Disclosure: I received a promotional copy of this Book.
In his new book, WAR, Sebastian Junger repeatedly informs the reader he is a journalist, an invited guest, under the protection and care of the men he is observing. They are the soldiers of Battle Company, in the 173rd Airborne, based in Vincenza, and deployed to the Korengal Valley of Eastern Afghanistan for 15 months from 2007 into 2008. Junger openly explains that it was impossible to remain an objective observer. How fortunate for us that he ceased to be a dispassionate journalist and connected to these men on a deeper level. What has emerged in WAR is an intensely honest and raw portrayal of the acts and thoughts of young men fighting the deadly battles and emotional onslaught of prolonged combat. Although the characters populating the bases in the Korengal are distinctly American, there is a universal and timeless aspect to their loves and behaviors. Junger recognizes this in his analysis of these warriors who bear striking similarity to soldiers through history. As I read WAR, I realized that Junger functioned more as an anthropologist and a confidant to the soldiers than as a journalist. He delivers the most compelling explanations I have ever read for why men fight, how they come to love their brothers in arms, what drives heroes to bravery, and the addictive draw of combat. Junger himself feels the powerful mystique of warcraft and writes“War is a lot of things and it’s useless to pretend that exciting isn’t one of them. It’s insanely exciting. The machinery of war and the sound it makes and the urgency of its use and the consequences of almost everything about it are the most exciting things anyone engaged in war will ever know.” Junger describes how he and his partner, photojournalist Tim Hetherington, were granted the protection and fellowship of the soldiers without having to give anything in return. In this way, the author is us, the citizens of the USA, or any other nation, the noncombatants who are granted the benefits of society secured through either the defensive or offensive actions of those brave young members of the military. However, he notes the bravery of these men is also their vulnerability; they will fight any battle into which they are ordered, with less concern for their own life than for that of the soldier next to them. He writes“The cause doesn’t have to be righteous and the battle doesn’t have to be winnable; but over and over again throughout history, men have chosen to die in battle with their friends rather than to flee on their own and survive.” In his study of the electrifying human drama that continues to play itself out in the mountains of Afghanistan, Junger has given us every reason to safeguard and value the lives of the young men and women who continue to risk themselves in service of country. I am eager to see Junger and Hetherington’s film Restrepo which visually documents these soldiers’ experience.