Read and comment on my blog.
My son was newly home from Afghanistan when he recommended this book. He hadn’t even read it himself, but it was given to him by a fellow soldier who is also a friend. The book is War by Sebastian Junger. The author, a journalist by profession, follows a single platoon in the Korengal valley east of Kabul for fifteen months. The result is not just a description of war, but an account that includes insights into what draws young men into war, why they fight, and why they are ready even to give their lives.
Junger does excellent work interweaving descriptions of daily life—boredom, fatigue, squalor—with vivid accounts of firefights and reflections on the fundamental issues that war raises. Explaining the importance of unit cohesion, for example, Junger writes, “The cause doesn’t have to be righteous and battle doesn’t have to be winnable; but over and over again throughout history, men have chose to die in battle with their friends rather than flee on their own and survive.” He draws on work in psychology, biology, and military history to help explain what makes war possible, perhaps even necessary.
I am ill qualified, of course, to say how accurate is his portrayal of a modern platoon at war since I have never been in combat myself. My son, however, was in combat and after he reads the book, I invite him to comment on it here as well. Meanwhile, I highly recommend War to any reader who wants to understand war from a soldier’s perspective.