Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
WAR Hardcover – May 11, 2010
|New from||Used from|
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Evan Thomas and Sebastian Junger: Author One-on-One
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
Starred Review. War is insanely exciting.... Don't underestimate the power of that revelation, warns bestselling author and Vanity Fair contributing editor Junger (The Perfect Storm). The war in Afghanistan contains brutal trauma but also transcendent purpose in this riveting combat narrative. Junger spent 14 months in 2007–2008 intermittently embedded with a platoon of the 173rd Airborne brigade in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, one of the bloodiest corners of the conflict. The soldiers are a scruffy, warped lot, with unkempt uniforms—they sometimes do battle in shorts and flip-flops—and a ritual of administering friendly beatings to new arrivals, but Junger finds them to be superlative soldiers. Junger experiences everything they do—nerve-racking patrols, terrifying roadside bombings and ambushes, stultifying weeks in camp when they long for a firefight to relieve the tedium. Despite the stress and the grief when buddies die, the author finds war to be something of an exalted state: soldiers experience an almost sexual thrill in the excitement of a firefight—a response Junger struggles to understand—and a profound sense of commitment to subordinating their self-interests to the good of the unit. Junger mixes visceral combat scenes—raptly aware of his own fear and exhaustion—with quieter reportage and insightful discussions of the physiology, social psychology, and even genetics of soldiering. The result is an unforgettable portrait of men under fire. (May 11)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Top customer reviews
--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 read this book on an iPad. The enhanced edition provides links throughout the text to the photographs West took and then links back to the text where you left off. It also includes several short videos filmed and narrated by West in which he captures the battles he describes in the book. He narrates the action, while climbing or crawling and under fire, as well as capturing the words of the soldiers he writes about. The videos are never longer than 4 minutes, and mesh nicely with the text. They are not a distraction, but rather an enhancement. If this is the future of ebooks, I cannot wait for more. I am a very recent convert to them, and this book only confirms my decision to veer away from paper whenever possible.
One quibble. West wants the United States to stop fighting and leave behind advisors to train the Afghan fighters. I do not understand though what good this will do if the corrupt government now in place remains there. My purpose is not to get into a discussion of the options, but the sense I get from both the book and everything else I read about Afghanistan is that it will always be ruled by people who cannot see beyond their own and their tribal interest, and its people will unite only to repel outsiders so they can continue to fight amongst themselves.
Most recent customer reviews
America is entering its 10th year of war in Afghanistan, and Sebastian Junger has written the most essential book on...Read more