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War


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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking essential read
When you pick up a book called "War" it's pretty obvious from the outset what you're going to get: a diary style account of the Afghanistan War as seen through the eyes of Sebastian Junger, a journalist who spent 15 months with a platoon in the bloody Korengal Valley whilst on an assignment for Vanity Fair magazine. As you would expect, Junger depicts the brutality of...
Published on 12 May 2010 by Ian Thomas

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars WAR---this will open you eyes...
WAR
by Sebastian Junger

Book Review by Jay Gilbertson

For over fifteen months author Junger (a Vanity Fair contributing editor) shadowed a single American army platoon in and around the Korengal Valley located deep in a remote part of Afghanistan. This is NOT an easy read, but one of the most compelling accounts of something most of us know...
Published on 27 Jan. 2011 by Jay Gilbertson


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars WAR---this will open you eyes..., 27 Jan. 2011
By 
Jay Gilbertson (Prairie Farm, Wisconsin) - See all my reviews
This review is from: War (Hardcover)
WAR
by Sebastian Junger

Book Review by Jay Gilbertson

For over fifteen months author Junger (a Vanity Fair contributing editor) shadowed a single American army platoon in and around the Korengal Valley located deep in a remote part of Afghanistan. This is NOT an easy read, but one of the most compelling accounts of something most of us know very little about. This is not the kind of information you will ever see or hear in the media--this is what it's really like out there--and it's not what you think.

It's worse.

"The core psychological experiences of war are so primal and unadulterated, however, that they eclipse subtler feelings, like sorrow or remorse, that can gut you quietly for years."

Junger lives the life of combat in an area so humanly unfriendly it's often hard to read; let alone imagine. For the entire duration of their tour there is no running water, no cooked food, no women or booze or internet. Their time is filled with constant stress so palpable it will change them forever. How could it not?

This is not a diary, nor is it a case-study of how a soldier lives, nor is it in any way political; it's a collection of brutal experiences. From intense gun-fire and grenade tossing and road bombs that tear up young men beyond recognition to a myriad of horrible injuries and death all tied to the fact that this particular platoon fights as one unit.

That theme is what powers this entire piece. This group of incredibly well-trained men would rather die themselves than be the cause of any other soldier's demise. There's a little known practice called blood-in and blood out to cement this into each and every soldiers psyche and to break the boredom.

"...you got beat on your birthday, you got beat before you left the platoon--on leave, say--and you got beat when you came back. The only way to leave Second Platoon without a beating was to get shot."

One of the more interesting (as well as frustrating) techniques that Junger weaves into his narrative is the reference to many old studies on the behavior of men in combat, as well as current-day neurological research and psychological studies. These commercial-like inserts are on subjects as varied as the biological effects of an adrenaline rush to the weight each individual can carry and though they perhaps serve some fact-checking purpose, they drove me a little crazy. You can appreciate the validity of peppering a difficult subject as war with facts that explain human reactions but I couldn't help but wonder if Junger was in need of `fill.'

The sad truth that Junger drives home is that no matter what side you're on, no matter what you're fighting for; oil, land, honor, revenge, religion--fill in the blank--no one seems to win.

After reading WAR it's clear to me that once a soldier returns home, there is a part of that soldier--that never returns home.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking essential read, 12 May 2010
By 
Ian Thomas "Swarley" (Cambridgeshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: War (Hardcover)
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When you pick up a book called "War" it's pretty obvious from the outset what you're going to get: a diary style account of the Afghanistan War as seen through the eyes of Sebastian Junger, a journalist who spent 15 months with a platoon in the bloody Korengal Valley whilst on an assignment for Vanity Fair magazine. As you would expect, Junger depicts the brutality of war, filled with gunfights, explosions and ultimately death, but "War" is so much more than a book about the violence humans can inflict upon one another in what can from the outside appear to be a pointless battle. It is also a book about the nature of humans and the relationships that men form in such extreme circumstances.

The men of 173rd Airborne are clearly distinguished by Junger with their individual personalities and varyingly dishevelled appearances, but what really stood out for me was the complete honour and trust they all placed in one another. If one man makes a mistake, he doesn't just put his own life at risk, but the lives of the entire platoon, and it is this bond and reliance on each other that makes the book so interesting. On top of this, Junger also delves into the lives of the men when they go home on leave, and how their mental state is affected by everything they've been through. It's not an easy thing to read about, but it's important that people are made aware of how these men can never truly leave the war behind.

