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Sebastian Junger’s War:

A Journalist’s Journey into the Heart of 2nd Platoon

Sebastian Junger’s War is a historical narrative, written from Junger’s own perspective, which depicts the events he witnessed and the people he met throughout his trips into the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. Best-seller and award-winning writer, Junger spent countless hours with the men of Second Platoon, B Company, 2-503rd of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and this book, along with the companion documentary Restrepo, are not just a tribute to the men of 2nd Platoon, B Company, but to all combat soldiers that share in their experiences.

War is written as a series of essays that are loosely interconnected. Junger’s depiction of the lives, emotions, activities, traditions, and deaths of men in 2nd platoon is not an attempt at depicting war in the way other writers have before. Junger doesn’t spend too much time going into the details of tactics, strategy, or weaponry beyond what he feels in necessary for the average reader to track what is happening. Junger’s War is an attempt at building a bridge—a bridge that he hopes will connect the life of the combat soldier with the understanding of the average American citizen who isn’t as connected to or impacted by the War in Afghanistan. By removing himself from the political dilemmas of war, Junger is able to depict the heart, soul, and mind of the American professional soldier and share with the reader the personal struggles and conflicts that make war such a horror to witness, an honor to serve in, and that has come to signify so much to the young troopers of 2nd Platoon, B Company.

Throughout the book, Junger makes a number of very interesting observations—conclusions, moments, and experiences he came across as he lived day in and day out with the men of Second platoon. One of these observations is that of courage in the battlefield and the elements present in the American soldier (in this case infantryman) that set him apart from the Taliban insurgent. While out on patrol at night, second platoon was caught in an L-shaped ambush by a dozen Taliban fighters. In a “wall of lead” that tore through the platoon’s long single-file movement. Junger mentions that there were two Apache pilots watching it all happen from above, yet they were unable to do much due to the close distance between second platoon and the ambushing element of insurgents.

As the element under attack began to recover from the initial moments of the ambush, Junger describes how SPC Giunta went looking for the alpha team leader, SGT Brennan, who had gone down within flashes of the initial attack. However, instead of finding Brennan, Giunta notices two enemy fighters dragging the sergeant away down the hillside. Immediately SPC Giunta began firing on the fighters dragging away his team leader and went to the rescue of SGT Brennan—all of this as the enemy fire and ambush continued but began to fall apart little by little as each person in the squad recovered and began to counterattack.

Even though not mentioned in the book, SPC Giunta (now SSG Giunta) went on to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions during the ambush. Prior to his rescuing SGT Brennan, Giunta had also helped pulling multiple members of his squad back behind cover and also killed one of the fighters dragging SGT Brennan away. Junger mentions that “the Army has a certain interest in understanding what was going through Giunta’s mind during all of this, because whatever was going through his mind helped save the entire unit from getting killed” (120). Junger goes onto to mention that a year later several American squads conducted an L-shaped ambush at night on a column of Taliban fighters. However, unlike the men of 2nd and 1st platoon, the Taliban columns were completely wiped out (Junger 120). Junger goes on to highlight that even in moments of grave danger and certain death, the American soldier is trained to live, move, and fight as a unit and not as an individual or as Junger states it, “in that sense it’s much more like a football team than, say, like a gang fight. The unit that choreographs their actions best usually wins. They might take casualties, but they win” (Junger 120). Sebastian Junger, even though not a serviceman but a writer and a journalist, comes to a new understanding of what service, leadership, and sacrifice mean to the American combat soldier.

In Giunta’s actions Junger emphasizes the elements of the American soldier that make the difference between them and the Taliban enemy—the difference between victory and defeat.

Continuing his understanding and grasping of the men in Second Platoon, Junger also highlights the psychological impact the war has had on the men. About half way into the book he mentions a conversation with Moreno, one of the men in Second Platoon, regarding firefights: “ ‘It’s like crack,’ he yelled, ‘you can’t get a better high.’ I asked him how he was ever going to go back to civilian life. He shook his head. ‘I have no idea’” (Junger 180). Yes, Junger talks about the great acts of selfless virtue and courage that American soldiers are doing in the War in Afghanistan—he honors those he give all they have. But Junger also mentions the sacrifice of combat and of constant war. Junger states that the thrill and ecstasy of battle is one that is incredibly hard to replicate outside of war. Many of the men in Second Platoon, knowing only the excitement of combat, came to rely on firefights as a source of “life” having nothing else in the mountains of Afghanistan. It can be debated whether this is a good or bad thing, considering these men are trained to engage and destroy their enemies, but the conclusion is that whether good or bad, there are bound to be repercussions as these men will one day go back into civilian life.

