Remembering Tim Hetherington

Posted by: Michael Rutledge

The romantic appeal of war was lost on me a long time ago.  Maybe it’s because I’ve seen reruns of Saving Private Ryan roughly 68½ times on TV, but for some reason I don’t like Hollywood war movies.  It was for exactly these reasons that I was deeply saddened to hear of Tim Hetherington’s death last week in Libya.

Hetherington was the Indiana Jones of journalists, whisking off to warzones in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Afghanistan and most recently Libya.  He brought his photojournalism to a new level in his 2010 documentary Restrepo, a film that was more of a coming of age story than a war flick.  It followed a group of American soldiers over a 15-month deployment in the deadly Korengal Valley in Afghanistan.

Restrepo was beautiful because of its simplicity.  Hetherington had the poise to let the story do the talking for itself.  He let the viewer meet and become attached to the young soldiers who found themselves in a place they never should have been, fighting a war that couldn’t be won.  He threw away the shroud of romanticism associated with war and sat the viewer right in the middle of the meat-grinder, forcing them to watch as the decency of the human race seemed to crumble around a group of soldiers who were (frighteningly enough) younger than I am.

We watched curiously at their shoulders, TV-screen sized guardian angels, as they ate Pop-Tarts, played guitar, sunbathed and eventually were mercilessly gunned down.  Unlike the Hollywood movies, when someone got shot they didn’t “Rambo up”, wrap a belt around it and keep going… they died.  The world kept going and the camera kept rolling.  Hetherington “Got it”; he understood that journalism is about letting the story tell itself, not pulling at heartstrings across a silver screen.

I realize that countless journalists have been killed in war-zones over the last decade, and each one deserves more than just 536 words in a blog post to tell his or her life story.  I also realize that this is what they sign up for, this is what they live for, and that this is part of the danger of journalism.

If Hetherington had never directed Restrepo then I would never have known his name, I wouldn’t have given a second thought to his passing or be writing about him now.  But just because there are too many names to comment on doesn’t mean we should stop commenting completely.  It is important to remember that just a few years removed Tim Hetherington was a college student wondering what his place was in the world.  Twenty years from now, God forbid, if one of us ends up in a war torn city far from home, surrounded by mortar fire and broken glass, I hope that someone will take the time to sit down and say a word or two about why we deserve to be remembered.

How do you think we should remember those who give their lives in pursuit of the profession they love?  536 words is the best I can do at the moment, and I thought that Tim Hetherington, native of Birkenhead England and a loving son, brother and uncle, deserved that at least.

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4 responses to “Remembering Tim Hetherington

  1. This is an awesome blog post. I think it’s so hard to commemorate those who have passed away doing something they are so passionate about. You would think they would love to be remembered in a medium they knew so well–writing, or video. It just doesn’t seem like enough sometime.

    Although I haven’t seen Restrepo yet, I’ll will be checking it out soon after reading this.

  2. Fabulous blog post. You touch upon the topic of danger in journalism very well. This is something we do not hear much about it.

  3. I appreciate the reality of war that you address in this blog post. For me, personal accounts render a sense of greater responsibility when it comes to the subject of war.

  4. I have heard nothing but good things about Restrepo. It’s saddening to see such a courageous journalist, really a role model for embedded journalists everywhere, to fall.

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