Dan Russell's Reviews > War

War by Sebastian Junger
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's review
Jul 03, 2011

it was amazing

I like Junger’s writing, so it’s not a surprise that I’d like this book about the war in Afghanistan. It’s an up-close, embedded and personal telling of the life of a platoon stationed in a remote Afghan valley. A place in high mountain valleys that are beautiful, but incredibly dangerous as a major pathway for men and materiel for the war in Afghanistan.

Junger seems to get it right (or at least the tale reads very plausibly). Life at the tip of the spear is hard, harsh and horrific. When not actually engaged in fighting, the boredom is crushing and just about as awful as battle.

The most sobering thing about the book was Junger’s description of the personal and social psychology of the troops. He gives you a sense of the deep group bonds that form in the pressure cooker of small-unit heavy combat, and why courage and heroism appear in such trying circumstances. Heroism is the automatic and instantaneous expression of group protection—sacrificing yourself for others in your platoon. Courage is natural in such circumstances. It’s still courageous, but much more about your identity as part of a team rather than a thought-out belief system that’s instilled ahead of time.

The book goes into great depth about the non-politics of a forward combat group. They don’t really care, they just want to survive this awful place and the other men trying to kill them. Which makes you wonder—just where does politics and state strategy emanate? It’s obvious: from people who don’t actually fight. At least that’s true now. I don’t know about kings and rulers of the past who led men into battle directly.

War is also a terrifyingly attractive thing to the men who survive it. Junger points out they’re not adrenaline junkies, but they learn to crave the situation of complete clarity, the life of knowing exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it—you’re here to fight and survive. Everything else in life becomes trivial by comparison. Everything. So rotating back to real-life isn’t always a help; it can be a reduction to absurdity, and terrible in a way that war wasn’t.

An excellent book. If you want to understand modern warfare from the grunt’s perspective, this is the book.

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