"War" is an amazing read - exciting, terrifying, humbling, devastating. There are many words that could be used to describe this book but I'll summarise in just two: "read it".
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Frontier Arithmetic, 19 April 2010
By 
Charles Vasey (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: War (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Sebastian Junger was embedded with a US Army unit in the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan for over a year. This book is the result of that experience.

It is an interesting mixture of styles: there is the "Despatches" School of blood, profanity and squaddie philosophy; then there is a technical discussion of how the US Army wages war on the Taliban; finally, an attempt to place the experience of the men in some kind of psychological and social context. Junger resists the temptation to go too far in any direction and the result is a good book.

The soldiers are not seen as quaint or odd but as functioning as well as they may with their lives to date and their present position. Junger gives a view as to why so many die so bravely (he discusses what bravery means) and so many of the survivors suffer yet re-enlist; reminding us that unlike Vietnam these are not conscripts. There is even time to consider the motivation of the Taliban as they sit out in the hills trying to ambush the Americans.

The men in the Korengal chronicled by Junger compare well to the GIs in Vietnam chronicled by other more excitable accounts; this group come over as being much more fluent in counter-insurgency and much less "deranged"; but that maybe a function of Junger's ability to not get in the way of their story. As an account of men under fire it is in the tradition of the Great War rather than Apocalypse Now.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fighting in the graveyard of empires..., 11 Mar. 2011
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: War (Paperback)
America is entering its 10th year of war in Afghanistan, and Sebastian Junger has written the most essential book on the actual fighting in this forever war. He is the author of The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Man Against the Sea an expression that has now entered the American language; I've read it, and think it is truly excellent. Thus, when I saw this offering via the Vine Newsletter I had no hesitation in hitting the "send me a copy" button. And I was not disappointed, since Junger, "walked the walk," a rarity for journalists who prefer to "talk the talk." Junger, at the age of 45, though not required to carry the same loads, kept pace with the soldiers half his age in the rugged terrain of the Korengal valley; on a global scale, a postage stamp size place 10 km by 10 km, east of Kabul, near the border with Pakistan. As he said about one of the bases he was on: "The base is a dusty scrap of steep ground surrounded by timber walls and sandbags, one of the smallest, most fragile capillaries in a vascular system that pumps American influence around the world. Two Americans have already lost their lives defending it." The author ate the same food, slept in the same vermin-infested bunkers, and walked the patrols with the "grunts," and definitely took the "in-coming" with them. He did this over a 4-5 month period, between June, 2007 and June, 2008. It was the ultimate determinate--dump blind luck--and in his case, of the 10 foot variety, that permitted him to live long enough to write this book.

Junger's book is NOT a description of the typical experience for troops in Afghanistan (or Iraq, now, for that matter.) He placed himself literally and metaphorically "on the cutting edge" of the combat experience. "Nearly a fifth of the combat experienced by the 70,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan is being fought by the 150 men of Battle Company. Seventy percent of the bombs dropped in Afghanistan are dropped in and around the Korengal Valley" (p 55). (Battle Company is part of a 600-man battalion called "The Rock," in the 173rd Airborne Brigade.) Junger forms friendships with the men who routinely protect his life, and as he says: "Pure objectivity--difficult enough while covering a city council meeting--isn't remotely possible in a war; bonding with the men around you is the least of your problems." He has also done a fair degree of academic research, which is referenced, as to why soldiers fight - no surprises here; they fight for their "buddies." The author has some excellent descriptive passages on the clinical aspects of that tremendous "rush" that one can receive while in combat, and why it can literally be addictive.

For the last four months of 1968 my unit was "op conned" (military lingo for "under the operational control of") the 173rd Airborne, when it was based out of LZ English, in northern Binh Dinh province. Thus, I experienced some affinity in the read. Is Afghanistan Vietnam redux, as so many right-wing think tanks proclaimed when it was the Russians who were fighting the Afghans? Junger does not mention Vietnam much, and I would have appreciated a "differential diagnosis." Clearly airborne troops who have volunteered for military service are more `gung-ho' than reluctant conscripts, and perhaps less interested in the "bigger issues" of the war; which suits the "brass" just fine. When the men in a unit all train together, and deploy together, there is a far higher degree of cohesion; of being willing to die for your buddy; but the downside, which Junger briefly describes, is when a year's worth of combat experience transfers out at the same time, to be replaced entirely by a unit of "cherries."

