Microreview: War by Sebastian Junger

Each war generates its own collection of memoirs, novels and histories. Often, the best come after the conclusion of the war, thanks to the perspective of time. With combat in Afghanistan continuing, we probably have yet to see that war’s canon. Among contemporary accounts, though, Sebastian Junger’s War certainly is laudable,

As a correspondent for Vanity Fair, Junger took five trips to the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan, where he embedded with a U.S. Army airborne unit. He spent most of this time with the most remote outposts, “the tip of the spear” of the U.S. military’s effort in the valley. He is equally adept at describing the chaos and terror of actual combat as well as the often stupefying boredom that occurs between firefights.

Although the book tends to focus a bit more on one or two soldiers and even then doesn’t really look at them and their experiences in great depth, the focus is on the soldiers, not policy or politics. That is what may elevate War above many other current works about combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. The soldiers themselves are not focused on a big picture or any grand strategy. Instead, they are concerned about the man next to them, a concern Junger uses to delve into the effects of combat on individuals and the role of war in human society.

At less than 300 pages, the book is too slim to fully explore the life of a combat soldier at a dangerous, remote outpost or thoroughly ruminate on the concept of its broad title. And recent events show how transitory military achievements — and hence their stories — can be. Just four weeks before Junger’s book was released, U.S. forces withdrew from the Korengal Valley.

Combat isn’t where you might die — though that does happen — it’s where you find out whether you get to keep on living.

Sebastian Junger, War

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