Tim Hetherington on War
Oscar-nominated filmmaker and award-winning photojournalist Tim Hetherington sat down with us in December for a wide-ranging interview about his work and what it means to be an image maker today. Here I asked him whether he relates to the soldier in this clip from Restrepo, describing the high of a firefight. The transcript is below.
Scene from Restrepo:
Steiner (US soldier): That was fun though, that was fun. You can’t get a better high. It’s like crack, you know. You can skydive or bungee-jump, but once you’ve been shot at… you can’t top that.
Reporter (off camera): How are you going to going to go back to the civilian world, then?
Steiner: I have no idea…
Tim Hetherington: Well he was talking about the high of being in a firefight, and I think he’s talking about an adrenaline component, because he’d just been in this firefight, and it’s true that when you’re in that situation, you’re going to have adrenaline. But I think that covering war isn’t just the adrenaline – it’s a component but it’s not just about that, it’s about that – war is such a fundamental part of who we are. It’s the part that we all grapple with.
That’s why it’s such a highly emotional and political subject. Because there’s a sense on the left that it’s just “the madness and folly of war!” Absolutely. We get it. And yet, war has been a component of human civilization for so long and it’s the one thing that links us to the animal nature, which many people think we come from. Rationally, we shouldn’t be involved in war. But we are still.
So it’s this complex subject. And in war you see so many crazy things happening. You see all sorts of different human emotions crystalized, from hate to love, to killing – war is essentially about killing, killing another person – but also this other range of human emotions that happen. And that makes you feel very alive, when you experience those things, for one. And secondly, as a reporter reporting on these things that are, you feel, very complex and important political ideas, that it imbues your reporting with a kind of meaning and significance.
So it’s not so much that you’re hung up on the adrenaline – sure adrenaline is the kind of thing in certain situations where you’re like “wow, that’s adrenaline” – but it’s these other things: the idea that reporting gives you a significance and meaning, and gives you an insight into human behavior that’s quite… It’s addictive in that way.