War, by Sebastian Jungar

WarWar by Sebastian Junger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So glad that I finished this book today, 31st of December 2011, so that I get to say, definitively, that this is the most engaging book I have read this year. It made me laugh and cry, and I finally think I have a better understanding about what it is that attracts people – young men, mainly – to war; either literally or vicariously. I’ve watched (read: suffered) so many war films, from Band of Brothers to Black Hawk Down to The Pacific, and even though I may learn something from an historical perspective, and despite the fact that the underlying message is generally one of the futility and hopelessness of war, the reality is I always feel duped: as though the heroism (depicted with lots and lots of blood) is surreptitiously glorifying violent physical combat instead of condemning it.

Jungar’s book, by contrast, really gets to the heart of what combat is; from what’s happening in the body physiologically to the raw emotions leading up to and following engagement. The excitement and adrenalin that is portrayed so well in film is not glossed over – Jungar readily admits that War is “insanely exciting”, so much so that the only thing more traumatic than combat itself is having to give it up. But he explains both how and why this occurs and it has nothing to do with individual heroism and everything to do with the dynamics of small social groups. Or in Jungar’s words – it’s about “Brotherhood”. A unity and social cohesion upon which lives depend. The platoon, Jungar says, is the faith, the greater cause, the ultimate purpose.

The fact that the politics of the war (of any war) are happening a million miles away from the frontline only makes this fact more disturbing. Here’s Jungar at his best:

“Suddenly it seems weak and sad, a collective moral failure that has tricked me – tricked us all – into falling for the sheer drama of it. Young men in their terrible new roles with their terrible new machinery arrayed against equally strong young men on the other side of the valley, all dedicated to a kind of canceling out of each other until replacements arrive. Then it starts all over again. There’s so much human energy involved – so much courage, so much honor, so much blood – you could easily go a year here without questioning whether any of this needs to be happening in the first place. Nothing could convince this many people to work this hard at something that wasn’t necesary – right?”

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