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WAR 1st Edition
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In this Amazon exclusive, we brought together authors Sebastian Junger and Evan Thomas and asked them to interview each other.
Evan Thomas is one of the most respected historians and journalists writing today. He is the author of The War Lovers. Sebastian Junger is an internationally acclaimed author and a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, and has been awarded a National Magazine Award and an SAIS Novartis Prize for journalism. He is the author of War. Read on to see Sebastian Junger and Evan Thomas talk about their books.
Evan Thomas: War really is hell in your book. And yet it seems to captivate some of the men who fight it. Why?
Sebastian Junger: War is hell, as the saying goes--but it isn't only that. It's a lot of other things, too--most of them delivered in forms that are way more pure and intense than what is available back home. The undeniable hellishness of war forces men to bond in ways that aren't necessary--or even possible-- in civilian society. The closest thing to it might be the parent-child bond, but that is not reciprocal. Children are generally not prepared to die for their parents, whereas the men in a platoon of combat infantry for the most part are prepared to do that for each other. For a lot of men, the security of being enclosed by a group like that apparently outweighs the terrors of being in combat. During World War II, wounded soldiers kept going AWOL from the rear-base hospitals in order to rejoin their units on the front line. Clearly, for those men, rejoining their comrades was more important than the risk of death.
I'm curious about the reactions of foot soldiers in previous wars--the Civil War, the Spanish-American War. Are there letters from soldiers describing their anguish at being separated from their comrades? Or is this a modern phenomenon?
Thomas: In the Spanish-American War, Teddy Roosevelt made a cult out of his band of brothers, the Rough Riders, with the twist that he was bringing together gentlemen and cowboys to be true Americans. It was a romantic ideal but largely realized in the short (several week) war they fought--two battles, about a 15 percent casualty rate. The anguish you speak of was felt by the Rough Riders who were left behind--there was no room on the transports for roughly a third of Roosevelt's troopers, and they had to stay behind in Florida. Roosevelt wrote of them weeping over being separated from their comrades and missing out on the fight.
Roosevelt's war lust was sated by the Spanish-American War--for a time. He was not a notably bellicose president ("Talk softly but carry a big stick"). But when World War I came, he was almost pathologically driven to get back into the fight. He badgered President Wilson to let him raise a division. (Wilson, not wanting to create a martyr, said no.) Do you think the brotherhood of combat is in some ways addictive? What is it like for the soldiers and marines coming home?
Junger: It's amazing to see these same themes played out war after war. Politicians seize war for themselves, in some ways, and the public certainly holds them accountable for it--but the men who actually do the fighting are extraordinarily conflicted about it all. Only one man in the platoon I was with chose to leave the army after the deployment--Brendan O'Byrne, a main character in my book and now someone I consider a good friend. A few weeks ago we were hanging out with a family I know, and the talk turned to how rough the fighting was in Afghanistan. The mother, a woman in her thirties, asked Brendan if there was anything he missed about the experience. Brendan looked at her and said, without any irony, "Yes, almost all of it." I think what Brendan meant was that he missed an existence where every detail mattered--whether you tied your shoelaces, whether you cleaned your rifle--and you never had to question the allegiance of your friends. As Brendan said at another point, "There are guys in the platoon who straight-up hate each other-- but they'd all die for each other." Once they've been exposed to that, it's very hard for these guys to go back to a seemingly meaningless and ill-defined civilian life.
What happened to the men after they returned from their adventures with Roosevelt? Where did their lives lead them?
Thomas: The Rough Riders seem to have had endless reunions--but nothing like the PTSD so widely reported today. But perhaps that was because they were only fighting for about a month--a "splendid little war," as diplomat John Hay called it, apparently without irony. In The War Lovers, I was looking at another kind of camaraderie--the bond of men who want to get the country into war, who think that war will somehow restore the nation to spiritual greatness. Roosevelt and his best friend, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, believed that America at the end of the 19th century had become "overcivilized"--that young men were turning soft and needed to somehow stir "the wolf rising in the heart," as Roosevelt put it. "All the great races have been fighting races," he said. It is significant that Roosevelt and Lodge, who pushed America to go to war with Spain in 1898, had written about war a great deal but never seen it. President William McKinley resisted; he had, as he noted, seen "the dead piled up at Antietam" in the Civil War. But the hawks in America were able to roll the doves, not for the last time.
Before The War Lovers I wrote Sea of Thunder, a book about the last naval battle of World War II, Leyte Gulf. I interviewed a number of survivors from the USS Johnston, a destroyer sunk in the battle after an unbelievably brave fight against superior forces. About 220 men went in the water but only about half of them were rescued. Because of a series of mistakes by the navy, they were left in the water for two and half days. The sharks came on the first night. For a long time, the survivors did not talk much about it. But then, after Tom Brokaw wrote The Greatest Generation, they began having reunions and speaking--almost compulsively--bout their experiences. The recollections are often harrowing. Yet even years later, when the veterans compiled their recollections in a book of about eighty oral histories, the veterans did not speak of their own fear, with only one exception, as I recall. Somehow acknowledging fear remained a taboo.
In War you write about fear in clinical and fascinating ways. Did you have a hard time getting men to talk about fear?
