War is a subject of endless debate. Should we go to war, is war evil, when is war just, when is it justifiable, and on and on. But what does war actually feel like? This is what Sebastian Junger explores in his book “War” as he lives amidst an American fighting platoon in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley.
In his travels with this platoon, Junger provides a window into the realism of war. No longer theory or strategy, this is what war is when it is actually executed. It is, albeit a small window. It’s not from the perspective from an airbase, submarine, or the Pentagon. Obviously, war is fought on many fronts. The author only shows war from the perspective of one infantry unit from the 173rd Airborne. Additionally, Junger is a civilian, which one would presume affects his perspective and how men in combat would relate to him. But Junger does witness combat, albeit from a layman’s perspective. Keeping this in mind, Junger provides a vivid narrative of what he experienced on the battlefront he encountered.
The perspective that Junger takes in “War” is interesting. Even though he is incorporated into the platoon as an auxiliary member, he treats himself as superfluous to the action of most of the story. His depictions of the men he travels with and their actions are far from skeletal, despite his role on the outskirts. Junger is a master storyteller, conveying a full message in few words. His writing allows the characters to speak for themselves and carry the story, without much side judgement on his part during the action itself.
Junger remains the familiar observer, first by providing an empathetic perspective of the men he shadows, then analyzing what he has discovered through his own research. This mostly comes in the guise of psychological studies of warfare, combat, and soldiers. It’s as if he is trying to answer the question of why anyone would willingly volunteer to live life as these men have. Junger does a good job in painting a sympathetic portrait of the combat soldiers he is with. His empathy makes it easy to see why something even as violent as combat can create a band of brothers in war. He shows how life as a soldier makes more sense to these men than the trivialities one deals with as a civilian.
It may seem that “War” will only appeal to war buffs and armchair adrenaline junkies. While these subgroups and a general audience may very well find “War” appealing, there may be a larger audience who would find the book useful. In the book, the author makes a comment that those who are interested in world peace would do well to understand combat, and the impulses that draw certain people to it. So even an antiwar audience might find good use in reading a book such as this. As a general read, “War” is engaging, interesting, and sympathetic about the reasons people go to war and how they live it. I have never been in combat, but Junger seems to portray war well enough for a layman like myself to envision it.