Sebastian Junger does state that this isn’t something just experienced by the trained professional soldier, but by anyone who has experienced war period. “War is a lot of things and it’s useless to pretend exciting isn’t one of them. It’s insanely exciting. The machinery of war and the sound it makes and the urgency of its use and the consequences of almost everything about it are the most exciting things anyone engaged in war will ever know” (Junger 144). Even though holding himself back from any judgments or criticism of what this does in the human spirit, Junger does his job responsibly by pointing the impact of war on the young men fighting it. Junger shares with the reader the issues, the facts, the good, and the bad and yet keeps himself from making a judgment call—he especially withholds any judgment on the men who are sacrificing their youths doing the fighting.

Even though keeping himself from making judgment on the soldiers, Junger does defend the concept of missing combat. This notion which is often judged on the civilian and outside world as being “trigger happy” or insane is one which Junger clears up for the reader. Junger writes that “when men say they miss combat, it’s not that they actually miss getting shot at—you’d have to be deranged—it’s that they miss being in a world where everything is important and nothing is taken for granted. They miss being in a world where human relations are entirely governed by whether you can trust the other person with your life” (Junger 234). It isn’t getting a shot that the combat soldier becomes nostalgic of, but the sense of significance, brotherhood, and meaningfulness that comes from being in a state of war and having to depend on the man right next you with your life—and vice versa.

Junger, throughout War, describes the lives of these men: their fears, forms of entertainment, crazy unit rites of passage, their ideas on God and religion, and even their passion for a specific weapon system. War is truly a masterpiece of literature inspired by America’s current war in Afghanistan and the men that fight the war on the ground. However, even though being a responsible journalist and withholding judgment from the men and the situations taking place in the war, Junger does raise a point of warning and also wisdom. Junger, in War, depicts not just the excitement and thrilling aspects of combat, but also the fear, the pain, and agony, and the fact that people die—sometimes, your friends. It is interesting, looking back at the beginning of the book, how the observation post where Second Platoon is at is called OP Restrepo: named after the platoon’s medic who was the first one to die in the deployment. Junger leaves the reader with the responsibility that now knowing and holding a greater insight into the lives and experiences of combat soldiers, it is the responsibility of every American to hold America’s leaders accountable—knowing that when decisions are made and wars begin, America’s young citizens soldiers will be the ones to pay the greatest price.

In conclusion, War is a confession of a world unknown to most of us. War is the result of one journalist’s journey into one valley, with one platoon, throughout their one year tour. Through his work, Sebastian Junger teaches us, the reader, not just the fact that these soldiers are real people with real lives, emotions, and issues, but that their sacrifices are great for much is asked from them. Junger, once again, doesn’t make a judgment call on the war or the reasons for it; however, Junger does make us aware of the fact that when decisions are made and wars are fought, real people pay the price. Some men become heroes, like SSG Giunta, will live on with their lives; however, others, like Doc Restrepo, will become beacons of light to remind us of the ultimate price paid by the combat soldier.

 

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I promised that I would post on the topic of Christian community; however, I will postpone that topic a little bit longer due to two things:

1) I really want to have a concrete idea on what to speak of and what to speak about when it comes to Christian community and I don’t want to simply put something together quickly just to throw something up here.

2) Given this, I don’t have the amount of time necessary to focus on the topic of Christian Community. Nevertheless, I do want to continue writing on simpler (if we can call them that) topics or at least post some thoughts on what I have been reading.

I have been continuing reading “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” by Chris Hedges. Even though I don’t intend to comment much on the following quotes, I still want to post them for the sake of thought provoking. If they are in any way intriguing, I recommend you acquire or check out the book. It is a very interesting and worth read.

