Wednesday, July 27, 2011
War by Sebastian Junger
The U.S. has been in Afghanistan and Pakistan for over 10 years now and I've grown increasingly interested in this war. To be honest (and I know several of you are going to shake your fists at me for saying this), I find the politics of this war confusing, because I know there is more to this war on terror than meets the eye and I believe there is much more going on behind the scenes than is being reported. I believe there is a great deal the public does not know.
The aspect of this war that I'm drawn to are the men and women that are fighting on the front lines. These are the people carrying out the orders from the White House and they are the most affected by the decisions of our elected officials. I wanted to know the day to day life of our soldiers as well as the physical and psychological impact this war is having on them.
The book War by Sebastian Junger fulfilled my desire for that firsthand knowledge and more. Sebastian Junger, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and the New York Times, made 5 visits over the course of 15 months to a platoon in the Korengal Valley from 2007-2009 at a time when this was the most violent posting during the war. According to the book, "...nearly 1/5th of combat experienced by the 70,000 troops in Afghanistan was being fought by the 150 men of Battle Company in this outpost. 70% of the bombs dropped in Afghanistan were dropped in and around the Korengal Valley during this time period."
Junger covers the primitive living conditions of the soldiers (for example, no running water), the group dynamics of the platoon, not to mention the danger these men faced on a daily basis. He went into some detail of the soldiers constantly policing themselves. In war, there is little room for error or oversight. An untied shoe could trip a soldier during an ambush, thereby jeopardizing not only his life, but the lives of his comrades. A soldier who left a jacket behind in a village could mean that that article of clothing falls into the hands of a Taliban soldier, who could now pass as an American soldier and kill someone.
Junger ties in ballistics and human reaction during combat. Obviously danger is an every day fact of life for our front line soldiers but what I didn't realize was the initial silence of that first gun shot. Time and again, a soldier would be killed in a mundane activity, such as cooking or walking across the post because he didn't hear that first shot in an ambush. According to Junger, if the enemy fires their weapon from a 300-400 yard distance, that bullet will travel that distance in about 1/2 second, or 2000mph. In every case a gun is fired, the solider has to rely on sight rather than sound because the sound of the gunshot is heard a full second AFTER it is fired. The brain requires 2/10th of a second to understand the visual stimuli and another 2/10th second to react, and in that span of time, the bullet has traveled at least 30 feet.
Although he touches upon it frequently throughout the book, Junger spends the last chapter on the concept of Brotherhood that the soldiers share and few civilians can truly understand. This passage seemed to describe Brotherhood for me.
"As defined by soldiers, brotherhood is the willingness to sacrifice one's life for the group. Brotherhood has nothing to do with feelings, it has to do with how you define your relationship to others. It has to do with the profound decision to put the welfare of the group above your welfare...who you are entirely depends on your willingness to surrender who you are."
Junger is a champion to our military men and women and gives voice to the issues they face both in war and in civilian life. If you want to know what a soldier looks at in battle and get a glimpse at what goes on in their heads, I recommend this book. I have no doubt Junger will continue to campaign for the causes of our soldiers and our men and women of uniform could not have a better ally on their side.