One of the central issues in all wars is censorship, truth famously being the first casualty. Junger perhaps describes his own book inadvertently, when he says: "The public affairs guys on those bases offered the press a certain vision of the war, and that vision wasn't "wrong," it just seemed amazingly incomplete... I thought of those as `Vietnam moments.' A Vietnam moment was one in which you weren't so much getting lied to as getting asked to participate in a kind of collective wishful thinking (p 132). On the next page he says: "Once at a dinner party back home I was asked, with a kind of knowing wink, how much the military had `censored' my reporting. I answered that I'd never been censored at all..."

I wasn't at a dinner party, and I didn't wink, but I was in a van rolling down Highway 1, on my first return to Vietnam, in 1994, when I had the opportunity to ask one of the "big name" journalists of that war the same question. He huffily replied that he had never been censored. I gently probed, OK, maybe not "censored," but how about not reporting a story that "was too hot to handle." Again I received a `negative', and so, perhaps uncharitably, since his wife and daughter were also in the van, I reminded him of some of things we didn't talk about. He grudgingly "surrendered."

After "The Perfect Storm" there were a couple of people who would not speak to Junger, because of his portrayal of some individuals, none of whom he had known prior to the event. You don't have the sense the same will be true of this book; as he states in the introduction, he did share sections with the men involved to "make sure they are comfortable with what I wrote." Much of the book is the combat, the "exciting" part of war; but what of the non-combat; the boredom of not being attacked for weeks? It is discussed somewhat, but the solace of alcohol is only briefly mentioned, and of hash, never. Can this be true? Also missing were some of the other "universal themes" of war, at least for front line troops, which were depicted in classic accounts of combat, such as Erich Maria Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front": Erich Maria Remarque (Modern Critical Interpretations) Specifically, the dangerous, mind-numbing incompetence of some of the officers, and the enormous disconnect with the civilians on the home front who are "criminally" indifferent to the experience and fate of the grunts. Also, Junger says there were no "comfort women" (to use that term we seem to reserve for Japanese WW II use of Korean women) in the Korengal, and that may actually be true, though Bernard Fall reports of them at Dien Bien Phu, and they were generally at even remote fire bases in Vietnam during the American deployment. Are they anywhere in Afghanistan? Like the "secret" bombing of Cambodia, THEY know, it is only the home town folks who are kept in the dark. But the ultimate in "you don't want to go there" was covered by one sentence: "The men know Pakistan is the root of the entire war, and that is just about the only topic they get political about." In Vietnam we knew the origins the weapons that the NVA and the VC were using: Red China and the Soviet Union. But where is all the weaponry and ammunition coming from for the "Anti-Coalition forces"? Who makes it, and how does it get there? After all, Pakistan is an ally of the United States, and a beneficiary of billions in financial aid.

e.e. cummings visited this issue, concerning the "Good War," WW II, with his poem about American soldiers being killed by pieces of the 6th Street El, a reference to the scrape iron the US sold the Japanese just before the commencement of the war. Time for a re-visit?

My nephew is in the Marines; and departs for deployment in Afghanistan's Helmund Province today. He will be in a vastly different area that the one depicted in the book, though the foe will be similarly ill-defined. He is under no illusions about the war, and hopes to make it the 8 months to the end of his enlistment. But will his children, and my grandchildren be given the opportunity to fight in this graveyard of empires? Will we be able to afford this opportunity? I disagree with Colonel Ostlund's assessment (p 171): on economic arguments, we lose - we simply cannot afford endless war.

One of the best books on war written by a journalist; a solid 5-stars for what is included, all of which was meticulously fact-checked. It is the "blue pencil" omissions, the topics "too hot to handle" that cost it a star.

Update: On April 14, the New York Times (as well as others) ran an article stating that all US Forces would be abandoning the Korengal valley. Another impossibly remote outpost, like LZ English, in northern Binh Dinh province, that was not really necessary for the security of the United States, and whose ownership was returned to the people who lived there.

Plus ca change... plus la meme chose.

