On April 20th, 40-year-old photo-journalist Tim Hetherington was killed by shrapnel while covering the war in Libya. If you want to understand what a loss this is to our increasingly incompetent and dishonest journalistic community, watch the 2010 documentary Restrepo as I did for the first time this past weekend. Co-Directed by Hetherington and Perfect Storm author Sebastian Junger, Restrepo covers one year with a platoon of US Soldiers in the hyper-violent Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan of 2008. No matter what you think of the war, no matter what your politics, this is a terrific doc, exactly the sort of coverage our military deserves. It gives the clearest picture of the men who fight of any film I’ve seen and makes you understand why the words we trot out on Memorial Day -- words like “hero,” “sacrifice,” “courage” and so on -- simply aren’t enough to capture the living reality of what these guys do and who they are.
Too many Hollywood filmmakers did the villainous work of making preening, self-aggrandizing anti-war films while our soldiers were at risk and in the field and too many of our mainstream journalists showered those hateful films with praise. Pictures like In the Valley of Elah, Redacted, Rendition and Lions for Lambs depicted our defenders as rapists, murderers, thugs, bigots or fools – even while those real life defenders were right in the midst of the fight. It was an unprecedented bad act by our show business and journalistic elite. It burdened the morale of our troops and supplied propaganda material to our vicious enemies. The guilt of it is on the heads of each and every one of the filmmakers involved and the journalists who praised them.
I wrote several articles of protest at the time, many of them for City Journal. Restrepo comes closer than any film I’ve seen to accurately depicting the kind of men I met while researching those pieces at Fort Bragg and at FOB Kalagush in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province. It reignited the anger I felt for the recklessness and vanity of our spoiled, unpatriotic and ignorant creative class. Good for Hetherington and Junger for showing the simple truth about our military without injecting their political opinions either way.
May Hetherington rest in peace. He lived a life worthwhile.