Should We Feel Guilty Over How Sad the Deaths of Hetherington and Hondros Make Us?

If you’re anything like me, you experienced many sensations upon hearing of the deaths of photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros in Libya. Among them were sorrow and anger, perhaps to a greater degree than when hearing of the deaths of others in the war. Following hard on the heels of those emotions was the attendant guilt that their deaths elicited deeper feelings in us than the deaths of Libyans, or Arabs in general.

On the most basic level, the effect their deaths had on those of in the United States and Great Britain can be attributed to the nationalities we share with them (Hetherington British, Hondros American). On another level, artists and journalists may have taken their losses especially hard because — as anyone knows who has seen their photographs or the movie Restrepo, which Hetherington co-directed — their talent and accomplishments.

In the New York Times David Carr explains why we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves if we mourn the deaths of Hetherington and Hondros more deeply than others.

Many people have died in the recent wars the two men covered, and we should not make the journalist’s error of elevating the deaths of Tim and Chris above those of others. But beyond the personal loss for their families and friends, there is a civic loss when good journalists are killed. Most news organizations have retrenched and many overseas bureaus have been closed.

First, war journalists, noncombatants like medics, perform a valuable service. Second, as Carr explains, due to decreased funding they’re already an endangered species. Carr thus enables us to push how exceptional Hetherington and Hondros were as artists — okay, Western artists — into the background for a moment and remember how useful, essential even, their services were.

That said, we can also use the occasion of the deaths of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros as an opportunity to resolve to acknowledge and mourn more deeply the deaths of nationals in all conflicts.