A Thanksgiving update... truly in more ways than one, and an assessment from another person who "has paid his dues." My nephew survived his tour of Helmund province, and is whole of body, but carries concerns for what he has witnessed. He will be receiving his honorable discharge from the Marines on Dec. 13. In regards to his concerns, he said the following: "But I really do need to find myself again. I no longer support any type of war, and only support the people in the military, not the suits that send the young men and women over there. Too many young lives have been lost for a meaningless cause, and some of the people that do make it are changed forever. So, I have got some soul searching to do."

Plus ca change, redux.

Junger covered the case of the soldier who felt compelled to go back... but what of all the others?

- JPJ

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on March 08, 2010)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, 6 Nov. 2010
By 
This review is from: War (Hardcover)
I have read many books on the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 7 years and I found this book the most powerful of all of them. Whilst I usually tend to focus on the British military experience this book caught my eye and I am so glad I bought it. The book is written by a professional writer who has spent a considerable amount of time with the individuals he studies. This makes for an incredibly intimate portrait of an infantry platoon but as he is not one of them it allows him to have some professional detachment, perspective and is just a better read than many of the books written by soldiers themselves.
Highly recommended to anyone who wants to learn about the Afghan conflict and the experience of 'war' through the perspective of the brave young men in the most austere and dangerous of battlefields.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars War - Sebastian Junger, 11 Jan. 2011
By 
sb (Lancaster) - See all my reviews
This review is from: War (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Sebastian Junger is an American journalist who shadows a US Army Infantry Company over a 15 month tour of duty in an Afghanistan valley. He didn't spend the full 15 months with the soldiers, instead, over the course of their tour he made several visits and lived, fought and suffered with them in the process of gathering enough material to write this book.

The book pretty much gets straight into the action and tells of how the soldiers were relentlessly attacked by insurgents - there are contrasting moments of great sadness and bizarre humour as a result.

The author does an excellent job of trying to explain the pysche of a combat soldier - his motivations, fears and outlook on life and death. For those wishing to understand what keeps a man's courage in the face of enemy fire - I would recommend this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievably understanding, 16 Nov. 2012
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This review is from: War (Kindle Edition)
I'm in the British Army and I served in a situation that was similarly hopeless to the Korengal Valley, although thank God not quite as bad. I was struggling to make sense of what I had experienced ,to myself. I spent countless sleepless nights trying to understand what it meant to be a soldier in a platoon that went through heavy fighting and how to fit into civvie life again. People will never understand what it's like if they don't see it for themselves, as one can see from some of the other interviews for this book. I felt disconnected from my people because I could not verbalise what I was feeling. I still can't, but this book is the closest thing to the truth and the single best thing to get this truth across to someone else. Thank you Sebastian Junger.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A review by ROROBLU'S DAD - short and sweet, 12 May 2010
By 
Roroblu's Mum "ROROBLU'S MUM" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: War (Hardcover)
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This is a very brief review and I make no excuses for that.

If the subject of this book is even of mild interest to you then please read it. It gives a plain and brutal account from the people actually involved, of what it is like to be `out there'. I won't spoil it by giving away any of the content, save to say it is not disguised by flowery prose.

As I said, it's plain and brutal..... just like it needs to be. Maybe our politicians should be forced to read this. Things just might be different, you never know. Let's not hold our breath though.

A brief thank you to Sebastian Junger for putting this in print.

`Get some'.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Restrepo and The Brotherhood, 30 May 2013
By 
prisrob "pris," (New England USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: War (Kindle Edition)
If I could recommend a book about our American soldiers to every American, 'War' would be the one. I thought I knew what war was like, I knew nothing. This is the most extraordinary, informative, and harrowing book of life about the men in the trenches, men who really fight the war.

Sebastian Junger was embedded with 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry regiment, in Afghanistan for five months. These are the warriors, the men that fight the battle on the ground, in real time. Junger served as a correspondent and journalist, but he lived with the guys. In the ragamuffin quarters, living in their uniforms, boots at the ready, eating MRE's for every meal, no Internet, no booze, no women, just the guys, the battalion. We get to know the soldiers through Junger's eyes and through their words. They hide nothing, they are in this war to fight and to kill. It's either them or us. This is a group of men who love each other, they are all they have out there. They would kill for each other, and they would die for their friends. They may not like each other, but they have become a Brotherhood. They would rather stay in Afghanistan in their primitive surroundings, than go home in many cases. As Junger relates, "Getting the men to talk about fear was very hard because, well, I think they were afraid of it. Their biggest worry seemed to be failing the other men of the platoon in some way, and whenever someone got killed, a common reaction was to search their own actions for blame. They didn't want to believe that a good man could get killed for no reason; someone had to be at fault. During combat, their personal fear effectively got subsumed by the greater anxiety that they would fail to do their job and someone else would get killed. The shame of that would last a lifetime, and they would literally do suicidal things to help platoon mates who were in danger." The Brotherhood gives them a home, a family. It sounds surreal at first, and then we start to learn and listen.

