For more than 20 years, Sebastian Junger has told the stories of war, shedding light on its harsh realities, including the effects it has on those fighting in it. His work has taken him around the world, to places such as Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley and Libya, covering conflicts while embedded with United States troops in combat.
His experiences, raw and meaningful, have inspired him to write and direct several books and award-winning documentaries, including Restrepo, Korengal, and The Last Patrol, a trilogy on the war in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday at Trinity University, the award-winning journalist, director, and author will discuss his latest effort, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, a book that explores “the human preference for community.” Tribe discusses the difficult act of returning home to a disconnected society, whether you’re coming home from the Peace Corps or, like so many of Junger’s friends, a soldier returning from combat.
“Systemically, modern society is hard to come home to,” Junger told the Rivard Report Friday via telephone from New York City. “If people are not careful they’ll lead very individualistic lives where they don’t have much communal connection. I think that’s tough on everybody and it’s particularly tough on soldiers who just spent a year or more experiencing the exact opposite, life in the platoon.”
Junger argues that the isolation individuals experience on a day-to-day basis has a negative effect on one’s emotional and psychological well-being, whereas health in those respects is much better in communal societies.
“It’s a very ancient human situation that we respond to in very positive ways,” he said.
Life in the platoon brings many lessons and realizations, especially when it comes to loved ones back home.
“I learned that when you go off to war you’re really gambling with other peoples’ lives more than your own life,” he said, adding that along with the potential for death, suffering devastating injuries puts an enormous burden on a soldier’s family. “As a journalist I’ve asked myself, ‘Can I really gamble with other people’s lives like that?’”
The ravages of war have a unique effect on soldiers, Junger said, and all of those who have witnessed the carnage and destruction.
“I think that solders find war extremely compelling and miss it afterward,” he said, but “on the other side of the coin, killing other people leaves grave moral consequences …War kills far more civilians than combatants, and as a nation we are morally responsible for those deaths.”
Tribe is Junger’s last journalistic effort involving war. He retired from war reporting for good in 2011, after losing his close friend and colleague, Tim Hetherington, during the civil war in Masrati, Libya.
Coming home wasn’t easy. In fact, he said, giving up war reporting was the hardest part of his entire experience, but he has no regrets doing so.
“I’m glad I’m not putting my family through the worry that a war reporter puts their families through generally,” he said. “I’m glad I did that work for a while and I’m also glad I stopped.”
Junger’s fruitful career began as a young arborist-turned hopeful war reporter in war-torn Bosnia in the early 1990s. His book The Perfect Storm, an international bestseller that was later adapted into the popular film of the same name, brought Junger into prominence. His journalistic work as a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and his role as special correspondent at ABC News in the years following has raised his profile internationally.
There’s no one most profound moment Junger experienced during his time in combat. But all of those years living an uncertain life in danger have made him appreciate the seemingly mundane aspects of mortality.
“If you live in the world at the proper state of mind you’re amazed at every moment that you exist,” he said. “You lie on your back and you look up at the clouds. Start there.”
Junger’s talk, which is free and open to the public, will take place in Trinity’s Stieren Theater Tuesday, Nov. 15 from 7:30-8:30 p.m. Click here for more details.