Rachel's Reviews > War

War by Sebastian Junger
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's review
Nov 15, 2010

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I have spent the last several years working with cops, and I can tell you that while most police officers are good guys and genuinely try to help keep people safe, they are (generally speaking) terrible at paperwork and menial office tasks. Most of them can't spell as well as I could in the sixth grade, find using a fax machine one hundred times more difficult than operating a semi-automatic weapon, and, with the exception of some supervisors and administrators, don't possess an education past what it took to get certified in law enforcement.

I mention this because it struck me that Junger's single greatest achievement in writing this book was providing a literary voice to a group of soldiers who, if they have anything in common with cops, lead singulary complicated and dangerous lives but perhaps don't have the ability or the desire to put their experiences on paper. Junger took five trips over the course of one year to Afghanistan as an embedded journalist, living with soldiers as a civilian observer at one of the most exposed outposts in the entire military. As Junger writes in a note at the beginning, he was "entirely dependent on the U.S. military for food, shelter, security, and transportation." That is some impressive dedication to journalism, and it pays off in Junger's astute psychological and emotional examinations of the men in the Korengal Valley. He really captures the ironies of a combat soldier, e.g. how it feels to count down the days of one's deployment while simultaneously dreading the inevitable return to civilian life, or the strange irony that any combat action is better than boredom, even though it means almost certain injury and possibly death. Junger describes the bonds that tie a unit of soldiers together, the demanding combination of exhaustion and exhilaration that is present during deployment, and the overwhelming effects combat has on one's sanity and sense of well-being.

Unfortunately, the narrative has a noticeably disjointed feel, due at least in part, I'm sure, to Junger's multiple visits to Afghanistan. In between his fascinating observations about the effects of war on the human psyche, Junger peppers the narrative with detailed descriptions of military strategies and nearly incomprehensible recollections of individual firefights and battles with the enemy. I never could form a clear picture in my head of what exactly the overall game plan was for fighting the insurgents, or, truth be told, their exact purpose for being in the Korengal Valley at all. Happily, though, the passages detailing the troop's mental, physical, and emotional struggles and coping strategies were sharp enough to keep me reading through the significantly less compelling sections about ammunition and military hierarchy.

P.S. The documentary 'Restrepo,' produced and directed by Junger and his photojournalist partner, Tim Heatherington, is basically the movie tie-in version of this book and is certainly worth seeing.

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