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Readers Blog: Art's Milwaukee

Tim Hetherington's Death - A Message and Inspiration

British-born journalist Tim Hetherington was killed in Libya on April 20 by a rocket-propelled grenade, during the sort of heavy combat he covered remarkably effectively in multiple media. American photojournalist Chris Hondros was also killed in the attack, and two other reporters were wounded. Professionally, Hetherington was a man for all seasons, handling a wide range of communications and creative assignments with discipline, flair and insight. His ties to the United States were strong. He was most recently based in Brooklyn New York, and served as a contributing photographer for the magazine Vanity Fair. His documentary Restrepo, chronicling deployment with United States military forces in Afghanistan, was nominated for an Academy Award early this year. As in Libya, he was at the front of the action, covering the 173rd Airborne Brigade of the U.S. Army. That experience also resulted in his book Infidel. In 2009, he produced the book Long Story Bit by Bit: Liberia Retold, which combined prose and photographs, and expressed hope for that nation. Reflecting on his exceptional career, and sudden death, underscores the fundamental importance of our war correspondents, past and present. They perform a difficult but essential mission, providing a bridge between a democratic society defined by open free debate, and the necessarily controlled information environment required by war. Parallels increasingly are drawn between the unconventional warfare of Afghanistan, especially as the conflict has dragged on for a decade, and Americas long-term and ultimately unsuccessful military engagement in Vietnam. News coverage of these two wars contrasts markedly. Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson, with a widely credited reputation for deceptiveness, nevertheless was emphatic from the start that the press be allowed very open access to military operations in Vietnam. Perhaps LBJs reputation spurred that decision to abandon censorship. In retrospect, the policy clearly was a mistake, and more customary restrictions on the media have been employed in our military conflicts since, including Afghanistan. Courage and commitment to duty link the service of dedicated Americans, military and civilian, in both conflicts. The 173rd Airborne has a distinguished history, and was the last formal combat unit to leave Vietnam as part of the slow, orderly withdrawal planned by the Nixon administration. In effect, these profoundly important human qualities transcend particular government policies of each era, including the degrees of censorship imposed. Dispatches, Michael Herrs gripping account of the atmosphere and events of the Vietnam War, is one of the most insightful and moving accounts of that conflict. He makes pointed reference to the camaraderie which developed between reporters and troopers, with even the most anti-war among the correspondents impressed by the courage of men in combat, and even the most cynical of soldiers going to extreme lengths to protect the journalists in their charge. Correspondent Jack Fullers story is also germane. After service in Vietnam as a combat correspondent for Stars and Stripes, he earned a law degree and pursued a career in journalism, including the posts of Editor and Publisher of the Chicago Tribune. Fullers novel Fragments chronicles moral and physical traps of war, reminiscent of Graham Greenes The Quiet American, published even before the Vietnam War had really begun. Jack Fullers recent book What is Happening to News warns pervasive contemporary media are greatly diluting traditional reporting. In other words, good journalism is more challenging than ever. As media inundation grows, evaluate your sources with care. Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of After the Cold War (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan). He can be reached at

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