John Simpson says his tearful son asks him not to go to war zones

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John Simpson, the BBC's World Affairs Editor, has spoken of his pain at heading off to cover wars in Syria and Afghanistan - leaving behind his tearful 10-year-old son.

Mr Simpson, 72, said his job has become "harder" through being the parent of a young child, and that he was aware that his son worried when he was away reporting from conflict zones. "The tears steal down his cheeks and he asks me not to go - that's quite hard," he said.

The veteran correspondent, who is celebrating a 50-year long career, was speaking at the One Young World 2016 Summit in Ottawa, Canada, where he has been addressing young leaders from more than 190 countries. He said he intended to continue reporting from dangerous places. "It's a job that I feel has got to be done and it's a job that a lot of people don't want to do nowadays. So I go and I will carry on going as long as the BBC, or whoever, will send me," he said in an interview with One Young World's YouTube channel.

"I find it harder now, partly because I have got a 10-year-old son who does get affected by these things," he said. "When I go off to Syria or to Iraq or Libya or wherever, he goes quite quiet. One of his teachers said to me she always knows when I am away because he looks out of the window a lot more and is much more thoughtful." 

The role would "become easier" when "my son gets a bit older and doesn't care and is out with his mates and his mother says daddy has gone off to Afghanistan," said Mr Simpson, who became a father again at the age of 61.

He also spoke of his admiration for the late Nelson Mandela, who he identified as the outstanding statesman of his career, and expressed dismay that the former South African President was dismissed as "an Uncle Tom" by some young people in South Africa.

"I got to know [Nelson Mandela] quite moderately well and interviewed him quite a lot. Now when I go to South Africa you hear young people saying 'Oh, he was just an Uncle Tom, he just did what the white people want'," he said. "The thought that the man that I admire most in the world should be regarded as an Uncle Tom who just did it to help other people make money!" Mr Simpson said he was confident that "people will come back to understanding how important Nelson Mandela was".

Mr Simpson dismissed the idea that the world had become a more violent place than when he began his career in news. "When I became a journalist 50 years ago the world was a much more dangerous place; political crimes and wars were much, much greater than they are now."

He also rejected the notion that Islam and the West were locked into a never-ending struggle. "The idea that somehow we are in a permanent war between militant Islam and Western values Absolute nonsense! This will change and it will change I think fairly soon," he said.

Mr Simpson said that the media sometimes had a tendency to "make the world more excitable and worked up about things" and said similar fears were stoked up "about Irish terrorism in the 1970s". He said: "It's just extraordinary how fast that changes and this will change fast too."

He said it was difficult for older generations to dissuade the young perpetrators of violence and argued that other young people were more effective in changing the mindsets of their peers.

"It's young people that create this violence, so it's got to be young people that sort it out, " he said. "It's no good someone of my age trying to reach out, the only people that can reach out successfully are going to be young people themselves, so they are absolutely critical."

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