Photojournalists met death

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They go where the violence is most intense to chronicle the realities of war. Casualties among war correspondents may seem inevitable. But it’s always shocking. Especially when it’s one of the best, one you’ve been following…

This particular story goes back a decade. As a journalist fascinated by foreign affairs and human interest stories around the world, especially where conditions are most precarious, I followed events in Afghanistan closely enough to be horrified when the leader known as Massoud was assassinated on September 9, 2001. Journalist Sebastian Junger captured the story at the end of his book Fire released that year, and I followed the work of Junger.

Fast forward to 2010, when Junger and photojournalist Tim Hetherington released a compelling documentary film Restrepo, based on the gritty reality of war rendered through the raw daily routine of a platoon defending an outpost in “the deadliest place on earth”, in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. I saw it soon after release, and found it jarring. The two journalists, Junger and Hetherington, committed every ounce of storytelling skill they had to bringing world attention to the story of humanity at war. It wasn’t partisan or partial or political. It was deeply humane. I was deeply moved.

This week, while sweeping through news headlines to gather reporting priorities on Wednesday, I saw this. It caught my breath. It finally happened. Tim Hetherington and fellow award-winning photojournalist Chris Hondros were killed in Libya.

This is wrenching. War is hell and they helped us realize that, deeper in the fiber of our being, through the stories they risked their lives to tell. I’m a bleeding heart, and don’t appreciate the political tag that usually finishes that phrase, any more than these professionals did. Human compassion transcends politics, and it’s politics that turns some international conflicts into quagmires that descend into the madness and tyranny of violence.

Not to be simplistic. Nothing simple about this, nothing pat or clear or neat.

Sebastian Junger struggled to find words.

“Tim, man, what can I say?” Junger began. “For the first few hours, the stories were confused enough that I could imagine maybe none of them were true, but they finally settled into one brief, brutal narrative: While covering rebel forces in the city of Misrata, Libya, you got hit by a piece of shrapnel and bled to death on the way to the clinic…

“You and I were always talking about risk because she was the beautiful woman we were both in love with, right?” Junger continued.

“The one who made us feel the most special, the most alive? We were always trying to have one more dance with her without paying the price. All those quiet, huddled conversations we had in Afghanistan: Where to walk on the patrols, what to do if the outpost gets overrun, what kind of body armor to wear. You were so smart about it, too — so smart about it that I would actually tease you about being scared. Of course you were scared — you were terrified. We both were. We were terrified and we were in love, and in the end, you were the one she chose.”

For all victims of war and violence….eternal rest in peace.

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