By Jess Bidgood
May 25, 2011
BOSTON — For a long time, the name Sebastian Junger has been almost synonymous with the word “war.”
The Belmont, Mass. native has covered conflict as a journalist for two decades. His May 2010 best-selling book bears the simple moniker, “War,” and from 2007 to 2008 he lived with a platoon in Afghanistan, working with photographer Tim Hetherington to make the film Restrepoabout the experience of life on the front lines.
But last month, Hetherington, who had become a dear friend of Junger, was killed in the Libyan city of Misrata as he covered a battle between rebels and forces loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Also killed was Getty photographer Chris Hondros.
Since their deaths, Junger has resolved to step away from covering war — and is now questioning the overall efficacy of dangerous front-line combat coverage.
On WGBH’s The Emily Rooney show Wednesday, a somber, introspective Junger explained that Hetherington’s death laid bare the true risks of his profession. “I’ve had a lot of near misses,” Junger said. “Until, it’s never cost me anything, my career. And now it has. And now I don’t want to experience that cost anymore.”
Junger said he used to love covering war. He and Hetherington were both drawn to it. He reflected on that in an essay in the June issue of Vanity Fair, published shortly after Hetherington’s death:
You and I were always talking about risk because she was the beautiful woman we were both in love with, right? 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… We were terrified and we were in love, and in the end, you were the one she chose.
Junger says he has continued to reflect upon risk and front-line combat coverage. Much of war, he said, is really about waiting, boredom and dread. “People think the drama is the point of war. And actually, a lot of war takes place at nights, and it’s dark, the patrol’s going out and you’re wrestling with your feelings,” Junger said.
But Junger said that’s not reflected in the war stories that make headlines and photo spreads. “It serves a crucial humanitarian purpose, but there’s a certain amount of war reporting which, really has to do with the excitement of front line coverage,” Junger said.
Now, he’s questioning the greater point of the work that encourages journalists to risk their lives.
“There’s no information on a front line that’s of any use to anyone. It’s very dramatic. I mean, if you shoot a photograph of a guy shooting a gun in a burning building, that photo will be on the cover of the New York Times. But in terms of information that the world needs in order to make wise decisions, it’s not out of the front line,” Junger said.
“It’s at the refugee camps. It’s on the boats that are fleeing Libya and sinking off the Italian coast. That’s where the real information is,” Junger continued.
Junger said bearing witness to war is crucial, but he's questioning the purpose of front-line drama.
“And those guys, I know what they were doing out there, they were plugging into adrenaline of a front-line situation. And that is different than covering a war, and it should be said,” Junger said.
This report was compiled by Jess Bidgood using an interview on WGBH's The Emily Rooney show, which is produced by Frannie Carr, Edgar Herwick and Jeff Keating.
THE EMILY ROONEY SHOW