Sunday, December 11, 2011
Book Review: War
I almost want to give it back to them to put in their permanent collection. Almost.
I've been a fan of Junger's since The Perfect Storm having read that work, his collection of shorter works, Fire, and a number of his articles in Outside magazine.
War is just as strong as any of his other works, containing his usual style of combining real world observances with historical and scientific background. In War this takes the form of insights derived from numerous sociological and psychological studies done on fighting men over the years as well as historical anecdotes.
War itself surrounds Junger's time as an embedded journalist with one particular platoon in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley which happened to be one of if not the most active combat assignment in the American military during his time there in '07 and '08. Junger immediately dispenses with any pretense of "objectivity" in the piece acknowledging that he enjoyed the company of the men he spent time with and had great admiration for them. Losing his objectivity however does not mean Junger is not honest. He shows the soldiers with all their warts and doesn't pull punches in describing things like pseudo-homosexual behavior, the shooting of a dog due solely to its name and other not so pearly white happenstances.
Going into why men do what they do in combat situations--the sacrifice, courage, etc. is the central focus of the piece, explaining quite satisfactorily the reasoning behind why men will fall on a grenade to protect their teammates, why men will run into a hail of bullets to retrieve an injured comrade, why front line combatants give little thought to the larger implications of a war, etc.
The book doesn't focus on the larger war in Afghanistan, only mentioning facts like the constant stream of Arabs into Afghanistan from Pakistan, the support of Pakistan for the Taliban, the rock grindingly slow pace of progress and other tangential aspects of the men's time in the Korengal Valley. It is the men themselves and their dedication to one another that is the focus here--not some attempt to justify why the war itself is good or bad, winning or losing. Its this aspect that makes the book worthwhile. Hearing of the day to day struggle at the sharp end of the American spear is a welcome change from the sanitized version fed via TV, the Internet or whatever your chosen media method may be. Much of it felt like an inside look at a bunch of friends away at college--the constant razing, the frequent beatings, the poor food, horrid sanitary conditions, boredom interspersed with moments of life and death--if only that college was a two room dorm with scores of people wanting to kill you right outside your door.
For those wanting a look at the day to day work of our men and an insight into why, more than ever, they deserve our respect and admiration--and particularly our support upon their return--you couldn't ask for a much better book.