Saturday, November 12, 2011

Insights from Junger's WAR

War has always fascinated me. I love reading firsthand accounts of combat and heavy psychological analysis of what it's like to feel the thrill and ugliness of war. Sebastian Junger’s book War, tackles the raw feeling and inner of combat veteran's inner psyche. If anyone has a passing interest in the experience of combat or the historical/social significance of the war in Afghanistan they should read the book and watch Junger's documentary Restrepo.

Junger vividly explains what it is like for a combat soldier to return "home" from war. It is pretty amazing how civilians stateside think that war is this crazy mess where senseless violence rules and our soldiers are subject to complete anarchy. To many of the combat vets the civilian world feels the same. The "transition" back into the "world" can be extremely hard. I have always thought it was difficult to transition, because the armed forces put extreme responsibility on a soldier. Kids hold life and death in their hands and are responsible for millions of dollars worth of hardware. This may be part of it, but Junger illuminates the complexities of the issue masterfully.

To the combat veteran; the civilian world is a huge ball of confusion. Combat is extremely clear. In combat they experience this Zen state where the only thing that matters is love. That must sound odd, since they are trying to blow peoples' heads off. Junger explains that soldiers force themselves into courageous acts out of love for the man next to them. They have to love each other or they will all die. They constantly have to watch over each other. They can't let anyone slip, because it could get the entire unit killed. One person whose shoes aren't tied can trip and expose a patrol. Someone who is dehydrated can take a piss that stinks too much, which can blow an ambush. In combat you have to have this ultra level of empathy. You think of the unit before the self. This is why you see young people dive on grenades to save a others.

When soldiers get back from a world where every little action points at either getting you killed or killing someone else they have issues with complexity of the civilian world. They have to argue with their girl friends/wives over shit that has no consequence or deal with interviewing for jobs that seem boring and meaningless. A combat vet can go from fighting for the lives of the men next to him to stacking boxes in a warehouse. The feeling has to be forlorn and a existential mind fuck. This is why when asked "would you go back?" many combat vets say in a heartbeat. Not because of some macho duty or blind patriotism, but because combat makes a hell of a lot more since than a world where idiotic social nuances control how you act. In movies we see veterans drink to hide the demons of war, but Junger explains that they drink because they want to escape the complexity and seemingly meaninglessness of civilian life.

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