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

7 Comments on “War (A Book Report)

  1. Looking forward to reading this book. Most sons don’t talk to their Moms about war. I have followed the 173rd ever since my son’s drop into northern Iraq in 2003. I came very close to the parents of the soldiers in this group during their tour in Iraq. When one parent would here from their son we would communicate to all the other parents in the platoon. It was like hearing from our own son since there was very little communication getting through at that time. Sadly one of the parents I got to know lost a son while deployed to Afghanistan. My son is on his 7th deployment but no longer with the 173rd. There will always be a special place in my heart for the 173rd.

  2. SO glad you got a copy and read it! I have to admit, feeling very overwhelmed while reading it but not being able to put it down. Like you, I felt like I had been through combat. What I gleaned from it was the intense bonds of brotherhood that form between men who normally might not even talk to one another in regular life, but who are brought together by the hell of combat …forever.
    I”ll post a link to it over on Sebastian’s community.

    I think he and Andrew had a long 2 hour conversation about the challenges of being “impartial.” At what point do you pick up a gun and just starting fighting back? I think Sebastian covers this in the book.

    • Yeah, he did a great explaining why this was a moral dilemma for him. It’s like two stories in one and the reader is invested in learning both!

    • I’ve embedded a few times and was a soldier before that…and really, it shouldn’t be a moral dilemma at all.

      It’s nice and heroic for a reporter to think of themselves as joining in the fight, but there’s a reason that firefighters don’t grab guys off the street to run into burning buildings. A reporter with a gun is a detriment to those nearest him or her – likely the US soldiers (and I say that as somebody theoretically trained on the old M-16) trying to protect the reporter, while also fighting the enemy.

      One of the guys I was with at a JSS told me, “the next time we’re in a firefight, come up on the roof and I’ll give you my gun and let you shoot off a few rounds.” I said, “If I’m ever shooting at anybody, it means you’re Davy Crockett and it means we’re in the Alamo.” He thought that was very funny…

      The reporter needs to keep their grubby hands off the weapons, and keep them free for bandages and medical gear – THAT we can help with.

      • Thanks for the response, Webster. To be honest, that is pretty much what Junger says in this book. He simply writes the voices in his head that DESIRE to pick up a weapon during certain circumstances, but never does. He simply writes about the survival instinct within us all and that journalists aren’t exempt from those thoughts. The “moral dilemma” is my words, not his in case I confused anyone.

        • Totally right, CJ…my perspective is more in general about any reporter in that situation. I think having been a soldier helped me keep things on a more even keel – I’d one time carried a weapon, so I knew my place THIS time, you know?

          I’ve read the book, and almost all of it compared in some (much smaller, much less violent) way to my experiences, especially since I embedded with the same unit at two different times. The way he kept coming back to O’Byrne (I think was the name) reminded me of a few guys who I ended up hanging around with.

          I think the title was a little much – it’s hardly the definitive ‘war’ book, but it was a great read.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *