Sebastian Junger studied anthropology in college, but his experiences embedded with Battle Company in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley gave him a working degree in psychology. The trauma of combat, he saw firsthand, doesn’t manifest itself in the middle of a firefight; only later, when the shock is gone, does the mind realize the fear it shrugged off in the heat of the moment. And the bonds forged in combat are like no other, offering a sense of belonging that leaves veterans yearning for their friends, even if it means staying in the military and going back to war.
Junger, who spoke to about 150 people at Seattle’s Town Hall on Thursday night, said he didn’t set off to Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008 to cover the geopolitical realities facing America and its NATO allies in the ongoing “war on terror.” Nor was he there to look at how a third decade of war is affecting the Afghanis. He went to document war up close, to witness and recount how American GIs experience war. WAR, the book that came out of Junger’s experience (not to mention Restrepo, the documentary film he and his partner made) is a nonpolitical work, Junger said.
The Korengal Valley was the worst of the worst. According to Junger, a large portion of the total amount of fighting in the country during that period occurred in this six-mile-long valley, and the 150 soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division’s Battle Company bore the brunt of it.
Junger spent long periods with the unit over 15 months. He experienced for himself the excitement of being shot at and, later, the guilt of realizing how exciting it was. As one soldier in the unit said much later when asked stateside what he missed most about the time in Afghanistan, “I missed almost all of it.”
I’m looking forward to the book. I’m also looking forward to take part in what Junger described as a “little experiment.” He’s posted on his website the names and email addresses of many of the soldiers he lived with in Afghanistan. Some of them are there again, and he encouraged the audience to write them. Skip the politics, Junger said. Just talk with them, because no matter what you think of the war, these kids see themselves serving in harm’s way on our behalf.
Restrepo, btw, is playing Friday and Saturday as part of the Seattle International Film Festival.