“War exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us. And this is why for many war is so hard to discuss once it is over.” (3)

“War makes the world understandable, a black and white tableau of them and us. It suspends thought, especially self-critical thought. All bow before the supreme effort. We are one.” (10)

***However…

“The poison that is war does not free us from the ethics of responsibility. There are times when we must take this poison–just as a person with cancer accepts chemotherapy to live. We can not succumb to despair. Force is and I suspect always will be part of the human condition. There are times when the force wielded by one immoral faction must be countered by a faction that, while never moral, is perhaps less immoral.” (16)

“The only antidote to ward off self-destruction and the indiscriminate use of force is humility and, ultimately, compassion. Reinhold Niebuhr aptly reminded us that we must all act and then ask for forgiveness. This book is not a call for inaction. It is a call for repentance.” (17)

War is a Force That Gives us Meaning by Chris Hedges (2002)

I haven’t posted in a while, mostly because school is back in session and along with that working part-time and ROTC. However, I have had the blessing of being able to continue doing some independent reading (besides the endless pages of political science, history, and short stories I have to read for class).

In a period of a week and a half I began and finished an incredible nonfiction book by Vanity Fair editor and New York Times correspondent Sebastian Junger: War

If you asked me: what is the best book you have read this year? I would have to answer that War by Sebastian Junger is the one.

In no way ever done before, Junger lives for a 3-4 months alongside a platoon of infantryman in no-man’s land Afghanistan: the Korengal Valley. I would love to go on and write forever about this book; however, if I were to do that I would feel as if I were taking away from you the opportunity of engaging in the adventure which is reading it and the journey that Sebastian Junger takes us through.

I will, however, leave you with a quote that really grabbed hold of me while I was reading. Hopefully this isn’t much of a spoiler but it is definitely something worth sharing:

“Civilians balk at recognizing that one of the most traumatic things about combat is having to give it up. War is so obviously evil and wrong that the idea there could be anything good to it almost feels like a profanity. And yet throughout history, men like Mac and Rice and O’Byrne have come to find themselves desperately missing what should have been the worst experience of their lives. To a combat vet, the civilian world can seem frivolous and dull, with very little at stake and all the wrong people in power. These men come home and quickly find themselves getting berated by a rear-base major who’s never seen combat or arguing with their girlfriend about some domestic issues they don’t even understand. When men say they miss combat, it’s not that the actually miss getting shot at–you;d have to be deraged–it’s that they miss being in a world where everything is important and nothing is taken for granted. They miss being in a world where human relations are entirely governed by whether you can trust the other person with your life.”

War, Book Three: Love, Chapter 4

Sebastian Junger

One Platoon. One Valley. One Year.

The following is the link to the promotional website to a film documentary that will be released in the upcoming weeks. The film documentary is called Restrepo and it documents the life, encounters, and struggles of one platoon (from the 173rd Airborne Brigade) in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, for one year. The famous war correspondent  Sebastian Junger and British photographer Tim Hetherington, on assignment from Vanity Fair, depict through this film the uncut experience of war in Afghanistan and the fight for survival that 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne fought and continues to fight.

http://www.restrepothemovie.com

http://www.sebastianjunger.com/

To find a theatre where this film will be playing:

http://tinyurl.com/362d7qj


The past couple days the ages-old issue between security and freedom of information was reignited due to the release by Wikileaks of a classified US military video in which an Apache helicopter mistakenly fires on civilians and a couple of news reporters whom, according to the helicopter pilots and the communication going back and forth between them, appeared to be militants carrying automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

As far as we can tell, no argument has been made to claim that the US Army pilots knew, or could determine, that the people fired upon were civilians and not militants. There had been militant activity in the same area (less than 200 meters away according to the military) and there were coalition forces in the area engaging militants. From this perspective, and from what the pilots could determine from their video technology, the killing of the reporters and the civilians was truly a tragic mistake.

But this isn’t the issue that is creating chatter and conversation this week in America and world. More controversial has become the actual decryption and release of the video to the world through the internet–an act that has infuriated the US military and other government agencies– and whether the release of media such as this is or can become a threat to national security–that of the United States and that of other countries. Even though there are multiple points of view to take on the issue, and a lot of details to go over, these are my thoughts on it all:

1) I encourage all U.S. citizens to become informed and to pursue knowledge of what our country is doing and how we are doing it around the world. As citizens of the most powerful country in the world we have a responsibility to be the most informed citizens in the world. Therefore, if you are mentally and emotionally able to, I would encourage you to watch the video.