Junger provides informative research and statistics that show us why and how this happens. We learn that our brains can handle and get to know up to 150 people. However, the smaller the group, the more effective the response. The Romans had groups of warriors up to 120, but their most effective were small groups of 20. Research into the minds of men in combat began in WWI, where it was found that in groups of men who bonded, the combat rate was lower. All things being equal some men function better as soldiers than others, and some battalions were better than others. The traits that distinguish those folks are what is known as 'courage'. High performing soldiers are more intelligent, more masculine, more socially mature, and more emotionally stable than other men. Most of the men in the Camp Restpero were like that- they had all missed death by a margin of inches, but what they remembered were the losses in the unit. And, the one they all remembered was Doc Restpero, the man the camp was named for. Combat is a mastery of commitment to save one another's lives. There is so much information to glean that you will become overwhelmed. An insight develops into the minds of our fathers and grandfathers, and why they were so hesitant to speak of their experiences in their wars.

We come to know O'Bryne and Stein, Brennan, and Kearney. The soldiers that meant life over death to Junger. He realized his life was in their hands and he came to trust them. He was given his own tourniquet to carry in case a bullet hit an artery and a limb, and his only recourse would be to apply a tourniquet by himself. A roll of kerlix to stuff into an arterial wound to apply pressure so he would not bleed out before the medic arrived. Junger knows his life is in the hands of these men, and he trusts them with his life. They are the Brotherhood, the heart of the war. The high technology, Prophet, the name of the intelligence gathering group who learn all of the Taliban secrets- when the next attack might occur, how many groups are gathering in the valley and what is really going on in the villages. The drones who fly overhead protecting them and shooting at the enemy. The Apache helicopters who are called in when they are attacked to hunt down and kill the enemy. All of this helps, but it is the day to day drudgery of the infantry who are winning the war. No politics are discussed. Pakistan is mentioned in that this is the country that provides the Taliban men and ammunition. There is a hospital of some sort in Pakistan that cares for the Taliban wounded. But, they are in Afghanistan and this is their job.

When a troop leaves on R'n R, 'Blood In Blood Out' occurs. You will be fascinated to learn about this activity. After Junger returns to the states, he follows up with the men who are willing to talk. Many of them had a very rough time at home and some re-inlist. The lives of these men and the friendships they form are the blood and guts of this book and of this war. They are the ones we remember. I hope they are all well and safe.

Recommended. prisrob 05-30-13
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breath taking combat reportage, 26 Sept. 2011
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This review is from: War (Paperback)
Any one who has read The Perfect Storm will know that Sebastian Junger's great skill as a writer is to prioritise the human elements of the story, thereby juxtaposing ordinary individuals reacting to extraordinary circumstances - as he does in War, the companion piece to the superb documentary Restrepo that follows a platoon of young American Airborne soldiers on a fourteen month deployment in the lethal Korengal valley in Afganistan.

Junger establishes a strong rapport with the troops and they open up to him in sometimes profoundly moving exchanges. It is the human elements of the book that are more interesting than the actual combat moments. The psychology of battle, the loss of comrades and the effects of prolonged exposure to combat is compellingly told and the studies on the effects of war on soldiers are fascinating and provide a real insight into the long term psychological damage.

Having been shot at and almost blown up by an IED, Junger experienced close quarter contact with the enemy on numerous occasions, and it is that immanence that makes the account so engrossing. Other books on modern warfare like Patrick Bishop's 3 Para and Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down rely on second hand accounts to tell the story, but Junger lived it and almost died for it and that is what makes this brilliant account a cut above the rest. Highly recommended.3 ParaJarhead: A Solder's Story of Modern WarRestrepo [DVD]Armadillo [DVD]Black Hawk Down
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War by Sebastian Junger (Paperback - 12 May 2011)
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