Junger: Getting the men to talk about fear was very hard because, well, I think they were afraid of it. Their biggest worry seemed to be failing the other men of the platoon in some way, and whenever someone got killed, a common reaction was to search their own actions for blame. They didn't want to believe that a good man could get killed for no reason; someone had to be at fault. During combat, their personal fear effectively got subsumed by the greater anxiety that they would fail to do their job and someone else would get killed. The shame of that would last a lifetime, and they would literally do suicidal things to help platoon mates who were in danger. The classic story of a man throwing himself on a hand grenade--certain death, but an action that will almost certainly save everyone else--is neither a Hollywood cliché nor something that only happened in wars gone by. It is something that happens with regularity, and I don't think it can be explained by "army training" or any kind of suicidal impulse. I think that kind of courage goes to the heart of what it means to be human and to affiliate with others in a kind of transcendent way. Of course, once you have experienced a bond like that, everything else looks pathetic and uninteresting. That may be one reason combat vets have such a hard time returning to society..
My guess is that the survivors of the USS Johnston were more traumatized by the deaths of their comrades than the prospect of their own death. Did any of them speak to that? What were their nightmares about? Has anyone studied the effect of that trauma on their lives--divorce rate, suicide rate, that kind of thing?
Thomas: They certainly described the deaths of their colleagues--who went mad from drinking seawater, or were killed by sharks, or died from untreated wounds or exposure (the seawater was about 86 degrees at night, cold if you spent all night immersed in it). Some just swam away and drowned. In one or two cases, men begged to be put out of their misery and were. There were complicated emotions over the deaths. There wasn't enough room on the rafts for all the men, so when one died, it made room for another. I am sure there was terrible guilt, but I didn't get into it with the survivors I interviewed. I don't think they were studied as a cohort. I think they were expected to go on with their lives, and I think by and large they did.
Nations are changed by war--but somehow, only for a time. We have a way of forgetting the horrors of war, in the need young men (and old men who missed war) have to some experience the greatest challenge to their manhood. This was true in the period I wrote about in The War Lovers, more than three decades after the Civil War: men like Roosevelt and Lodge wanted to somehow experience the glories of war, and not think too hard about the way wars often turn out in unexpected ways. I know in Cuba, where I visited to research The War Lovers, the Cubans don't think of the Americans as their liberators from Spanish rule, but rather as foreign invaders. That's unfair, and in many ways just plain wrong, but not so hard to understand if you put yourself in the shoes of a country occupied by a foreign army. Some things never change.
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
Good thing it was. Junger provides excellent war correspondence, describing combat as a first-hand observer. Junger's prose remains apolitical, his goal to show the reader what it's like to be in battle, not make a political statement. The book is broken into three sections: "Fear," "Killing," and "Love." All three sections describe combat, but each section is loosely structured around its theme.Read more ›
Sebastian Junger is a writer of rare skill who can paint a frighteningly real picture of places few of us would ever think of going. His first book, The Perfect Storm, gave readers a taste of what it would be like to be on a doomed fishing boat in the North Atlantic, at from home, at the mercy of the sea. In War, he takes the reader to an Army outpost in Afghanistan, where Junger and filmmaker Tim Hetherington spent five months over the course of a year and a half with a platoon of young soldiers, fighting a war that we've all read about, but that few of us can imagine.
This isn't the tourist war reporting we're used to, where the embedded reporter rides along at the rear of an armored column; Junger puts himself in a situation where he runs all the risks of the soldiers he's reporting on, including getting blown up by an IED that is detonated under the Humvee he's riding in.Read more ›
Moorhouse examines daily life in the city as the war progressed. From the early air raids by the British to the almost carpet bombing later in the war when much of the city was destroyed, life for Berliners went from relatively easy to a desperate day-by-day existence. Searching for food and other rationed goods was an on-going problem, for everybody. (Except, of course, Nazi officials). The reader sees how acceptance of the idea of "total war" calling for "total effort" on the home front slackened greatly as the war was perceived by Berliners as going the wrong way, after 1942. Moorhouse writes about ordinary Berliners trying to eke out a daily existence despite nights spent in air raid shelters and largely destroyed city infrastructure. And then the Russians came, in early 1945, and destruction to the once great, liberal city was complete.
Moorhouse leaves very little out in his book. Chapters on the Jewish "problem" and ultimate solution are in the book along with chapters on propaganda, criminality by both the state and individuals, and on how the city functioned in the face of destruction. He's an excellent writer, too. For the amateur historian, this book is a delight.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Want to know what combat is like? Without actually going into the army and picking up a rifle, reading this book is the closest you will get. Read morePublished 2 days ago by Andrew R. Sanders
A reality abesd novel of a photo journalist embedded in Afghanistan. It is sharp and exciting reading. It brought it all back to me.Published 14 days ago by Eternal Student
The connection this book movie makes in conjunction with the documentary Restrepo is powerful. I give this book a four based on my personal preferences of having one main character... Read morePublished 15 days ago by Julius Walker
Honestly, one of the best books that I have ever read. Not only for the aspect of reporting the mental and physical casualties of war, but the way it describes human interaction... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Darnell Coleman Hardy
Sebastian Junger lived through war as well as writing about it in his book War. He challenges the reader to experience everything he did through writing this book. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
Sebastian Junger is an excellent journalist & writer, having read many of his pieces for VANITY FAIR. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Oksana
Easy read to get a sense of what life was like in Berlin during the Nazi years. Worth readied a second time.Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
A great read giving good insights to the struggles in the Koreangal valley.Published 2 months ago by Mr. B. E. Woodland