2) Second. I strongly believe that Wikileaks, a website that considers itself a people’s intelligence agency, has an obvious agenda behind the release of this video–this agenda being aimed more against the United States and the US military. I gather this from the title they have given the video–“Collateral Murder”– and the way in which they emotionally bind the viewer to the victims at the beginning of the video through pictures and personal statements. As an agency that claims to serve the people’s good, this huge bias is not acceptable if their objective is to inform.

3) A. Does this video help our effort to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? It probably doesn’t. The video depicts mistakes made by members of the U.S. Army while serving as support for infantry units in the area. It depicts servicemen killing innocent people whom they suspected were militant insurgents. However, many around the world will take this video as part of America’s crusade against Muslims and part of America’ disregard for human rights–this I fear and believe may be a result.

Unfortunately, not everyone will understand the pressure that a soldier goes through in combat and the regret and level of guilt that can remain in a soldier’s mind and soul when a mistake causes the death of the innocent. Mistakes happen, especially in war. I pray people understand this.

B. However, I believe that even though video’s depicting mistakes made by U.S. forces on the field may damage the international opinion regarding the efficiency of our military, we gain more credibility and respect as a country when we are willing to admit our mistakes and focus on how to avoid them in the future. Yes, we may lose points in one scale, but we gain more points on another.

The world that we live in today is a world in which the more transparent and open a country is in its dealings and actions, the better image it holds on the world stage. If our government had released this footage on its own accord, instead of Wikileaks releasing it with a bias spin, this wouldn’t have become such a controversial topic.

Final Thoughts.

As citizens of the United States of America, a country that has aligned itself with defending freedom, human rights, and the dignity of every human being, we must understand a crucial principle at work–especially as we fight the present wars.

When weighing the extent to which we prioritize National Security over Liberty and vice versa, we must remember that as a nation we have made a commitment with the fight of freedom, dignity, and universal rights around the world. We must remember the principles and fundamentals written on our history, our founding documents, and the very reasons we are engaged in these two wars. This being said, if releasing controversial war footage admitting our tactical mistakes makes us more vulnerable to our enemies, yet reaffirms our commitment to our principles, then this is a sacrifice we must make. If the preservation of essential principles and fundamentals makes us a little less secure and safe, then this is the sacrifice that as American citizens we make; however, if our country prefers to keep the actions of our government secret, if we allow inhuman interrogation methods to take place, and if we are ok with sacrificing what we believe in for the sake of our security–then we have already lost this war.

Every American that decides to live within the borders of this country must be willing to make and live by that sacrifice. It may, at times, become harder to define and to determine what the right thing to do is. However, as the land of the free and the home of the brave, when we must decide between our national security and our principles based on human dignity and liberty, let us remember that in the fight for the freedom and human dignity of others, if we sacrifice those very things for which we stand for, then we may as well just give up the fight.

I know this post of more political than the usual. I don’t like bringing politics into my blog. However, I felt this was important and crucial enough to bring up. God bless you and thank you for reading.

Iraq video Brings Notice to Website

For 2 grieving families, video reveals grim truth

He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’ ; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That is enough,” he replied.

Luke 22: 36-38

Recently RELEVANT Magazine published an article on the legitimacy of the Iraq War viewed from a Christian or Christianity-inspired perspective. RELEVANT interview two Christian experts on their respective subjects:

Daniel Heimbach from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary on JUST WAR, and

David Gushee from Mercer University on JUST PEACEMAKING.

I recommend the article because I believe both experts present good points on the legitimacy of military conflict and also at the application of military-exercise theories to contemporary events and conflicts. However, I would like to emphasize the last question that is asked on torture and aggressive interrogation since it is in those cases that these theories, and our own convictions as Christians, are challenged the most.
I may write a whole post on this later on. For now, enjoy the RELEVANT article.
Related Links:

Iraq War

Just War Theory

David Gushee

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