TIME Senior Editor Bryan Walsh reflects on the life of former TIME Editor Jim Frederick, who passed away Thursday at the age of 42. Read some of Jim's most memorable work below.
When a writer dies young—and Jim Frederick, who died Thursday in Oakland at 42, was very young—we mourn the work that will never be. As a writer and editor at Money and TIME magazine, Jim produced penetrating stories about whatever caught his attention. While TIME’s Tokyo bureau chief in 2005, he co-wrote the autobiography of Charles Jenkins, an American soldier who wandered across the de-militarized zone during the Korean War, and who was held captive for half a century. It was the story every reporter in Japan wanted to get—filling in for him in Tokyo while he wrote the book, I used to field calls from Japanese TV networks desperate to interview him—and Jim had it. He always did.
As a writer he’ll be remembered for his masterpiece, the Iraq war book Black Hearts. The Guardian called it the best book to come out of the conflict, no small feat as bookshelves groan from volumes of memoir, reportage and fiction gleaned from those years and that place. Black Hearts stands apart, and as time passes its stature will only grow—particularly, I think, among those who fought in Iraq. My younger brother, an Army officer and Ranger who served in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, called Black Hearts the truest thing to come out of that war. Despite the fact that the book detailed some of the blackest deeds done by American soldiers in Iraq, veterans thought highly of Black Hearts, a fact that I know Jim was rightly proud of.
Some of the mental states that the men described are well documented by psychologists studying the effect of combat on soldiers. The men talked about desensitization, how numbed they were to the violence. They passed around short, graphic, computer-video compilations of collected combat kills and corpses found in Iraq. Iraqis were not seen as humans. Many soldiers actively cultivated the dehumanization of locals as a secret to survival. “You can’t think of these people as people,” opined Sergeant Tony Yribe, another member of 1st Platoon. “If I see this old lady and say, ‘Ah, she reminds me of grandmother,’ but then she pulls out a f___ing bomb, I’m not going to react right.” Children were considered insurgents or future insurgents, and women were little more than insurgent factories.
But for those who knew Jim, the loss of the work is secondary. Even more than his prodigious abilities as a reporter, a writer and an editor, Jim had an enormous talent for friendship, which is why so many people, in so many places, are bereft today. It was hard enough—impossible, really—to replace Jim as a journalist when I succeeded him as TIME’s Tokyo bureau chief in 2006, when he moved to London to work as an editor for the magazine. But as a person—forget it. Jim was a born connector, the life of the party in all the best ways. If any friend or colleague passed through the city Jim was living in—London, Tokyo, New York—it was an occasion to be celebrated. He made sure it was big, and he made sure it was fun.
Twenty-one-year-old Steven Green was one of the weirdest men in the company. He was an okay soldier when he wanted to be, but the oddest thing about him was that he never stopped talking. And the stuff that came out of his mouth was some of the most outrageous, racist invective many of the men had ever heard. Green could discourse on any number of topics, but they usually involved hate in some way, including how Hitler should be admired, how “white culture” was under threat in multi-ethnic America, and how much he wanted to kill every last Iraqi on the planet. He would go on and on and on like this until somebody literally would have to order him to shut up.
For younger colleagues, like myself, Jim was a big brother. Not long after he moved to Hong Kong to work as a writer for TIME in 2002, Jim took me out to lunch, something that at the time utterly baffled me. I was an awkwardly introverted 24-year-old reporter who’d been at the magazine for less than a year; I knew next to nothing about anything. But Jim asked me about what I thought, why I’d gotten into journalism, what I wanted to do with my career—things, looking back, that no one in my life had ever really asked me. In Tokyo, in London, and in New York, where Jim would return after writing Black Hearts, he would do the same for countless others journalists, serving as a mentor and as a role model. When Jim took over as the international editor of TIME in 2011, I asked for a transfer to that side of the magazine, almost solely for the chance to work with Jim. I’m glad I did.
The first time most Americans heard the name Stanley McChrystal was in mid-2009, when President Obama promoted him to four-star general and commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. The appointment took many in Washington by surprise too: Stanley who? McChrystal was not a man accustomed to the schmoozing rituals of the Beltway. But national security cognoscenti knew exactly who he was: a killer. Having just completed a five-year stint as the chief of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which oversees America’s most secret military units, like SEAL Team 6 and Delta Force, Stan McChrystal was the quintessential black-ops warrior. McChrystal was one of a new generation of military leaders who became top commanders in the post-9/11 era and completed the transition from a military run by Cold Warriors like Norman Schwarzkopf, Tommy Franks, and Colin Powell to one focused on terrorism and the so-called small wars that prevail today.
It wasn’t easy being a journalist of Jim’s generation, coming at a time when staffs were far and large, and then seeing it all change. But he was never daunted. I remember being in Austin with Jim in 2013, shortly after he had decided to leave TIME. He talked about his desire to try something new, to take advantage of the changes happening to our profession. He and his wife Charlotte, whom he met in London when both were TIME editors, were putting that plan into action when they settled in San Francisco, where they launched Hybrid Vigor Media. I regret that I won’t get to see the next phase of Jim’s amazing career, to see his next step. But I’ll miss him more.
More by Jim Frederick: A Lone Madman or a Broken System?