has been won.  There are winners and losers in every conflict, who remain affected long after the conflict is over.  The consequences may range from trauma and physical and emotional pain to more positive outcomes, such as change, opportunity and growth.

One thing is certain: people are changed by experiences of conflict.  Think about the Syrian refugee crisis and the fact that all these people will be irrevocably changed by their search for freedom from war in their homeland.  Unable to go back to Syria they have to go forward to a new country and a life they never dreamed of encountering.

See also notes above on Science and Religious Conflict and notes on The Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse above and The Stolen Generation.

Real Life References of Conflict

I get asked by many students: What are the real life references of conflict that I can use for my own essay writing on the context?  In conjunction with my notes above here are some more of my ideas that may help you to formulate an essay.  Remember to link your text to the prompt given in the SAC or Exam:

1.            Truth and Reconciliation Commissions: A commission tasked with discovering and revealing past wrongdoing by a government in the hope of resolving conflict left over from the past, e.g. in South Africa after apartheid ended.  The purpose of the commissions is not punishment or revenge, but rather to get to the truth of the events that occurred, apportion responsibility and move forward together as a community (often aiming to re-integrate perpetrators into the community).  See notes on The Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse above.

2.            Reconciliation for the Stolen Generations. The ‘Stolen Generations’ are the generations of Aboriginal children taken away from their families by governments, churches and welfare bodies to be brought up in institutions or fostered out to white families. Removing children from their families was official government policy in Australia until 1969. A major recommendation of the Bringing them Home Report was that all Australian Parliaments apologise to the Stolen Generations for the actions of their predecessors in forcibly removing children from their families.

All State and Territory Governments have apologised. Many local governments, police forces, government agencies, non-government organisations and church groups have also apologised.  In 1999 the Commonwealth Government passed a ‘statement of regret’ for past practices.

Think about the play Stolen by Jane Harrison which tells of five Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their families, brought up in a repressive children’s home and trained for domestic service and other menial jobs.  Segregated from their community, after their release they begin their journey ‘home’, not all of them successfully.

While Stolen the play is categorised under the Context of Identity and Belonging it is also worth considering the consequences of the physical conflict that the forced removal of the children has had on all generations involved.  Consider the how the play explores the pain, the poignancy and sheer desperation of their lives as seen through the children’s own eyes as they struggle to make sense of a world where they have been told to forget their families, forget their homes and forget their culture.  Look at the internal conflict the stolen generation has dealt with as adults in terms of disadvantage, low self esteem, depression, vulnerability to sexual abuse and lack of links with Aboriginal culture in the future.

3.            War protests: The division in countries participating in unpopular wars, such as the Vietnam war or the more recent wars in the Middle East.

4.            Wars and conflicts that have stemmed from prejudice: Apartheid in South Africa, the conflict in Sudan and the war in Sri Lanka are just some examples.

5.            Any situation in which individuals have to take sides

6.            Cold War witch hunts (of which The Crucible by Arthur Miller is symbolic): Refers to the heightened fears of communism in 1950s America, which led to the creation of the House of Un-American Activities Committee’s hysterical rooting out of suspected communists during this time, including the play’s author Arthur Miller.

Private Home Tutoring of English Not an On-Line Free Tutoring Service

I am NOT an on-line free tutoring service.  My resources on this website are for general use only.  I do not write student’s essays for them or give out advice on how to write essays from prompts.  However, for more intensive tutoring in a specific area of English, I will visit students in their own homes for private tutoring sessions that are paid on an hourly basis.



Every Man in this Village is a Liar by Megan Stack


What is Every Man in This Village Is a Liar about?

A few weeks after the planes crashed into the World Trade Centre on 9/11, journalist Megan Stack, a 25-year-old national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, was thrust into Afghanistan and Pakistan, dodging gunmen and prodding warlords for information.  From there, she travelled to war-ravaged Iraq and Lebanon and to other countries scarred by violence, including Israel, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, witnessing the changes that swept the Muslim world, and striving to tell its stories.

Every Man in This Village Is a Liar is Megan Stack’s unique and breathtaking account of what she saw in the combat zones and beyond.  It is her memoir about the wars of the 21st century.  She relates her initial wild excitement and her slow disillusionment as the cost of violence outweighs the elusive promise of freedom and democracy.  She reports from under bombardment in Lebanon; documents the growth of unusual friendships; records the raw pain of suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq; and, one by one, marks the deaths and disappearances of those she interviews.

The Prologue in Every Man in this Village is a Liar

The Prologue is Megan’s way of looking back on 10 years of killing and dying.  She says that “… the first thing I knew about war was also the truest, and maybe it’s as true for nations as for individuals: You can survive and not survive, both at the same time” [p.4].  Megan reflects that the US determination in the wake of the September 11 attacks to go out and ‘tame all the wilderness of the world’ was an instinctive response.  With the benefit of retrospect Megan surveyed the damage this folly has done to the US, to the affected nations in the Middle East and to her.  In the end she judged that September 11 was the beginning of a ‘disastrous reaction’.

The Quote “Every man in this village is a liar”

Megan realises that in the new reality of the war on terror, truth is no longer an absolute but the servant of political necessity.  In Pakistan someone said to Megan, “Every man in this village is a liar” [p.9].  She explains it as “… one of the world’s oldest logic problems … If he’s telling the truth, he’s lying.  If he’s lying, he’s telling the truth.  That was Afghanistan after September 11” [p.9].

Encountering Conflict in the Text

The text is primarily concerned with Megan’s encounters with violent military conflicts in the Middle East.  It does also deal with conflict on many levels.  Not only does it examine deadly force used by countries at war it also considers how people subjected to this invasion or assault live with the constant fear of arrest, torture or death.

Megan also contemplates her own survival of what covering these wars has done to her as a person.  In effect she documents the political and also moral price of the war on terror for America.  She speaks about ‘sacrifice’ in chapter 8 [p.96] in countries that have historical conflict that stretches back over centuries.  As a result Megan asserts that “Violence is a reprint of itself, an endless copy” [p.96].

Ways to Look at Conflict

Have a look carefully at this brilliant Conflict Flowchart to see what light it might shed for you on the ideas connected with the Context ‘Encountering Conflict’ and the text Every Man in this Village is a Liar.  [Just for the record I did not create this flowchart but some other incredibly clever person did.] conflict flow chart

Private Home Tutoring of English Not an On-Line Free Tutoring Service

I am NOT an on-line free tutoring service.  My resources on this website are for general use only.  I do not write student’s for them or give advice as to what to write for an essay prompt.  However, for more intensive tutoring in a specific area of English, I will visit students in their own homes for private tutoring sessions that are paid on an hourly basis.