Updated on October 14, 2011
War (A Book Report)
“War is a big and sprawling word thing that brings a lot of human suffering into the conversation, but combat is a different matter…Combat isn’t where you might die – though that does happen – it’s where you get to find out whether you get to keep on living.”
These are just some of the words that Sebastian Junger has strewn throughout his follow up to the success his last book, The Perfect Storm, brought him. The book is called “War” and details his 15-month long embed with a platoon of Soldiers from Battle Company, 173rd Airborne, based out of Vicenza, Italy. Not only does “War” include some of the best storytelling about the true lives of combat troops, but also gives us a compelling glimpse into the world of a combat journalist that makes Michael Yon look like one of the cast of kids on Barney and Friends.
Junger tells stories of combat the way one would expect – free of censure, exquisite in detail, and faithful to reality. He writes the book from the same depths of hell, desperation and filth that his characters are subjected to. Often times, Junger finds himself aggressively trying to juggle his fight for survival and the wits to write down what is happening around him. He doesn’t seek stories from the relative comfort of a FOB or firebase. He eats the same dirt the troops are eating, suffers the same lack of sleep, and endures the same harrowing experiences.
The result is a well-crafted story that tells the story of what our troops in Afghanistan are enduring on a daily basis. He describes the frustration that hits when air support is suppressed by higher. He dictates conversations born in boredom and the laughter that comes from near-death experiences.
At one point, one of the Soldiers – Steiner – is shot in the head by a sniper during an ambush. The bullet manages to penetrate the helmet but ends up exiting without wounding him. However, the force of the bullet is disorienting and when Steiner realizes he’s alive, stands up in the middle of a hailstorm of bullets and starts laughing. Initially, the other Soldiers are yelling at him to get down and start returning fire. The laughing, however, is contagious and pretty soon the entire squad is laughing their asses off as they defend themselves from all-out attack. It’s just one of many surreal experiences that Junger recounts in the book of how troops deal with the pressures and stresses of combat.
One aspect I love about this book is the relationship that Junger has with the platoon. He makes it clear that he is an objective journalist, but is honest in his commentary about the difficulty in maintaining that journalist integrity while relying on a group of Soldiers for his safety. It’s an interesting dilemma that I’ve never really thought about prior to reading “War”. Junger does a great job of ensuring that he the lines don’t get crossed, but explains how easy it is for them to get blurred.
Overall, “War” is a quick and fantastic read. It took me a while to pick up, but once I started reading I found it hard to put down. By the time I was finished reading, I felt like I had actually been to combat with Battle Company and suffered alongside them during their tragic losses, anxiously lived through their ambushes and firefights, and celebrated their successful missions. It’s a testament to how the success of an Army is dependent upon the success of a platoon of young Soldiers and leaders! A MUST-READ!!
Junger has also created a documentary titled “Restrepo” that is a companion movie to the book. The documentary has been called a “real-life Hurt Locker”. Look for a showing of the film at a location near you by visiting. You can see more at www.restrepothemovie.com. The book is available wherever books are sold (even in every airport I’ve been through the past four days!! Or you can just use my special link below