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WAR Paperback – May 17, 2011
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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"With his narrative gifts and vivid prose -- as free, thank God, of literary posturing as it is of war-correspondent chest-thumping -- Junger masterfully chronicles the platoon's 15-month tour of duty...Junger makes us see the terror, monotony, misery, comradeship and lunatic excitement that have been elements of all wars since, say, the siege of Troy. He thus becomes a kind of 21st-century battle singer, narrating the deeds and misdeeds of his heroes while explaining what makes them do what they do...It's the best writing I've seen on the subject since J. Glenn Gray's 1959 classic, The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle. . . . Junger's sketches of the men are deft, his ear for their quirky speech (aided by video recordings) spot on . . . This splendid book should help the rest of us understand them -- and war itself -- a little better."―Philip Caputo, Washington Post
"Absorbing and original . . . Junger is aiming for more than just a boots-on-the-ground narrative of the travails of fighting men . . . . WAR strives to offer not just a picture of American fighting men but a discourse on the nature of war itself. This is no small ambition . . . He writes some beautiful sentences about this ugly world."―Dexter Filkins, New York Times Book Review
"With his blue-eyed, chiseled and starting-to-grizzle looks, Junger is just the specimen Hollywood would cast as a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan to ensure a box office hit...But to assume that Junger had easy access diminishes his reporting skills and his commitment to the story. At age 48, he's a generation older than most of the soldiers he accompanied into combat over the course of their 15-month deployment and who instinctively put up their guard against an outsider...The resulting book is written in the first person, but it is observational, offering no critique of the combat he witnessed, taking no position on the efficiency, logic or value of the war. He offers a close-up view of men and the raw elements of war: fear and courage, killing and death, love and brotherhood."―Marjorie Miller, Los Angeles Times
"It is a gripping account of how modern warfare is experienced by those who do the fighting, and its focus is that of a laser, not a floodlight . . . WAR is full of stories that prove the adage about all politics being local."―Eugene Robinson, Washington Post
About the Author
Sebastian Junger is the New York Times bestselling author of The Perfect Storm and A Death in Belmont. He is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, and has been awarded a National Magazine Award and an SAIS Novartis Prize for journalism. He lives in New York City.
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"Perfectly sane, good men have been drawn back to combat over and over again, and anyone interested in the idea of world peace would do well to know what they're looking for. Not killing, necessarily - that couldn't have been clearer in my mind - but the other side of the equation: protecting. The defense of the tribe is an insanely compelling idea, and once you've been exposed to it, there's almost nothing else you'd rather do. The only reason anyone was alive at Restrepo - or at Aranas or at Ranch House or, later, at Wanat - was because every man up there was willing to die defending it."
I can say from personal experience that coming back from my Iraq deployment, I was completely unprepared for how incredibly difficult it was to transition from that reality to working in an office and being productive and having a sense of purpose that didn't involve life and death. I was so utterly bad at doing a normal job that I tried to quit twice and was talked out of it both times by people that were better friends than I deserved. I'm still to this day trying to figure out how I come back and live in a 9-to-5 daily commute weekends off mow the grass nobody's shooting at me world.
--As Soldiers Really Live It
by: Sebastian Junger
My hope is that when people read my book, they'll understand that emotional territory better.
So when a soldier is in some kind of distress back home, I think it would be very helpful for his wife to realize that not only was he traumatized by his service, but is also being traumatized by being taken away from it, by being taken out of a world of incredible intensity and very obvious meaning into a civilian world that is less intense and where the meaning of life is more diffuse and less obvious.
The more that civilians -- wives, fathers, mothers, children -- understand the really complex emotional territory of combat, the better our society will be able to re-incorporate these young men and give them a useful and productive role back home.
Selected Quotes from the Book:
"It was some of the most beautiful and rugged terrain in Afghanistan and for centuries had served as a center of resistance against invaders. Alexander's armies ground to a halt in nearby Nurdistan and stayed so long that the blond and red-haired locals are said to be descendants of his men.
"Its only on rear bases that you hear any belligerent talk about patriotism or religion...."
"The problem with fear, though, is that isn't any one thing. Fear has a whole taxonomy - anxiety, dread, panic, foreboding- and you could be braced for one form and completely fall apart facing another."
"Combat jams so much adrenaline through your system that fear was rarely an issue; far more indicative of real courage was how you felt before the big operations,..."
"...war-fighting simply consists of carrying heavy loads uphill."
"...exhaustion is partly a state of mind..."
"Giving into fear or exhaustion were the ways in which a soldier could fail his platoon..."
"Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult," the military theorists Carl von Clausewitz wrote in 1820s. "The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind offriction".
"We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night
to visit violence on those who would do us harm." --Winston Churchill
"...Combat is a series of quick decisions and rather precise actions carried out in concert with ten or twelve other men."
"As soon as our wheels crossed the wire the gunner racks his weapon and we grind slowly through Jalalabad and then head north on the new black pavement that ribbons smoothly along the river. There are rice paddies along the floodplain and, here and there, clusters of jagged slate gravestones shoved into the ground like spades. Green prayer flags toil around them in the wind. The winter sun glances off the wide braidings of the river and make the water look dull and heavy as mercury, and beyond that, rank after rank of mountains fall off towards the east: Pakistan. An old man stands in a field of stones watching us go by."
"The coward's fear of death stems in large part from his incapacity to love anything but his own body. The inability to participate in other's lives stands in the way of his developing any inner resources sufficient to overcome the terror of death."
J. Glenn Gary, The Warriors
"(why appeal to God when you can call in Apaches?}"
"As a soldier, the thing you were most scared of was failing your brothers when they needed you. And compared to that dying was easy. Dying was over with. Cowardice lingered forever."
"Civilians understand soldiers to have a kind of baseline duty, and that everything above that is considered `bravery'. Soldiers see it the other way around: either you are doing your duty or you are a coward."
"The side effects of Mefloquinine includes severe depression, paranoia, aggression, nightmares and insomnia. Those happen to be the side effects of combat as well."
"The men take a perverse pride in this, cultivate a certain disdain for anyone who has it better, which is basically everyone. Combat infantry carry the most, eat the worst, die the fastest, sleep the least, and have the most to fear. But they're the real soldiers, the only ones conducting what can be considered war in the most classical sense, and everyone knows it."
"The fight lasts ten or fifteen minutes and then the A-10s show up and tilt into their dives. Ninety rounds a second the size of beer cans unzipping the mountainsides with a sound like the sky ripping."
"A tired, cold, muddy rifleman goes forward with the bitter dryness of fear in his mouth into the mortar bursts and machine gun fire of a determined enemy,..."
Stouffer: The American Soldier
"The men know Pakistan is the root of the entire war,..."
"You didn't have to be in the army to notice that Pakistan was effectively waging war against America, but the administration back home was refusing to even acknowledge it, much less take any action."
"Dawn comes crawling up out of the east with the moon still hung over the valley like a dinner plate and the men wrapped in their ponchos and curled up shivering."
I think even the reviews written about this book reflect vast differences between the opinions of rank-and-file civilians who never spent a day of military service in their life, those who served in the military and went to combat and those from "Coward's Land" (as O'Byrne called it) "a place where guys who have never done anything but fill out paperwork can boss around guys who have fought for their country." Some past reviewers seem to be criticial of the book because they claim it is "disjointed", "tossed together", not flowing the way it should. To those individuals I would say that war itself is not some neatly organized sequence of events but chaotic, oftentimes ugly and unfair set of events to which applying everyday reason is simply not possible. I grew up the daughter of Lithuanian refugees who saw their share of what war could do to a country. I served in the United States Navy during peacetime but later as a Department of Army social worker have been in a position to try to assist returning veterans of the wars in both Iraq and Aghanistan. I honor and respect their special brotherhood and sisterhood and although sympathetic can never truly know what it would have felt to actually be there. I DO know however of what Sebastian Junger speaks when he describes that "Self sacrifice in defense of one's commmunity is virtually universal among humans, extolled in myths and legends all over the world, and undoubtedly ancient. No community can protect itself unless a certain portion of its youth decide they are willing to risk their lives in its defense". Junger adds: "Considering the extreme nationalism of the Nazi era, one might expect that territorial ambition and a sense of racial superiority motivated most of the men on the German line. In fact, those concepts only helped men who were already part of a cohensive unit; for everyone else, such grand principles provided no motivation at all. A soldier needs to have his basic physical needs met and needs to feel valued and loved by others. If those things are provided by the group, a soldier requires virtually no rationale other than the defense of the group to continue fighting." So we see repeated through history.
This is a great book. It brings the insanity of experiencing a war and the strength it takes to survive it (both physically and psychologically) to light in a way that few books have been able to in the past. (other than perhaps the classic volume THE AMERICAN SOLDIER:COMBAT AND ITS AFTERMATH edited by sociologist Samuel Stouffer and referred to by Junger in this book). You do need to be prepared to think however. It leaves a lasting impression.