Sebastian Junger, War
Beats-per-minute reportage reveals the hell and humanity in war
War is a small word with enormous impact — which makes titling a book War a daunting task. Any way you phrase it, warfare is gruesome and devastating, and it comes across completely unfiltered through journalist Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm). Between June 2007 and June 2008, Junger was embedded with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Battle Company, in Afghanistan’s treacherous Korengal Valley. He also filmed more than 150 hours of video with photojournalist Tim Hetherington, which became the documentary, Restrepo (Restrepo is a base camp named for a fallen comrade). Junger’s beats-per-minute reportage reveals the hell and humanity in war.
Like any good travelogue, we meet fascinating people, among them the steely officer O’Byrne, who won’t let himself think about death; Danforth, 42, who claims to have enlisted out of boredom; and Lieutenant Colonel Ostlund, a battalion commander, capable of working 18 hours a day for months on end, and “seemingly immune to heartbreak.” Death looms, but it isn’t something the soldiers choose to reflect on, and so it’s relegated to a matter of fact, even if the enemy is 20 feet away.
Junger grapples with his role as a reporter, and what it means to be objective when spending so much time with troops and learning their stories. In the media, Vietnam is a popular comparison, and Junger reflects on “Vietnam moments,” when declaring victories in a so-called unwinnable war is difficult. “We reporters had our own issues. Vietnam was our paradigm as well, our template for how not to get hoodwinked by the U.S. military, and it exerted such a powerful influence that anything short of implacable cynicism sometimes felt like a sellout.” Junger narrates his adrenalized accounts with reserve, keeping the listener present, in and out of danger.